10 Kentucky Derby Cocktails Perfect for Race-Day Parties

April 24, 2023 by

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Okay, let’s talk Kentucky Derby drinks! The Kentucky Derby, also known as ‘The Run for the Roses’, is an annual horse racing event held on the first Saturday in May each year in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a time-honored tradition that has been taking place since 1875, making it one of the oldest sporting events in the United States. This full-fledged cultural phenomenon celebrates horse racing and shines a spotlight on Southern hospitality and the art of mixology. 

Here is our list of the top Kentucky Derby drinks to pour for a race day at home:  

1. Mint Julep

Refreshing Mint Julep Cocktails served in copper cups

The Mint Julep is the undisputed cocktail queen of Kentucky Derby drinks. In fact, it has been named the official drink of the Derby for many years. The story goes that the management of Churchill Downs, the racetrack where the event is held, began serving the drink in souvenir glasses to boost sales in the late 1930s. Since then, this minty-cool classic has become an iconic symbol of the Kentucky Derby, with over 120,000 served during the two-day event each year.  

Make it with: Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

2. Brown Derby

A Brown Derby Cocktail

Looking for a refreshing drink to pair with Southern-style food while you watch the Derby? Try a Brown Derby. To make one, add 1.5 oz bourbon, 1 oz grapefruit juice, and 0.5 oz honey syrup bourbon to a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. Fine-strain it into a cocktail glass, and express the oil from a grapefruit twist over the drink before dropping the twist into the drink to garnish. It offers a nice counterpoint to soul food classics like Kentucky Burgoo and cracklins’ with pimento cheese.  

Read next: 12 Honey Syrup Cocktails that Zzzing with Sweetness

3. Bourbon Rickey

Bourbon Rickey

Bourbon is the signature spirit of the state of Kentucky, and the Derby is one of the most famous bourbon-drinking events in the world. The Bourbon Rickey is a refreshing and easy-to-ace cocktail made with bourbon, fresh lime juice, and soda water, and is often garnished with a lime wedge or sprig of mint – just gorgeous for a springtime event.  

4. Kentucky Mule 

Kentucky Mule

The Kentucky Mule is an excellent option for race-day enthusiasts who prefer a lighter and less sweet drink. A variation of the classic Moscow Mule, this effervescent drink is made with vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, and typically served in a copper mug like most other Mule cocktails.  

Make it with: SKYY Vodka

Mules you can bet on: 13 Delicious Mule Cocktails to Make at Home

5. Old Fashioned

Top view of rich Old Fashioned Cocktails with Orange peel garnish

The Old Fashioned was a favorite drink of former Derby attendee and legendary journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. In his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson wrote about his experiences at the Kentucky Derby and the importance of drinking an Old Fashioned while watching the race. Made with bourbon, sugar, bitters, and a twist of orange, it is traditionally served over ice in a rocks glass – a great way to add some classic elegance to your Derby Day celebrations.  

Learn more: Manhattan vs Old Fashioned Cocktail: What is the Difference?

6. Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary cocktail.

The Bloody Mary is a fun addition to any Kentucky Derby party cocktail line-up, especially for guests who prefer a savory and spicy drink. This versatile drink is a brunchtime classic and pairs wonderfully with Derby snacks like devilled eggs and hot browns.  

6. Strawberry Basil Cocktail

Top view of two Strawberry Basil Cocktails garnished with fresh basil, presented on a light grey surface

Featuring the delightful flavors of fresh strawberries and basil, both of which are in season during springtime in the USA, the aptly named Strawberry Basil cocktail is a light, fruit-forward drink that always makes a splash on an at-home Kentucky Derby cocktail menu.  

Make it with: Bulldog Gin

7. Bee’s Knees

Bee's Knees Cocktail on a dinner setting

Honey drizzled over hot biscuits is another tasty Kentucky Derby tradition. Echo the taste of this down-home favorite by whipping up some Bee’s Knees cocktails. Made with gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup, it is a kicky drink that boasts sweet and tangy flavors that are both refreshing and complex. 

8. Classic Whiskey Smash

Whiskey Smash Cocktail

The Classic Whiskey Smash is a timeless cocktail that combines the rich, smooth flavors of whiskey with the invigorating zest of fresh lemon and the refreshing essence of mint. This cocktail is a true crowd-pleaser, known for its vibrant and balanced taste. Perfect for warm-weather sipping.

9. Italian Manhattan

Editorial style image of two two Italian Manhattan cocktails on a table outside with a typical scene in Florence on a sunny day as backdrop

The Italian Manhattan is the sweeter, smoother cousin of the classic OG Manhattan, made with rye whiskey to give it a spicier base. If you’re a newbie to bourbon, then our Italian Manhattan is a fantastic beginner’s cocktail to enjoy the deliciousness of this Kentucky spirit for the first time.

Make it with: Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey

10. Mango Gin Cocktail

Mango and lime gin cocktail on a white plate

Our Mango Gin cocktail is the perfect drink to cool you and your guests down with on balmy days and is easy to make in batches if you are expecting a crowd. Get more batch drink inspiration here.

These are just a few of the many popular drinks that you can enjoy while watching the Kentucky Derby. Whether you’re a seasoned bourbon drinker or a casual cocktail fan, there’s a drink out there for everyone to enjoy. So, grab your favorite race-day hat, pour yourself a cold one, and get ready to experience the thrill of the Kentucky Derby at home! 


Every year in Louisville, Kentucky, thousands of people gather for a cherished tradition known as ‘The Run for the Roses’, or as it's more commonly referred to, the Kentucky Derby. Since its inception in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has become one of the most prominent horse racing events in the world, steeped in a rich history that spans over a century.

Over the years, several classic cocktails have become synonymous with the event, with the Mint Julep being the most iconic of them all. Other Kentucky Derby favorites include the Old Fashioned, Bourbon Rickey, Brown Derby, and more. See The Mixer for a full list of classic clinkers.

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