Kentucky Derby Top 5 Must Haves

From the glamorous hats to the elaborate dresses and suits with the ever famous, mint julep in hand; there are few experiences as a spectator that compare to the class and style of the Kentucky Derby. The COVID-19 pandemic slid the world to a halt in 2020. A little over a year since the first shutdowns, we are starting to see a glimmer of hope for the foreseeable future ahead. One of the first “normal” transitions we are seeing is the running of the 147th Kentucky Derby. They will host, not just Kentucky Derby contenders, but 40-50% capacity spectators. Even with mask mandates for all attendees, and limited attendance, it is a true breath of fresh air as we start to acclimate back to normal life.

For those of us that will opt to watch the first leg of the Triple Crown from home or their local [socially distanced] restaurant or bar, there is no reason to miss out on the traditional intricacies of Derby Day! We have put together a list of the top 5 cocktails and appetizers that will make you feel like you’re right in the grandstand at Churchill Downs.

Kentucky Race Day
Churchill Downs at full capacity in years past.

Mint Julep

The undisputed beverage champion of the Kentucky Derby!


  • 8 mint leaves
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces of Kentucky Bourbon
  • Garnish: mint sprig
  • Garnish: Angostura bitters (optional)


  • In a Julep cup or rocks glass, lightly muddle the mint leaves in the simple syrup.
  • Add the bourbon then pack the glass tightly with crushed ice.
  • Stir until the cup is frosted on the outside.
  • Top with more crushed ice to form an ice dome, and garnish with a mint sprig and a few drops of bitters (optional)

Jockey Club

The Manhattan’s sweeter cousin.


  • 1  1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • Garnish: branded cherry


  • Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
  • Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • Garnish with a brandied cherry on a cocktail pick

Benedictine Spread

This classic invented by Jennie Carter Benedict has been a Kentucky Derby class for over a century!


  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 small English cucumber (about 8 ounces), peeled, halved, seeds removed, and roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 c. fresh dill, plus more for garnish
  • 2 scallions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Carrot sticks, celery sticks, sliced bell pepper, radishes, and crostini, for serving


  • Process cream cheese, cucumber, dill, scallions, lemon juice, and mayonnaise in a food processor until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with dill.   
  • Serve with carrot sticks, celery sticks, bell pepper, radishes, and crostini alongside.

Man o’ War

One of the greats in horse racing and in cocktails.


  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce orange curaçao or triple sec
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • Garnish: lemon peel
  • Garnish: brandied cherry


  • Add bourbon, orange curaçao (or triple sec), sweet vermouth and lemon juice into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. 
  • Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a skewered lemon peel and brandied cherry.

Bourbon Pulled Pork Sliders

It doesn’t get much more southern than Kentucky Bourbon and pulled pork!


  • Bourbon Pulled Pork Sliders
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons of canola oil
  • 2 – 3 lb. pork shoulder
  • 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons of ketchup
  • 3/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
  • Slider buns for serving


  • Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper.
  • In a dutch oven or a stovetop safe slow cooker insert, add the canola oil.
  • Over medium high heat, brown the pork shoulder on all sides.
  • In a bowl, mix together the dark brown sugar, bourbon, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, ketchup and smoked paprika until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
  • In the base of the slow cooker, layer the sliced onions.
  • Nestle the pork shoulder on top and pour over the sauce.
  • Make sure the pork is covered with the sauce, start the slow cooker and set to low.
  • Let cook on LOW for 8 hours or so, until the pork is fork tender.
  • Halfway through, if possible, turn the pork on the opposite side.
  • Remove the cooked pork to a dish and shred the meat using two forks.
  • Skim the fat from the sauce and the onions.
  • Puree the onions and the sauce using an immersion blender until smooth.
  • Pour some of the sauce over the pulled pork until the pork is “wet”.
  • Serve on slider buns with a bit of sauce on the side.


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