How do I make my Derby party authentic?
April 22, 2007 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Any ideas for an authentic Kentucky Derby party? So the Kentucky Derby is a few weeks away, and I'm throwing a party for some friends. I'd like to make it festive with some Churchill Downs flair - women wearing hats, betting tickets, toy horses on tables, roses everywhere. I'm serving burgoo, Derby pie, and of course, mint juleps.

I've Googled "Derby party" and come up with a few sites and ideas, but I'd like to go over the top. What other decorations or signs around the house (no manure jokes, please) would help make it more like the real thing? Any one out there with personal Churchill Downs/Derby experience?

Bonus questions: What appetizers would go well with the theme? Any special beers or wines?
posted by adverb to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAKBIGTTUK (I Am Not A Kentuckian, But I Go the the University of Kentucky)

Okay, you've got the most important part - mint juleps. If you want to go over the top, use really good bourbon like Woodford Reserve. Shaved ice is a must. If you really want to go over the top, get Morroccan mint sprigs. The traditional vessel is a silver or pewter cup.

Obviously you should encourage tons of gambling. You could do this the traditional way, person to person, or you could actually have someone act as bookmaker if the party is big enough to warrant it.

Maybe bring in a race handicapper?
posted by phrontist at 6:21 PM on April 22, 2007

Smuggled alcohol. Look at ways that liquor has been brought into the infield at the Downs, and make it available that way. (Watermelons, oranges, etc. used to be popular, but I'm sure security is on to those by now).
posted by dilettante at 6:21 PM on April 22, 2007

I think a reading of Thompson's "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" might be in order.
posted by adipocere at 6:25 PM on April 22, 2007

Kentucky Fried Chicken.
posted by apostrophe at 6:32 PM on April 22, 2007

Cripes! I'm throwing myself a birthday party that day. Thanks for the heads-up. I, too, will have to incorporate some Derby festivities. I already planned on incorporating Cinco de Mayo festivities. This party's gonna be out of control. (/lame)

You hit the high spots. Mint juleps and hats were my first thoughts.

Well, Ginka has some ideas.
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:34 PM on April 22, 2007

IAAK, and you need to serve Hot Browns. They are authentic Kentucky, and are amazingly delicious. You can make mini ones easily enough and I promise that your guests will love them (how can you not love the combo of cream gravy + cheese + turkey + bacon?) Also, Maker's Mark makes a mint-infused bourbon that is sold in bottles dipped in green wax (rather than the regular red) that makes excellent mint juleps, and I think is available outside of Kentucky.

If you want to go completely over the top, you could always hire some smaller men (5'8" or less and less than 125 pounds) and have them dress in jockey costumes to serve everybody. I've never actually seen that done, but it would be totally badass.
posted by jtfowl0 at 7:06 PM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second the infield smuggled bourbon theme.

Hollowed out loaf of bread; mixed in with a box of Triscuits; duct taped to an inner thigh; Ziploc bag in a padded bra...

Prize goes to the partygoer with the most innovative method of importing Kentucky bourbon. All those who bring Tennessee whiskey are disqualified.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 7:12 PM on April 22, 2007

IAAK, as well, and you're missing only one thing (besides the Hot Browns - good call, JT): Tobacco. You need some good cigars to go with those juleps.

And I cannot overemphasize the need for good simple syrup and shaved ice. You'll understand if you compare shaved v. crushed.
posted by plaidrabbit at 7:13 PM on April 22, 2007

Have you already seen that Early Times Kentucky Whiskey is the prime ingredient of the Official Kentucky Derby Mint Julep?

Do not forget big hats for women!

And, How to Host a Kentucky Derby Party from 2005.

If you really mean business you can roast a pig on a spit, which is what my Kentuckian neighbors did every year.
posted by sneakin at 7:30 PM on April 22, 2007

Even though I grew up in California, I come from a long line of Kentuckians, and my parents throw a Derby party every year. Sounds like you've got it pretty much covered. The only thing you're missing is my mom crying when they play My Old Kentucky Home. Speaking of, you could print out the lyrics, pass them around, and encourage everyone to sing along. The original is now politically incorrect, so if you or your guests are likely to be offended, make sure you have the version that says the "people are gay".

As for mint juleps, my parents use crushed ice (though shaved does seem like it would be better) and Maker's Mark. Food is less important -- they usually order something from a local place and that's that.
posted by natabat at 7:55 PM on April 22, 2007

When you don't have enough silver julep cups for everyone, use glass pints or high-balls, and insist authoritatively that "everyone knows that the highfalutin silver cups just make your cocktail taste like a cup of cold nickels, anyway," and you can all congratulate yourselves that you've rescued the bourbon from a tragic fate. Because what no one acknowledges at Derby time is that drinks made in julep cups don't actually taste good.

Appetizer suggestion: Benedictine dip is a traditional Louisville recipe (cold cucumber dip) that you can serve with veggies or crackers or chips.
posted by pineapple at 8:23 PM on April 22, 2007

Proud Louisvillian here, seconding the hot browns and shaved ice.

For the juleps, I'd recommend Woodford Reserve. I got to hang out with Brown Forman's master distiller a few years ago, and he made me a julep with Woodford. Best I've ever had.

A few other ideas:

* Country ham with those little bitty biscuits
* A salad made from Kentucky bibb lettuce
* Have your hosts dress in Kentucky Colonel outfits
posted by jbickers at 3:09 AM on April 23, 2007

In the April 2004 issue of Budget Living magazine, there was a good article on hosting a Kentucky Derby party:

"Horsing Around
Who says you have to live in Dixie to do Derby Day right? Kentucky expat Jon Carloftis shows how to host a bodacious bluegrass bash - anywhere -- and still finish in the money. By Lynne Palazzi "

Not sure if you can find it online (I could only find that bit), but I remember seeing it in print at the time and it looked pretty good.
posted by mikepop at 5:57 AM on April 23, 2007

At our neighborhood Derby party, we have two betting pools to draw from: a $1 pool, and a $5 pool. Tickets get you a blind draw of all the horse's names in a hat. Even if you know nothing about the race, you've got a stake in it, and that makes it more fun.

I wouldn't use really expensive bourbon in Juleps, but the simple syrup and fresh mint (properly muddled) are very important. Also, a quick shake of powdered sugar over the top of the drink, and an orange slice and marachino cherry garnish.
posted by tizzie at 8:44 AM on April 23, 2007

Do not use Early Times in your juleps, unless you want to have people crying before "My Old Kentucky Home" is ever played.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:44 AM on April 23, 2007

The May Cooking Light issue had a feature with Bob Edwards talking about Derby party food. I grew up in Louisville and I'd never had any of it on Derby day before.

I'd stick to Mint Juleps, cleverly hidden liquor, betting pools, and derby hats.
posted by david1230 at 5:02 PM on April 23, 2007

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