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What to drink for the Kentucky Derby 2014

The Kentucky Derby—one of the biggest days each year in horse racing, and the first leg of the Triple Crown—takes place May 3rd this year. In Kentucky, race fans will be dressed to the nines, the ladies in ornate hats, and Mint Juleps will be the cocktail of choice. If you can't make it to Louisville for the 140th Run for the Roses to sip on Woodford Reserve's $1,000 Mint Julep, we've got you covered with a few creative takes on the classic cocktail along with some other springtime drinking options to help cheer on the ponies. (check out the slideshow for images of each drink).

Dale DeGroff's Modern Mint Julep, featuring Bulleit Bourbon, is ideal for celebrating the 140th Kentucky Derby on May 3.
Bulleit Bourbon
The 2014 Kentucky Derby is best toasted with a traditional mint julep.
Bulleit Bourbon

Modern Mint Julep
(by Dale Degroff)
A Julep is a sweetened mixed drink that predates the cocktail. Usually featuring a base spirit (often rum or cognac before there was bourbon), sugar and ice, it can also, obviously include mint. Here, the Cocktail King himself offers up his version.

  • 1.3 oz Bulleit Bourbon
  • 4 Mint Leaves
  • 1 Mint Sprig
  • .75 oz Simple Syrup (or 1 tsp Sugar)

Make "powdered" ice using chunks of block ice, a canvas ice bag and a wooden mallet. In the bottom of a Julep cup, combine mint leaves and simple syrup. Lightly bruise the mint leaves with a muddler (don't crush the life out of them). Add ice to about 3/4 full, then add half the bourbon. Stir and chill. Top off with more ice and the rest of the bourbon. Continue to stir until the outside of the cup gets frosty. Garnish with mint sprig. Set the cup aside to rest for a bit while the julep cup freezes over on the outside. Sip genteely through a straw.

Woodford Reserve Bourbon 2014 Kentucky Derby Special Edition: If you've already got your recipes in place, consider making the day extra special with this limited edition bottle from Woodford Reserve. The official bourbon of the 140th running of the Derby, the bottle features the artwork of Louisville artist David O. Schuster. Schuster freezes the horses and jockeys as they come into the last turn and final stretch of the 1 1/4-mile-long race. The fans in the stand are a blur as one horse holds the lead by the slightest of margins. The collar of the bottle features a light blue and copper neck band, reminiscent of a jockey's vibrant silks, and the words "Kentucky Derby 140" sealing the top of the bottle. 45.2% ABV, $44

Whiskey Smash
(adapted by Dale DeGroff)
A fruit-influenced concoction of spirit, sugar and ice, the Savoy cocktail book of 1930 called the Smash "in effect, a Julep on a small plan." Here, DeGroff opts to add citrus into the mix, pulling the drink closer to cocktail territory.

  • 1.3 oz Bulleit Bourbon
  • 4 Mint Leaves
  • 1 Mint Sprig
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Lemon Wheel (can be thin-sliced off the lemon being used in the drink)
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup

Cut a lemon in half, then in quarters. Place three of these quarters in a mixing glass. Add mint leaves and simple syrup, and muddle. Add the whiskey and ice, shake well and strain into an ice-filled Rocks glass. Garnish with mint sprig and lemon wheel.

I Ride with Rosie Julep
(from Wild Turkey)
Popular jockey Rosie Napravnik is scheduled to return to the Derby this year, and Wild Turkey collaborated with Napravnik for a segment in their #Nevertamed campaign. To further celebrate, the brand developed this sweet-and-tough julep riff. http://www.nevertamed.com/#main

  • 2 oz Wild Turkey 81
  • 1 oz Wild Turkey American Honey
  • 1.5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 3 to 4 Mint Sprigs

Slap mint sprigs between your hands to release their oils. Tear the leaves into pieces and place in a cocktail shaker filled with the rest of the ingredients. Add ice, shake vigorously and pour (unstrained) into a highball glass half-filled with crushed Ice. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.

Stella Artois: It might seem strange, but this Belgian pilsner and corner bar mainstay is the official beer for the Kentucky Derby (they even help host the very popular "Taste of the Derby" food and drink extravaganza in Louisville each year). Feel like you want to recreate the feel of Derby Day in the comfort of your own home? Pick up a couple six packs and the limited edition Stella Artois Kentucky Derby Commemorative Chalice to help replicate a perfect pour.

Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita
Perhaps someone at your Derby party doesn't care for Bourbon. Añejo tequila, aged one to three years (usually in former bourbon barrels), makes for an excellent alternative. It's still full-bodied, but with the herbaceous spiciness tequila's agave origins brings to the starting gate.

  • 2 oz Milagro Añejo tequila
  • 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1 oz Honey Syrup* or Agave Nectar
  • 5 Blackberries
  • 6 Mint Leaves

In a mixing glass, lightly muddle mint leaves, berries and honey syrup. Add bourbon, lime juice and ice. Shake well and strain into julep glass with filled with cracked or small cube ice. Garnish with a blackberry and mint sprig. *To make the Honey Syrup, combine equal parts honey and warm water. Stir until well blended.

