More than a mint julep. You’ll definitely want to try these at-home Kentucky Derby recipes

Kirby AdamsLouisville Courier Journal

The 146th Kentucky Derby will be one like no other. With the Churchill Downs announcement that it’s shutting down the infield and limiting fans to less than 23,000, the majority of people will be watching the (delayed) Run for the Roses from the safety of their homes on Saturday, Sept. 5.

That means 2020 will be the year of the at-home Kentucky Derby party. If you’re looking for inspiration, Louisville entertaining mavens Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler have written a book filled with entertaining ideas and recipes called “Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon?” (Find it locally at Carmichael’s Bookstore for $30).

It includes traditional Southern cocktails and appetizers that will take your 2020 Kentucky Derby party up a notch, from nontraditional mint juleps to everything from Kentucky classic Benedictine to cheese grits and corn pudding. (Plus, try the bonus recipe below from Kentucky’s own Ale-8-One.)

Be sure if you are hosting a small at-home Kentucky Derby party that you’re observing any restrictions put in place by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, that you and your guests are observing safe social distancing and above all, don’t forget your mask.

Happy Derby, everyone. 

Traditional mint julep

The traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep, is a must at any home Derby party.

1 serving

  • 1-ounce simple syrup
  • 3 to 5 fresh mint leaves plus a fresh sprig for garnish
  • 3-ounces Kentucky bourbon
  • Crushed ice

To make the simple syrup, add 2 cups of granulated sugar to 1 cup of boiling water. Cool, bottle and refrigerate. You can do this the day before the party.

To make the julep, place the simple syrup and mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup or glass. Muddle. Add bourbon and stir.

Fill to the brim with crushed ice, add a long straw and garnish with a mint spring. 

Note: if you are using mint-infused bourbon, don’t use the muddled mint leaves. 

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Mint julep variations

Peggy Noe Stevens suggests mixing bathes of the cocktails you will serve at your Kentucky Derby party ahead of time. During the COVID-19 outbreak this is especially important because it helps to keep guests from touching multiple bottles if they were to make their own drinks.

Spice up your traditional mint julep offerings with these four unique twists on the classic cocktail: 

Pineapple Julep: Muddle a tablespoon of chopped fresh pineapple with mint leaves and use 2-ounces of bourbon and 1-ounce of pineapple juice.

Strawberry Julep: Add 3 fresh chopped strawberries to the bottom of the glass along with the mint and syrup and muddle.

Chocolate Julep: No muddling needed here. Simply combine 2-ounces Kentucky bourbon, 1-ounce white crème de menthe, and 1-ounce dark crème de cacao; shake over ice, and pour into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Peach-Basil Julep: Use fresh basil leaves and a split vanilla bean to make the simple syrup. Add two 5 ½-ounce cans of peach nectar to the syrup. Muddle a peach slice instead of mint.

Dark and Bloody Bourbon Mary

The Bloody Mary cocktail is an afternoon tradition on Derby day. A nice drink to break up an afternoon of Mint Juleps.

1 serving

  • 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, paprika mix
  • 2-ounces bourbon
  • 2 large lemon wedges
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can (6-ounces) tomato juice

To prepare the seasoning mix, combine in a mortar one part each smoked sea salt, smoked black pepper and smoked paprika. Finely crush with a pestle and shake together in a jar. 

To a pint glass or a large mason jar filled with ice, add the bourbon, squeeze and drop in the lemon wedges and add 1 teaspoon of the seasoning mix and Worcestershire sauce. Shake. Add more ice and the tomato juice. Shake again.

Garnish with a long straw and baby corn, large pitted black olive and cherry pepper, all on a stick. 

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Ale-8 has brought back their horse racing themed packaging for the Kentucky Derby

Ale-8-One has brought back its traditional horse racing themed Kentucky Derby packaging this month. For your themed at-home party, enjoy the Kentucky-born beverage on its own or as a mixer. 

  • 2 teaspoons Ale-8 infused simple syrup
  • 6-8 mint leaves
  • Crushed ice
  • 1.5 ounces bourbon
  • 1 bottle Ale-8

Gently muddle simple syrup and mint leaves in a silver julep cup. Fill the cup with crushed ice. Add bourbon and fill the cup with Ale-8. Garnish with a sprig of mint.


Benedictine spread is a Louisville original.
  • 3 tablespoons cucumber juice 1 tablespoon onion juice
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened 1 teaspoon salt
  • A few grains cayenne pepper, 2 drops green food coloring

To obtain the juice, peel and grate a cucumber, wrap it in a clean dish towel, and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Discard the pulp. Do the same with the onion. Mix all the ingredients with a fork until well blended. Do not use a blender; it will make the spread too runny.

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Cheese Grits

Serves 6

  • 1/2 cup stone-ground grits
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick butter)
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 3 eggs separated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a heavy saucepan, bring 2 ½ cups of salted water to boil and add the grits. 

Simmer over medium heat stirring constantly for about 20 minutes. Stir in the butter and remove from the heat. Add the cheese, cayenne and egg yolks. Cover and set aside.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and stir them into the grits. Pour the mixture into a 1-quart buttered baking dish and back 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

Corn Pudding

Serves 8-10

  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (about 8 cans)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 eggs, beaten 
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Process 1 cup of corn in a food processor until ground. Combine the ground corn, the remaining 3 cups of corn kernels, sugar, flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and mix well. Whisk the eggs, heavy cream, and half and half in a bowl until blended and stir into the corn mixture. Add the butter and mix well.

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Pour the mixture into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan and bake for 40 minutes, or unit a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You can substitute frozen corn for fresh.