Cocktail & Other Recipes Occasion Spring

21 Cocktails to Make for the Kentucky Derby

It might be the most exciting two minutes in sports, but these cocktails will keep you going all day long.

Kentucky Flyer cocktail
Kentucky Flyer Image: / Tim Nusog

The Kentucky Derby race itself may only last a couple of minutes, but the celebrations start hours or sometimes days in advance and end long after the last horse crosses the finish line. If you’re ready to join the party but don’t want to be stuck sipping traditional Mint Juleps all day long, we have you covered. From Julep riffs to bourbon-forward sippers to Southern-inspired cocktails, we've rounded up plenty of options. So saddle up, drink up and enjoy a day at the races.

  • Mint Julep

    Mint Julep / Tim Nusog 

    Let’s start with that most traditional of Derby cocktails. This stunner is an easy and refreshing drink to have in hand while watching the race. Start by lightly muddling fresh mint with simple syrup, add bourbon and crushed ice and stir until the cup is frosty. Top with more crushed ice, then garnish with a mint sprig and an optional dash of bitters for an unexpected kick. 

    Get the recipe.

  • Brown Derby

    Brown Derby cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This cocktail’s name may be referring to a different kind of derby, but its bourbon backbone makes it perfect for the Kentucky Derby, too. The smoky spirit gets lightened up with a splash of fresh grapefruit juice, and a little bit of honey syrup helps bring out its sweeter side. Shake with ice, fine-strain and then garnish with an expressed grapefruit peel.

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  • Miamian’s Julep

    Miamian's Julep

    Carlos Ramos

    Take your Julep to the tropics with this fun and summery spin. Your classic bourbon and mint are taken on an island getaway with coconut cream, crème de banane and fresh lime juice. Blend it all together until chilly and creamy, then for an extra-special presentation, garnish with bourbon-flambeed banana slices. 

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  • Smoky Sour

    Smoky Sour cocktail

    Max Zagor

    If you’re champing at the bit to try something a little on the frothy side, this spin on a classic Whiskey Sour will definitely satisfy your taste buds. Shake whiskey with lemon juice, cinnamon syrup, tea syrup and an egg white with ice until frothy, then strain into a coupe glass. It’s creamy, smoky and sour all in one, perfect for drinking any time of day. 

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  • Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita

    Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita / Tim Nusog

    Two cocktails come together to become one delicious mix in this fun new classic. Fresh mint brings its Julep qualities, while a few blackberries add sweetness and extra flavor. Swap in añejo tequila to add a Margarita-like element, and a little bit of lime juice and honey syrup to round it all out. Muddle, shake, then serve in a classic Julep cup with crushed ice. 

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  • Kentucky Mule

    Kentucky Mule cocktail / Tim Nusog 

    If you just can’t give up your copper mug, don’t worry: This is a Derby-friendly Mule rendition. This spin puts bourbon front and center, with just a splash of lime juice and a top of ginger beer to transform it into a refreshing cocktail to enjoy at any time of year. 

    Get the recipe.

  • Jockey Club

    Jockey Club cocktail

    Allen Katz

    This close cousin of a Manhattan makes even the most casual race-viewing parties feel like they're taking place at an exclusive club. The mix of bourbon, sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur is a sophisticated spirit-forward sipper.

    Get the recipe.

  • Whiskey Smashed

    Whiskey Smashed cocktail
    Jerry Nevins / Sloshies

    If your wide-brimmed derby hat isn’t keeping you cool enough, chill out with this frozen take on a Smash. Not only is it delicious, it’s also incredibly easy to make. Simply mix bourbon, simple syrup, mint syrup, lemon juice, lime juice and water, then throw it all in the freezer for a few hours. When it’s a wet, slushy consistency, divide between glasses and serve with a mint sprig and lemon wheel.

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  • Green Derby

    Green Derby cocktail

    Lucinda Sterling

    Switch up your Brown Derby with this fresh spin. The usual whiskey and grapefruit are here, but they get an extra touch of sweetness with the addition of maple syrup. Add a healthy dose of a sweet-and-spicy ginger syrup, and you’ll be off to the races in next to no time. 

    Get the recipe.

  • Albariño Mint Julep

    Albarino Mint Julep

    Spanish white wine in a Mint Julep? Don’t knock it ’til you try it. This unusual recipe shows that albariño wine and crème de pêche are a surprisingly great combination, especially when combined with fresh mint. Of course, a Julep wouldn’t be a Julep without lots of crushed ice, so be sure to serve the mix in a Julep cup full of it.

