When you think of the Derby Day in Louisville, Kentucky, you probably think of a few different things right off the bat.
The first, of course, is Kentucky. It’s literally called The Kentucky Derby. The second is probably horses, because like, that’s the whole point of the thing. When you scratch a little deeper, your brain may conjure images of men donning obnoxious suits with funny straw hats and silly bow ties. It generally gives off heavy “’80s-used-car-salesman-meets-barbershop-quartet” vibes. And then there are the women, dressed like elegant passengers waiting to board The Titanic. Scratch even deeper and there’s the historical cocktail of The Kentucky Derby (and the part of it that I take least umbrage with), the Mint Julep. It’s a classic cocktail that took hold of the American South in the 18th century and achieved official consecration into the fabric of the Derby a few decades later. By the 1970s, it had solidified its position as the drink of the race and earned a dubious mention in Hunter S. Thompson’s notorious Derby dispatch “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” as the drink patrons will be “guzzling” with “both hands and vomiting on each other between races.”
I have no qualms with a good Mint Julep. In fact, I love ‘em. A little bourbon, a little simple syrup, some slapped mint leaves–they’re great.
But rules are meant to be broken, tradition is boring, and bow ties are too damn tight to wear in all that heat.
So, imagine my delight to hear that this year’s official drink of The Kentucky Oaks (the thoroughbred race that takes place the day before the Kentucky Derby) isn’t a julep, but a vodka drink called the “Finlandia Oaks Lily.” It comes from the Finnish vodka maker Finlandia, which is the official vodka of the Kentucky Derby this year. And with that title comes a number of cocktails that are just as ready to be sipped while the horses run as any minty bourbon concoction.
These cocktails are all just as Derby-approved as the famous Mint Julep, ranging from the lighter side (like takes on the Cranberry Vodka and Vodka Tonic) to the filling (every proper event should have a special Bloody Mary).
Finlandia Oaks Lily
Don’t take an event’s official drink lightly. They get the title for a reason, after all, and the Finlandia Oaks Lily is a drink fit for the horse race it represents as an easy and refreshing drink you can sip all day long. This elevated cranberry vodka incorporates cranberry juice, sweet and sour, a little triple sec and a proper splash of Finlandia vodka. It’s easy to make at home, and you can either use the pre-made sweet and sour mix or make your own at home using equal parts water, sugar, lime juice, and lemon juice. There aren’t many
Finlandia Oaks Lily recipe:
- 1.25 ounces Finlandia Vodka
- 1 ounce sweet and sour mix
- .25 ounce triple sec
- 3 ounces cranberry juice
- Garnish with raspberry and lemon twist
Fill a stemless wine glass with crushed ice, add your ingredients, give it a proper stir, and garnish.
The Finnish Line
My favorite thing about a classic Mint Julep is that it has three ingredients, which means it’s nearly impossible to botch, even while enduring the most heinous of hangovers. The Finnish Line has just as many ingredients, and you don’t have to commit simple assault on the garnish just to get it to work right. This light, refreshing, tart take on a classic vodka tonic is a simple way to start Derby Day right or take a hydrating breather in between the fun.
The Finnish Line recipe:
- 1.5 ounces Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka
- 4 ounces tonic water
- Garnish with grapefruit slice
Add ice and vodka to a highball glass, top with tonic, and garnish with grapefruit slice. Boom.
Bloody Marys for Four
Derby Day is exactly what it sounds like, folks. The races may not start until the afternoon, but the party starts early and ends late. I am a committed “Bloody Mary any time, all the time” kind of guy. They taste just as good at 9 a.m. as they do at 9 p.m., and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on. That said, if you’re looking for an easy batch cocktail to serve with your homemade attempt at eggs Bennedict on a Saturday morning, this one is an easy crowd favorite. And one of the best part about Bloody Marys is you can tweak it to make it however spicy you want it or add in various ingredients to change it up. Far as garnishes go, I’m a big fan of sharp cheddar cubes and pepperoni sticks, but you can do anything from a celery stick to shrimp cocktail, a slice or two of bacon, blue cheese stuffed olives, and everything in between.
Bloody Marys for Four recipe:
- 6 ounces vodka
- 2 ounces lemon juice
- 16 ounces tomato juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce to taste
Fill a pitcher with ice, add the ingredients, and give it a hell of a long stir until its all nice and chilled. The one fatal mistake folks always make with Bloody Marys is that they add ice to the serving glass. Don’t be that guy. Stir it up, get it cold, and serve without ice in a rocks glass. Garnish to your heart’s content.
The Luce Del Sol (aka The Sunshine Sour)
The Mint Julep became the quintessential Derby Day cocktail because it’s a refreshing, extremely drinkable concoction that works well in the Southern spring heat. Well, sours fall into the same realm. They’re not as light as a Julep, but they offer a really nice, bright mix of sour and sweet that fits right in with sunny weather. This take from Tony Abou-Ganim of The Modern Mixologist calls for vodka, honey syrup, fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juice, some Aperol, and grapefruit vodka.
The Luce Del Sol recipe:
- 1.5 ounces Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka
- .75 ounce Aperol
- .5 ounce honey syrup
- 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
Add Finlandia grapefruit vodka, Aperol, honey syrup, fresh squeezed lemon and orange juices to a mixing glass. From there, add ice to your shaker and give it a good shake until it’s well blended and cold. After that, strain into an ice filled highball glass and garnish with orange and lemon slices.
The Classic Moscow Mule
The Moscow Mule is one of very few cocktails I can think of that works all year ‘round. I can drink these from a classic copper cup by a fire in the dead of winter, or I can have sip a few of these down from a highball glass on a Friday in July at my favorite little rooftop spot. Either way, it works. And it’s another simple three-ingredient mixup, to boot. Grab your favorite ginger beer blend, some vodka, and a lime, and you have everything you need to make this one from scratch.
Classic Moscow Mule recipe:
- 2 ounces vodka
- .5 ounce fresh lime juice
- 3 ounces ginger beer
Fill a Moscow mule mug (or a highball glass, rocks glass, teacup, mason jar, or whatever else you have) with ice. Add your vodka and lime juice, and then top it with ginger beer.
Photo Credit: Dominic Episcopo