Early Times Kentucy Whiskey Mint Julep 2014 Kentucky Derby Bottle: Another special limited edition release from the Brown-Forman Distillery, the bottle celebrates the fact that the Early Times Mint Julep continues its title as the "Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby." The ready-to-serve cocktail features the work of Louisville native Ashley Cecil, a painting titled "Time for the Roses." Pictured is the winning horse and rider receiving the Derby's traditional garland of over 400 red roses and a full bouquet of red roses. 30% ABV, $16

The Bloody Belle
(Nelson's Green Brier Distillery)
Belle Meade Bourbon was a prominent label in the late 1800s. Produced originally by Charles Nelson at his Green Brier Distillery before Prohibition, the brand has been revived by Nelson's great-great-great grandsons, Charlie and Andy Nelson. The connection between Kentucky's bourbon and its race horses is also made clear on the label (in 1816, the trophy for one horse race was a silver julep cup): The horse on the right-hand side of the label was named Bonnie Scotland, an ancestor of Triple Crown Winner Secretariat. The horse on the left, Brown Dick, has a great-great-grandsire named Whiskey.

  • 2 oz Belle Meade Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1 Dash Olive Brine
  • 1 Dash Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2-3 Dashes Tabasco
  • 1 Dab Horseradish
  • 1/4 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Bloody Mary Mix to top

In a large glass, add bourbon and bloody mary mix. Stir lightly to blend, then add the rest of the ingredients. Add cube ice and roll/throw the drink from one large glass to another three to four times to mix. Garnish with olives, celery and a lemon wedge.

The Mile High Julep
(Shawn Chen of Redfarm's Decoy for Tincup)
Tincup American Whiskey is a new label from Stranahan's co-founder Jess Graber. Despite its high rye content (32%), the bourbon-style whiskey trends sweet, which makes it a nice pairing for sweet-spicy Ancho Reyes in this julep riff.

  • 1 3/4 oz Tincup American Whiskey
  • 1/2 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
  • 1/2 oz Ginger Syrup
  • 1/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 6 to 8 Mint Leaves

Slap the mint leaves between your palms to open up the oils and place in a julep cup. Add the rest of the ingredients, add crushed ice, and churn until mixed thoroughly and the outside of the cup has frosted. Top with additional crushed ice and garnish with a large mint sprig. Sprinkle a little sugar over the mint and ice. Serve with a metal straw.

Patron Julep
Another tequila option for those who don't want bourbon, the addition of apple juice adds fruit notes and cuts the straight-booze feel of most juleps.

  • 1 1/2 oz Patron Silver Tequila
  • 3 1/4 oz Apple Juice
  • 1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
  • 12 Mint Leaves
  • Lemonade to top
  • Mint Sprig for Garnish

In a Collins glass, lightly muddle mint with lime and apple juice. Fill glass with cube ice, add tequila, top with lemonade, and stir well, bringing the mint leaves up into the drink. Garnish with mint sprig.

The Tullamore Dewlap
Irish whiskey, generally smoother and sweeter than bourbon, thanks to triple distillation and an emphasis on barley and wheat over corn, is another welcome alternative for those who find traditional juleps a little too brash. In addition, Ireland shares Kentucky's love of fine horses, folk music and fine whiskey.

  • 2 oz Tullamore Dew Original
  • 1/2 oz White Vanilla Simple Syrup
  • Dash Peach Bitters
  • 12 Mint Leaves

In a julep cup, gently muddle mint and simple syrup. Add Irish whiskey and bitters. Stir to blend. Fill with crushed ice and stir gently to frost glass and blend incredients. Garnish with a mint sprig and a straw.

Ole Smoky Moonshine Mint Julep
Back when the julep was invented, aged whiskey as we know it today was barely a thing. Most whiskey was drunk unaged off the still or barely aged in a bartender's storage barrel. So a moonshine-based julep isn't such a strange thing.

  • 2 oz Ole Smoky Moonshine
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • 4 Fresh Mint Leaves
  • 1 Mint Sprig for garnish
  • Lime wedge for garnish

Place mint leaves and simple syrup in a highball glass. Muddle lightly. Add crushed ice and pour moonshine over the ice. Stir to bring the mint leaves up into the glass and chill the drink. Garnish with lime wedge and mint sprig.

Cruzan Hats Off Julep
Another bourbon alternative, this dark rum is rich, bold and complex.

  • 2 oz Cruzan Estate Estate Diamond Dark Rum
  • 1/2 oz Turbinado Simple Syrup*
  • 4-6 Mint Leaves
  • 6 Blackberries
  • Mint Sprig

In a Julep cup, muddle mint and three berries. Add rum and simple syrup and fill with crushed ice. Stir well to chill and top with more crushed ice. Sprinkle a rinsed mint sprig with powdered sugar and garnish, with three more blackberries. *For the Turbinado simple syrup, in a pan, combine 1 cup turbinado sugar (or brown sugar) with 1 cup water. Bring just to a boil while stirring, then reduce heat. simmer for 15 minutes while stirring occasionally. Let cool and refrigerate.

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Thirsty for more? Check out National Spirits Examiner or NY Drinks Examiner.
Do you have a cocktail trend, new product, bar or teahouse you'd like me to review? Want to give me a heads-up on your favorite hot spot? Please email me at NYDrinksExaminer AT gmail.com. Or follow me on Twitter @roberthp.

FTC Disclaimer: The author sometimes receives product samples for review, which carry no cash value and cannot be re-sold, and sometimes attends press events such as lunches or cocktail parties, designed to promote a given product. The author is not paid by any alcohol manufacturer, retailer or distributor, or provided compensation apart from revenue from an assigning publishing company for editorial publication. Opinions are the author's own. By the way, you should be 21 or older to read this page. Author received no samples or comps in connection with this article. He does recommend placing $2 on Number 5 in the Kentucky Derby.