    Get the recipe.

  • Horse’s Neck

    Horse's Neck cocktail / Tim Nusog 

    Once just a glass of nonalcoholic ginger ale, the Horse’s Neck has come a long way since its late 19th-century beginnings. Now it’s the perfect boozy drink for your Derby celebration, especially since the two-ingredient recipe is easy to whip up. Just pour bourbon, brandy or American rye whiskey over ice and top with ginger ale and a lemon peel. 

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  • Shrub Julep

    Shrub Julep

    Casey Elsass

    Make a batch of maple beet shrub so you can make this any time you’re in the mood. Bonus: The shrub only gets better as it sits, so feel free to make it well ahead of time, and it’s particularly delicious when combined with mint and bourbon. Serve as you would a classic Julep, with a dome of crushed ice and a fresh mint garnish.

    Get the recipe.

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  • Oaks Lily

    Oaks Lily / Tim Nusog

    For fans of the Oaks Derby (Kentucky’s other big race), this light and refreshing vodka drink is just the ticket. The combination of vodka, orange liqueur, simple syrup, and lemon and cranberry juices is a light nod to the Cosmopolitan, with a pink hue that mimics stargazer lilies placed on the race’s winning filly.

    Get the recipe.

  • Tallulah

    Tallulah / Tim Nusog

    Feel like you’re in the South (even if you’re geographically quite far away) with this nod to the classic peanuts-and-Coke combo. Peanut orgeat adds a rich, nutty flavor to Jack Daniel’s, while ice-cold Coca-Cola adds its syrupy sweetness and fizz. Garnish with a small handful of salted peanuts and enjoy, y’all. 

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  • Thin Mint Julep

    Thin Mint Julep / Tim Nusog

    Enjoy your favorite Girl Scout cookies all year round with this take on the classic Mint Julep. The classic combination of mint, bourbon and simple syrup forms a Julep base that’s brought to chocolate-y heights with the addition of white crème de cacao. Of course, this drink isn’t truly complete until it's topped with a Thin Mint cookie.

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  • Bourbon Rickey

    Bourbon Rickey / Tim Nusog

    If you’re not a fan of mint, you can ditch the Julep and still enjoy your bourbon while watching the Derby. This riff on a Rickey is a simple and refreshing take on the classic gin drink. Simply combine bourbon and freshly squeezed lime juice, then top with sparkling water and stir briefly with ice. 

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  • Preakness

    Preakness cocktail / Tim Nusog

    Different horse race, still a great cocktail. The Preakness is a twist on a classic Manhattan that’s made with the usual suspects: whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. But the real twist comes from the addition of Benedictine, which adds an unexpectedly herbal and complex flavor to the spirit-forward drink. 

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  • Bourbon Strawberry Iced Tea

    Bourbon Strawberry Iced Tea / Tim Nusog

    This mellow summer sipper is a great go-to whenever you’re looking for something sweet, smooth and refreshing. Muddle fresh strawberries and lemon juice for a pop of flavor, then shake with bourbon, ice and simple syrup until it’s well-chilled. Strain, then top with unsweetened iced tea and garnish with mint, strawberries and blueberries.

    Get the recipe.

  • Gin on Gin Julep

    Gin on Gin Julep / Tim Nusog

    Gin and genever star in this Julep riff. The two spirits are close pals that meld beautifully when combined with syrup and mint, and then club soda rounds it all out. A mint sprig keeps the presentation in line with a traditional Julep, but one sip and you’ll be sure that this is no ordinary Derby cocktail.

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  • Man o' War

    Man o' War cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This cocktail is named for one of the world's greatest racehorses. While he never competed in the Kentucky Derby, he won the other two legs of the Triple Crown in 1920. To honor him in liquid form, shake together bourbon, triple sec, sweet vermouth and lemon juice, strain it into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel and a brandied cherry.

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  • Kentucky Flyer

    Kentucky Flyer cocktail / Tim Nusog

    The classic Aviation gets an all-American spin with this recipe honoring the Derby’s home state. Rye whiskey provides a base for Luxardo maraschino liqueur and fresh lemon juice. Shake it up with ice, strain and garnish with brandied cherries and a mint leaf.

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