The Triple Crown kickoff race is an event that I eagerly await each year. It combines Thoroughbreds, country ham biscuits, and bourbon. I absolutely LOVE the big hats,and as this horse race is the only American sporting event that attracts foreign royalty, there is a big reason for them! So if you watched the recent Royal Wedding, you had better be watching the Kentucky Derby. I have only been to the Kentucky Derby a few times and won’t be this year but that has never stopped me from celebrating like I’m there anyway!
Usually I make it my annual entertaining event. Some parties are more ambitious than others, but here are a few nearly mandatory elements that are the essence of every Derby Day celebration:
First and foremost is the drink of the Derby: the time-honored mint julep cocktail. Over the years I have tried to convert many a Derby party attendant into a mint julep enthusiast. The conversion rate hasn’t been that high, because for non-whiskey drinkers (and there are more out there than you’d think), a julep usually becomes a concoction with a high syrup content and a lower proof bourbon, like Basil Hayden.But I love a good julep and recently was shown by a Louisville bartender how to make them perfectly.
What You’ll Need:
•Julep cup (optional but fun)
•Cocktail shaker and strainer
•2.5 ounces Kentucky straight bourbon
•1 ounces simple syrup (1:1 ratio)
•12 mint leaves
•For garnish: sprigs of mint, berries, powdered sugar
1. Wrap ice in a towel and use a mallet or hammer to crush it. Blenders are an alternative, but don’t chip the ice too fine!
2. Fill a silver julep cup (8-10 ounces) to the rim with crushed ice. A glass or even a small Boston shaker makes a good stand-in.
3. Pour 2.5 ounces of Kentucky bourbon into a glass. Higher proof options like Johnny Drum stand up well to the dilution. Add 1 ounce simple syrup.
4. Add 12 mint leaves, or a few more depending on the leaf size.
5. Top the glass with a shaker and roll in a circular motion without any ice, 15-20 seconds, to wake up the mint without bruising it.
6. Strain the drink into the iced julep cup.
7. Add a crown of ice to the top.
8. Slap a couple of sprigs of mint on your wrist to release the oils. Sink the stems into the ice and garnish with berries and powdered sugar.
9. Slip a short straw beside the mint for sipping.
Beer Cheese is a Derby party staple. It’s pretty much what it sounds like—beer and cheese whirled together into a spread with some garlic and hot stuff, typically accompanied by crackers or crudité. It’s quick to throw together, but make it the day before to let all the flavors mingle.
Beer Cheese Spread
1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces cream cheese (softened to room temperature)
1/2 cup beer
2 garlic cloves, minced
Few drops Worcestershire sauce
Few dashes of hot sauce (like Cholula)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
1. Grate or cut up cheese into cubes and place it, along with all other ingredients in a food processor.
2. While drinking the rest of the beer, mix until smooth.
3. Taste and adjust seasonings.
4. Transfer to serving bowl and refrigerate. It is better to make it ahead so that the flavors can develop.