Whether you’re traveling in for the Kentucky Derby in May, for Keeneland in April, or celebrating at home, we’ve got you covered with our favorite tips and tricks to highlight one of our favorite pairings with Bourbon – horses!
Louisville – Kentucky Derby
The first Saturday in May isn’t the only celebration of horses, Bourbon and fun in the Bluegrass. The Kentucky Derby Festival is almost at the starting gate. KDF starts with Thunder Over Louisville – the nation’s largest annual fireworks event and one of the top five air shows in the country – and includes a culinary experience, a marathon, a golf tournament, and so much over the month before the Derby. Receive a free mint julep cup during the entire month of April when you post a photo of you with a mint julep and post it to social media using the hashtag #MintJulepMonth!
If you’re coming in for the big race, your wardrobe isn’t the only things you need to plan… though it is important and you should probably read this – Kentucky Derby – what to wear.
We’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we’re here to tell you our top tips:
- Plan for rain. It’s probably gonna happen. Pack a poncho, plastic to cover your hat (dry-cleaning bags work great!), and maybe rain boots just in case. Umbrellas aren’t allowed Derby week, so you can use one to walk to the track, but be prepared to throw it away once you get to security.
- Plan for cold AND warm weather. If it rains, it’s probably gonna be cold. If it doesn’t, it might get toasty. A light jacket never hurt anyone!
- Pack a backup pair of shoes. Trust us. You will want flip flops or flats in addition to your heels and dress shoes because you’ll be walking a lot on uneven brick walkways and rain is bad for Jimmy Choo’s.
- Watch a few youtube videos on how to tie a bow tie.
- Bring a clear plastic beach bag so you can get through security easily.
- Study up! Read reviews from different handicappers so you can place the most educated bets on race day.
- Pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint! Drink water and eat plenty of food with your Bourbon and mint juleps.
- Plan your rides ahead of time. Uber, Lyft and taxis are available but can be super busy during Derby weekend. Book your transportation and Bourbon excursions in advance with Mint Julep Experiences and Copper Still Tours.
- Know before you go. Review our checklist for responsible consumption so you can make the most of your trip.
If you happen to be planning a trip to Louisville around the Derby but don’t have tickets for the big race, there are other options! Many Louisville locals opt for the races the Friday before the Derby, known as the Oaks. And now they even enjoy Thurby – the Thursday races. Tickets are cheaper, it’s not as crowded, and the weather may be more cooperative.
A little birdie told us that (surprisingly) there is still availability for room nights in Louisville on Derby weekend – so book your trip soon!
Lexington – Keeneland & Horse Country
Lexington is not to be overlooked when it comes to horse racing! It is afterall, the Horse Capital of the World. Kentuckians classically take “sick days” in the month of April to attend the Keeneland spring meet. Leave your denim at home (seriously, there’s a dress code) when you check into the Keeneland clubhouse, order a Keeneland Breeze, and bet on the ponies. When you get home, you’ll want to learn how to make Chef Ed’s Bread Pudding with Bourbon caramel sauce. Need handicapping tips? If you’re in Lexington on Derby Day, you can get your bets in and watch the big race televised at Keeneland.
Wanna go deeper into your equine education? Book a tour with Horse Country Tours to see foals, stud farms, and some of the most famous thoroughbred horses in the world.
Looking for something else? Many of our distilleries plan their own events around the Derby festivities. Click here to view our complete calendar of events.
Throw a Derby Party at Home
Celebrating the Derby at home? Visit the Mint Julep Month website and enter your zip code to find locations in your area that are serving up their takes on the minty classic.
When touring the distilleries in Lawrenceburg, make sure to swing into the Sweet Mash Southern Goods & Spirits to get race day ready. They have big hats and fascinators for the ladies, men’s straw hats, ties and bow ties, and all the essentials to entertain at home – colorful Kentucky rocks glasses, wooden and metal table decor, fun napkins, tea towels, serve-ware, equestrian art, door hangers and so much more! Check out their tips for planning a race day brunch to seal your lucky bets. For more tips on how to throw a Derby party at home, click here. Need more Derby decorating tips?
If you’ve been to Kentucky you probably are familiar with the meat stew we all know and love. Click here to watch a quick recipe video for Kentucky Burgoo (and a vegetarian version). Country ham, pimento cheese and benedictine tea sandwiches are staples. Order a classic Kern’s Kitchen Derby-Pie to delight your guests or make your own version in cookie form. Nothing is more Kentucky than an ice-cold Ale-8-One – a refreshing ginger soda “with a bracing pep.”
You’ve got the food covered, now it’s time for the real star of the show – the Bourbon! You could host a simple Bourbon tasting, or mix up your own Mint Juleps or an Oaks Lily. When making the perfect Mint Juleps, there are a couple of key things to remember:
- Ice – you will want freshly crushed ice for your juleps which can be obtained by crushing it in a lewis bag with a mallet or in a fancy grinder, like this.
- Mint – fresh mint is essential! Kentucky Colonel Mint is our favorite – we grow it at home just for Derby week.
- Sugar – make your own simple syrup with good quality sugar. A 1:1 sugar to water ratio is perfectly fine. Make sure your syrup is chilled before use.
- Bourbon – select a good quality Kentucky Bourbon. We suggest at least 100 proof to really stand up to the mint and sugar.
- Glassware – you can’t beat a silver mint julep cup, but a highball or vintage derby glass will do just fine.
- Straw – fun fact – the straw was invented in Kentucky for the mint julep! We recommend a reusable steel straw, or one that is biodegradable.
- Recipe – we prefer about ¼ ounce of simple syrup to 2 ounces Bourbon with about 8 mint leaves in total. Add more or less syrup to taste.
- Technique – muddle the mint with the simple syrup in your glass. Stir in the Bourbon. Pack with crushed ice and stir until the cup is frosted on the outside. Top with a sprig of mint. As you drink it, you will smell the mint and think you’re in heaven.
- Enjoy! Sip it slow and enjoy with friends.
If all of this proves to be too much, you can follow Henry Watterson’s advice:
“Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it … Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey. Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey.”