It’s officially the best time of the year – Derby season! Even if you aren’t from Kentucky, who doesn’t want an excuse to celebrate a horse race with big hats and delicious drinks? Here in Kentucky, the Derby kicks off the summer season and highlights everything good about Kentucky. Dresses are a must and the bigger the hat the better!
On Derby Day in Louisville if you aren’t at the track, you are attending numerous Derby parties across town. We are known for throwing some pretty epic ones. Heck, we kick off the Kentucky Derby Festival with one of the largest fireworks shows in the nation and the party doesn’t stop for two weeks! The Barnstable Brown Party is legendary with new celebrities joining each year and there’s always a Derby Eve gala to attend. Most companies and schools across town shut down for the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and it’s easily the most festive time of the year. Even if you aren’t living in Kentucky during those magical weeks leading to the first Saturday in May, you can definitely still join in on the fun.
Here’s some tips for hosting the perfect Kentucky Derby party in any city!
Bows & Bow Ties
No Kentucky Derby party is complete without some festive attire. Grab your gal pals and make your own Derby hats or fascinators using some of the tips from Heidi Potter’s StyleBlueprint guide to making custom hats like a local. And once you build your essential accessory, pair it with your favorite pastel dress, boots or heels, pearls, and you are set! Attire for the dapper gentleman out there normally consists of bright colored pants, a patterned blazer and the perfect bow tie. And don’t forget to accessorize! Men attending the Kentucky Derby spend just as much time searching for the perfect belt, hat and shoes to jazz up their attire. Having everyone at your party get into the theme and have an excuse to dress up makes it seem like you are actually in the Infield with the crowds. Plus how often do you have an excuse to wear big hats? It’s fun!
You can’t have a Derby party without some kind of bourbon cocktail. A Kentucky staple, the classic Mint Julep, is always a winner! A typical mint julep consists of bourbon, minted simple syrup, tiny splash of water, and lots of crushed ice topped with a delicate sprig of mint. Housed in the collector’s silver mint julep cup, these cocktails will normally cost you about $15 dollars at the track! Luckily at your party, you can set the price 🙂 A few years ago I found a non-traditional mint julep recipe that I like even better but shh don’t tell! Check out my favorite spin on the traditional mint julep here. While any bourbon will do, my favorite brands include Four Roses and Maker’s Mark.
There are three key staples to every Kentucky Derby party menu: the Kentucky Hot Brown, Benedictine, and a slice of Derby pie. For those who don’t know, the Kentucky Hot Brown consists of huge oven fresh portions of sliced turkey on a slice of toast, layered with bacon and tomatoes then smothered with rich Mornay sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. While this is DELICIOUS, I usually tend to steer away from the traditional recipe for a party otherwise your guests will be napping before they finish eating. I like to make a Hot Brown dip that can be easily made and consumed in small portions. The famous Brown Hotel’s Hot Brown dip is the original recipe I follow.
Exhausted after preparing the Hot Brown? Don’t worry, the Kentucky traditional Benedictine spread is the easiest dish to make. Perfect for an appetizer, mix up a batch by combing cucumbers and cream cheese to make a creamy spread. Usually I will grate the cucumbers and reserve the extra juice to mix with softened cream cheese. While some like it creamy, you can also leave small chunks of cucumbers throughout to give it a little more texture. From there you can treat it like any dip, using chips, crackers or vegetables to serve. My favorite way is to make small tea sandwiches using Benedictine, cucumber slices, and a tiny sliver of bacon if you are feeling adventurous.
And don’t forget dessert! Y’all, I have to admit, the Derby pie is by far my most FAVORITE PIE EVER. This rich concoction of chocolate, bourbon and delicious nuts can make me cry in happiness. Now I’ll share with you the general recipe, but don’t even try to ask for my real recipe – it’s a coveted secret. I follow my mom’s famous recipe that is better even than those official pies from Kern’s Kitchen. You may be thinking that such a delicious pie means slaving away for hours but you would be wrong. The Derby pie is one of the easiest pies to make, especially if you are using pre-made crust. Here’s a standard recipe that you can follow, maybe you can figure out what I change to make it even better!
And there you have it! The perfect tips for throwing a Kentucky Derby party. Let me know how your parties go!