Top Five List: Bourbon Drinks for the Kentucky Derby

by Elizabeth Palmer Starnes

Photo Credit: Southern LivingWith the 138th Kentucky Derby happening next weekend, keep it classic and stick with bourbon- the Southern standby.

For skeptics, bear with me; bourbon can be surprisingly palatable when paired with the right accompaniments. Pick your favorite and drink like a racehorse while cheering on your favorite, oversized derby hat optional.

  1. The Derby – Could a drink by any other name take the top spot in this list? This drink marries bourbon with lime, and the unlikely combination gives the drink a tart depth of flavor, rounded out by the Grand Marnier and sweet vermouth. Mix 1 oz bourbon whiskey, ¾ oz lime-juice, ½ oz sweet vermouth, ½ oz Grand Marnier and shake over ice. Strain into a glass and garnish with lime wedge or mint leaf.

  2. Mint Julep – This traditional Derby drink is a classic for a reason. Over Derby weekend at Churchill Downs alone over 80,000 juleps will be enjoyed- they must be onto something! In a tall glass, muddle ten mint leaves with two teaspoons simple syrup, then fill the glass half way with crushed ice and pour over 2-3 oz Bourbon, stir, then fill the glass to the brim with more crushed ice and garnish with a big sprig of fresh mint.

  3. Whisky Sour – This tangy favorite has diminished in popularity since the Mad Men era, but is worthy of a second look. It does traditionally include an egg white- but if that makes you squeamish feel free to omit it, though it does give the drink a bracing velvety smoothness. Mix 2 oz whiskey, 1 oz lemon juice, 1-teaspoon sugar, and 1 egg white and shake over ice vigorously for at least twenty seconds. Strain into a chilled glass, and garnish with a maraschino cherry or a twist of orange zest.

  4. Bourbon Fizz – By far the simplest and arguable the most refreshing drink of the bunch, this fizzy cocktail comes together in a flash and keeps you cool on a sweltering afternoon. In a tall glass filled with ice, pour 1-2 oz bourbon and the juice of ½ a lime. Top the drink with ginger ale or the slightly less sweet ginger beer, filling it to the brim. Give it a little stir, and garnish with a wedge of lime.

  5. The Old Fashioned – Though admittedly not my favorite bourbon drink (I find it a bit strong on flavor and alcohol content) I couldn’t omit the purported king of bourbon cocktails from this list. The drink of choice for Mad Men’s Don Draper, the old fashioned has gone from old man to ladies man in the past few years, and is definitely worth its renewed popularity. Mix 2 oz bourbon, 1-teaspoon simple syrup, and 2-3 dashes of Augusta bitters and shake over ice. Strain into an old fashioned glass filled with fresh ice, and top with a twist of lemon or orange zest.