Derby Cocktail Recipe

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Derby Nutrition Facts






Created by

Nic Polotnianko

I fell in love with the art of mixology 6 years ago. Since then, I've honed my skills, crafting a myriad of cocktail recipes, and sharing my passion with other enthusiasts.

Last Updated: January 7, 2024


The Derby cocktail is a classic drink that dates back to the early 20th century. It is believed to have been created in honor of the Kentucky Derby, the famous horse race held annually in Louisville, Kentucky. This cocktail is a favorite among horse racing enthusiasts and bourbon lovers alike.

  • The Derby cocktail has been enjoyed at horse racing events and high-class parties for over a century.
  • It is a versatile drink that can be enjoyed by both casual drinkers and cocktail connoisseurs.
  • The Derby cocktail has evolved over time, with many variations and twists on the original recipe.

How Derby Tastes?

The Derby cocktail is a well-balanced, refreshing, and slightly sweet drink. It has a strong bourbon base, with a hint of citrus from the lime juice and a touch of sweetness from the sweet vermouth. The mint adds a subtle, cooling undertone, making it a perfect drink for warm weather or outdoor events.

Interesting facts about Derby

  • The Derby cocktail is often served in a chilled cocktail glass, but can also be enjoyed over ice in a rocks glass.
  • The drink is traditionally garnished with a sprig of fresh mint, which adds a pop of color and enhances the overall flavor profile.
  • The Derby cocktail is sometimes confused with the Mint Julep, another popular bourbon-based drink associated with the Kentucky Derby.



A two-finger pour (2 oz) is just right – anything more and you'd overwhelm the delicate dance of flavors. This American spirit adds a sweet caramel warmth that's the backbone of the Derby.

Without it? You'd have a minty vermouth limeade, sans the Southern charm.

Emma Rose

Sweet Vermouth

Just a splash (0.5 oz) gives the cocktail a complex herbal depth and tempers the bourbon's fire. No vermouth? You'd miss out on the mature sophistication it brings.

Alex Green

Lime Juice

Half an ounce adds enough zesty brightness to cut through the sweetness, ensuring each sip is sharp and refreshing. Without it, you'd lose that fresh wake-up call in the flavor symphony.

Mary Mitkina

Simple Syrup

A subtle quarter ounce sweetens the deal, like the sugar in a mint julep – just enough to highlight the mint and not outshine the main performers. Without it, you might find the drink a tad too tart or harsh.

Emma Rose

Fresh Mint Leaves

Six leaves, the perfect number for a fresh, herby zest. Not just mere decoration – they intensively infuse the syrup with garden-fresh coolness. Miss them out? The whole 'Derby' theme would incur a false start.

Alex Green

Garnish: Mint Sprig

This final touch not only looks the part but also enhances the aroma – elevating every sip with a nose of mint. No sprig? You'll miss out on that extra sensory experience.

Mary Mitkina

Recipe. How to make Derby Drink

  1. In a mixing glass, gently muddle the mint leaves with the simple syrup.
  2. Add the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and lime juice to the mixing glass.
  3. Fill the mixing glass with ice and stir the cocktail until well chilled.
  4. Strain the cocktail into a chilled cocktail glass or over fresh ice in a rocks glass.
  5. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Pro Tips

  • Bourbon: Use a high-quality bourbon for the best flavor.
  • Mint: Fresh mint is key. Avoid using dried mint.
  • Chilling: Ensure your cocktail glass is well chilled before serving for the best experience.

Perfect Pairings

Savory Snacks

  • Bacon-wrapped dates: Complement the sweet and smoky flavors of the bourbon.
  • Blue cheese-stuffed mushrooms: The richness balances the acidity of the lime juice.

Grilled Meats

  • Barbecue pork: The sweetness of the bourbon and simple syrup echoes the sweet tang of BBQ sauce.
  • Grilled steak: A hearty dish to stand up to the robust flavors of the cocktail.


  • Pecan pie: Echoes the nutty and caramel notes in bourbon.
  • Chocolate mousse: The bitterness of chocolate pairs nicely with the mint and sweet profiles.


  • Aged Gouda: Enhances the caramel notes of the bourbon.
  • Sharp Cheddar: Pairs well with the herbal mint and sweetness.

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What you could change in Derby

  • Bourbon: Can be substituted with Rye Whiskey.
  • Sweet Vermouth: Can be substituted with Dry Vermouth for a less sweet cocktail.
  • Lime Juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice can be used instead.

Explore all drinks starting with D here

And of course - twists🍹

Smoky Derby

  • Substitute bourbon for smoky Scotch whisky.
  • Recipe: Follow original recipe but replace bourbon with smoky Scotch.
  • Taste Change: Expect a more pronounced smoky profile, adding an extra dimension to the cocktail that could transport you to the highlands.

Spicy Derby

  • Add a small slice of jalapeño to the muddle step.
  • Recipe: Muddle mint, simple syrup, and a slice of jalapeño, then follow the original recipe.
  • Taste Change: Introduces a spicy kick which contrasts with the sweetness and adds excitement to every sip.

Citrus Derby

  • Use lemon juice instead of lime and add a dash of orange bitters.
  • Recipe: Replace lime juice with lemon juice and add orange bitters. Continue with the original recipe directions.
  • Taste Change: The lemon brightens the drink further, while the orange bitters add a layer of citrus complexity that enhances its summery feel.

In case you forgot basics how to make Derby

The basic composition of simple syrup is relatively straightforward – a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. This mixture is heated until the sugar dissolves, resulting in a clear, sweet syrup.

Learn everything about simple syrup

Place your chosen strainer on top of the shaker or mixing glass, ensuring a secure fit. Pour the cocktail into a glass through the strainer, which will catch solid ingredients and ice. If double straining, hold the fine mesh strainer between the shaker and the glass.

Learn everything on how to strain

Insert the spoon into the glass until it touches the bottom. Keep the back of the spoon against the inside wall of the glass, and stir in a smooth, circular motion. The goal is to swirl the ice and ingredients together without churning or splashing.

Learn everything on how to stir

The key to proper muddling is to crush the ingredients just enough to release their flavors and not overdo it. Over-muddling can result in a bitter taste, especially with herbs.

Learn everything on how to muddle

Garnishing a bar drink depends on the type of garnish and the cocktail. Generally, it involves preparing the garnish (like cutting a citrus wheel or picking a sprig of mint), and then adding it to the drink in a visually appealing way (like perching it on the rim or floating it on top).

Learn everything on garnishing

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Frequently Asked Questions on Derby

What is the alcohol content in Bourbon?

Bourbon is typically around 40-45% alcohol by volume.

What is the origin of the Derby cocktail name?

The Derby cocktail is named after the Kentucky Derby, a major horse racing event held annually in Louisville, Kentucky.

Are there any specific food pairings that go well with Derby cocktail?

The Derby cocktail pairs well with Southern comfort foods like fried chicken, cornbread, and Kentucky burgoo stew.

When is the optimal time to serve a Derby cocktail?

The Derby cocktail is often enjoyed during warm weather or outdoor events.

What is the main difference between Mint Julep and Derby cocktail?

While both cocktails use bourbon and fresh mint, the key difference lies in the additional ingredients. For instance, the Derby cocktail additionally uses sweet vermouth, lime juice, and simple syrup.

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