If I’m being totally honest here, I actually don’t really care much for horse racing, but I’m always down for any excuse to get dressed up and day drink 😂 (well, right now they have to be non-alcoholic drinks, but you know what I mean!). In the PNW, getting together for the Kentucky Derby isn’t nearly as popular an event as it is in the South… and as the saying goes, “You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl!” I guess my inclination to celebrate the Derby is just something I grew up with and will likely always have an urge to do!
Since it’s unlikely that the majority of people will be vaccinated by the end of April and therefore unable to attend the Derby in person (or have a watch party at a local bar), celebrating at home is probably the way to go [again] this year so I put together some suggestions on how to safely enjoy the festivities at home (at least, that’s how I’m planning to celebrate!).
That being said, if you and some of your loved ones are lucky enough to have been vaccinated, I believe the CDC has approved small indoor gatherings between those who have had their shots so plan that small get-together, friends!!
“Race on over and raise a glass!”
“Business casual is required for the Derby Room, which means:
Jackets and Blazers. Vests, collared shirts and sweaters. Dresses.“
I love any excuse to get dressed up for an event! I adore themed parties or any time I get to put together a costume so this is easily my favorite aspect of the Derby (+ seeing everyone else’s ensembles)!
Any light, bright, and breezy cocktail dresses welcome! I’m probably just going to be rocking my HillHouse Nap Dress this year because of the bump, but I think it still counts! Otherwise I would have shopped: Amazon, Brooks Brothers, Kate Spade, Lilly Pulitzer, Ralph Lauren, Sail to Sable, Vineyard Vines
I love the hats / fascinators from Vineyard Vines, @twochickslouisville, and @finchybabyhats, but my Peter Beaton hat will also be a forever favorite. You can also find some adorable fascinator options on Etsy!
Additional brand suggestions to shop can be found here.
I’m personally not a big bourbon drinker, but I still like to enjoy a festive beverage every now and then so I’ve been on the hunt for a Mint Julep recipe that I would like! I have found a few that sound interesting to me and I like elements from each of them so I figured I would combine all of them to make my own [non-alcoholic] version!
I LOVE this recipe by Love & Lemons because of the fresh lemon juice and mint-infused syrup (I think that the flavor from super bruised herbs can quickly go from flavorful to too bitter, so I’m a big fan of this flavor-infusing method… you just have to plan a bit in advance!). This Alton Brown julep recipe intrigued me because he uses a splash of seltzer instead of still water to dilute and balance the cocktail, and I liked this recipe as well because they suggested the addition of a few dashes of bitters. I ended up getting a little creative and combined elements from all three recipes to make my own version of a Julep!
To make the Minty Simple Syrup:
– 1 cup water
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 bunch fresh mint
To make the minty simple syrup, just simmer water and sugar in a small saucepan, continuing to stir until the sugar is dissolved. To make it minty, remove the pan from the heat, add the mint and let it steep for 15 minutes to infuse the mint flavor. Strain and chill the minty simple syrup until you’re ready to serve. Makes about 1/2 cup and it can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.
If you’re counting calories or just don’t feel like going to the effort making your own syrup (I get it; no judgment here!) I recommend using Jordan’s Skinny Simple Syrup; I warmed it up in the microwave for a little while (on high for ~20 seconds) and then tossed my mint leaves into it and let that sit and cool. I hoped to get the same minty effect as the original version and it totally worked!
– 2 ½ oz bourbon // Lyre’s (NA) American Malt
– 1 bunch fresh mint leaves
– ½ oz minty simple syrup (adjust to taste)
– 2 oz Bitter Housewife aromatic bitters & soda
OR 2 dashes of angostura bitters / splash seltzer water
– squeeze of fresh lemon juice
To make the cocktails, fill each julep glass with crushed ice then pour in bourbon and simple syrup.
If you enjoy lemon like I do, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, but if you’re a mint julep purist you can skip that step.
If you’re going booze-free too, just replace the Bourbon with the NA version!
Top off with more ice and then fill the rest of the glass with Aromatic Bitters and Soda.
Stir to incorporate and garnish with lots of fresh mint.
I love a frosty cold beverage as the weather warms up and a mint julep is just the ticket! Such a refreshing, festive mocktail! Traditionally, mint juleps are served over crushed ice in a silver julep glass, but I fell in love with this clear glass version because you can actually see the cocktail inside! If you’re really dedicated to replicating the full experience, I recommend (1) getting getting mini ice cube trays and freezing as much ice as you can ahead of time OR (2) getting this ice crusher to give the classic julep effect.
My “mocktail julep” version turned out really well, if I do say so myself, but it’s a far cry from the classic Mint Julep, so if you’re interested in the traditional version this the original [boozy] recipe as made by the *official* bourbon brand of the Derby. *Caution: it’s basically bourbon on the rocks so they’ll catch up with you real quick if you don’t sip and savor them.
*Pro Tip: Julep glasses can double as beautiful vases for small floral arrangements throughout the rest of the year!
Bring on the Southern classics! In addition to a bourbon cocktail, there are plenty of bites that you can enjoy while waiting for the races to begin. These dish ideas are inspired by Kentucky classics as well as what food options are available at Churchill Downs.
Chicken Tenders & Fries: Apparently this combo is a staple at Churchill Downs — chicken tenders with a side of Cajun-seasoned french fries will definitely hit the spot, especially after a couple juleps! If you’re watching the race at home, these oven-fried Cajun popcorn chicken nuggets would be excellent party bites.
Benedictine: This bright green spread is a Kentucky classic. It’s a mix of cream cheese, cucumber and green food coloring served on white sandwich bread and ideal on a warm day. The simple dish has been served in Kentucky for decades, so it’s only fitting that it would make an appearance at the state’s biggest sporting event of the year. Serve between slices of white bread as bite-sized sandwiches or as a party spread with plenty of crackers.
Loaded Kentucky Nachos: Southern pulled pork nachos loaded up with all of the “fixin’s” would be the ideal Cinco de Derby dish (even though the Derby doesn’t happen to fall on May 5th this year).
Kentucky Burgoo: If you live anywhere outside of Kentucky, chances are you’ve never heard of burgoo. For anyone new to the dish, it’s a spicy meat stew that’s been a Kentucky staple for more than a century. Want to serve burgoo party-style? Try a burger version.
BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich: This is the ultimate Kentucky-style pulled pork sandwich. (Pro tip: Add some slaw to your sandwich for a nice crunch.) For your Derby Party, make a big batch of pulled pork sliders; because of their size they’re a bit easier to eat when milling around at a party (or you can try these Kentucky Hot Brown Slider Sandwiches!).
(all food explanations are from this Food Network article)
For even more menu ideas, you can find quite a few more food options here.
THE MAIN EVENT:
If you’re interested in actually watching the horses “run for the roses”, you can find a guide here on where to watch at home, whether on cable tv or streaming online.
I found these adorable printable at-home betting cards here and betting sign here! If you’d like to have official commemorative 2021 Derby glasses (which would be fun for guests to take home with them), those are available here and here and then some cute general Kentucky Derby themed glasses here. Add some rose arrangements and you’re all set to host your Derby party!
I might even watch “Seabiscuit“, “Secretariat” and “A Day at the Races” after the official Derby races are over! Here are some other horse racing movie suggestions if you want to make it into a marathon.
Since we’re all stuck at home, we may as well try to have some fun however we can!
Happy Derby Weekend, friends!