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Breeders' Cup 2017

5 Kentucky Derby Horses Re-imagined as Bourbon Cocktails

By Jamie Hale, The Oregonian


If there's one thing that epitomizes the Kentucky Derby, well, it's probably a gigantic hat. But if there are two things that epitomize the Kentucky Derby, it's a gigantic hat and whiskey.

Knowing an opportunity when they see one, Portland's Multnomah Whiskey Library is hosting "In Praise of the Ponies," a Kentucky Derby party on May 3. The $25-50 ticket includes a taste of Kentucky's finest food and libations, and includes a derby fashion contest and a mock betting window.

But as will surely be the case in Louisville, the real gem of the day is the bourbon. Whether you're drinking a classic Mint Julep or downing whiskey straight, there's no better place or time to celebrate Kentucky's finest than at a celebration of the state's most prestigious event.

While it might break tradition, I've taken the liberty of concocting a host of bourbon cocktails, inspired by and in honor of the five top-ranked horses racing at the derby. I'm not specifying any brand of bourbon for these, because I believe very strongly in a drinker's choice of whiskey. Drink responsibly and may the best horse win!

California Chrome

California isn't known for its whiskey, but it is known for oranges. You can take the basic recipe for a Chapel Hill, a simple drink made with bourbon, triple sec and lemon juice, then make it more California and less Carolina by swapping lemon juice for orange juice, and trading the orange liqueur for Napa Valley Distillery's Meyer Lemon liqueur.

1 1/2 oz. bourbon 

1/2 oz. Meyer Lemon liqueur 

1/2 oz. orange juice twist of orange peel

Shake liquid ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel.


You don't often find hops outside of beer, but crafty food writer Emma Emerson concocted a hops-infused Sazerac that combines the best of both worlds. Her recipe hinges on homemade hops-infused honey syrup, as well as some key bitters. She didn't give the drink a name, so I'm taking it upon myself to call it "Hoppertunity" after the hopeful horse from Kentucky.

2 oz. bourbon

1/4 oz. Herbsaint

1/2 oz. hop-infused honey syrup

1/2 oz. grapefruit juice

2 dashes Fee Brothers Grapefruit bitters

2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

3 hop cones

lemon peel, to garnish

In a shaker muddle 2 hop cones with bitters and syrup, add 4-5 ice cubs and bourbon, stir vigorously and strain into a lowball glass, washed with Herbsaint. Garnish with lemon peel coin and hop cone.


A cocktail called Tapiture implies some mix with beer, but I'm not about to recommend a boilermaker for a classy event like the Kentucky Derby. Instead you can use some good old-fashioned ginger beer, like Rachel's Ginger Beer from Seattle, and mix it with bourbon and bitters to make a modified Horse's Neck – an appropriate drink for the derby.

1 1/2 oz. bourbon

1 dash Angostura bitters

4 oz ginger beer

Combine in highball glass with ice, stir gently. Garnish with lemon peel.

Wicked Strong

With a name like "Wicked Strong," this cocktail has to pack a wallop. Its namesake horse was born and raised in Boston, and while I have a hard time recommending any bourbon distilled outside Kentucky, it would be nice to utilize Amandine barrel-aged almond liqueur made at Boston's own GrandTen Distilling for a basic almond-bourbon cocktail.

1 1/2 oz. bourbon

1 oz. Amandine almond liqueur

2 dashes Fee Bros. Whiskey Bitters

Mix in a highball glass with ice, stir gently. Garnish with lemon.

Candy Boy

A Kentucky Derby cocktail list would be incomplete without at least one mint julep on the list. For Candy Boy, the colt from Kentucky, I'm admittedly stealing a recipe concocted by Kansas City's Hawthorne and Julep called Bigelow's Heaven. The drink is a standard mint julep, but instead of a mint leaf garnish it uses mint-flavored cotton candy that melts into the drink. Brilliant.

2 oz. bourbon

1/2 oz. mint syrup

mint cotton candy

Stir the bourbon and mint syrup over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with the cotton candy.

* * * 

What's in your Derby contender cocktail? Tell us in the comments!

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Older Comments about 5 Kentucky Derby Horses Re-imagined as Bourbon Cocktails...

I think a Samraat would have some chai flavor to it...
Wicked Strong... best horse, best cocktail.
California Chrome Cocktail -- straight off the shelf of a Colorado apothecary with a Lemon liquer back.

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