How to | Throw a Derby Party like a Local

You guys probably already know we're big fans of the Derby, especially mint juleps! We've talked about the style and cocktails before and today we're so excited to have a Kentucky native, Emilee from Dot & Bo, with us to show us how to throw a Kentucky Derby party just like a local. Take a look below...

We at Dot & Bo love a good party. Especially when it comes with some sort of festive theme. And when bourbon gets involved? Be still, our beating hearts!

So you can only imagine how excited we get each year when the first Saturday in May rolls around. Better known as “Derby Day,” this is the perfect time to gather friends, get a little gussied up, and sip mint juleps in front of the TV as the world’s top 3-year old racehorses compete for the sport’s ultimate prize. The race itself is thrilling - they don’t call it the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” for nothing! - but the real fun comes from the just-as-storied tradition of throwing a Derby Day bash. And with a Kentucky native on our editorial staff, we have the inside scoop on how to throw such a soiree like a Louisville local.

Step 1: Set the Scene

The Derby is nicknamed “The Run for the Roses” because of the blanket of red roses draped over the winner after he or she crosses the finish line. This is why we suggest decorating with red roses to match.

You don’t have to go nuts. A small arrangement of red roses in a simple vase or even a silver julep cup will set the tone nicely. If you want to take the look in a more rustic direction, use clear mason jars.

Other décor ideas? Anything equestrian will do. After all, there’s a horse race involved.

Step 2: Dress the Part

One of the perks of Derby Day is the chance to wear a festive hat. I mean, when else do you get the opportunity?

Massive sun hats, tiny fascinators, novelty Derby-themed hats…it all works. Pair your hat with a floral frock or other spring attire, and you’ll be looking Derby-ready in no time.

Step 3: Mix up the Mint Juleps

You can’t celebrate the Derby without a mint julep in hand. The popular drink is made with bourbon, Kentucky’s trademark spirit. Did you know that 95% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky? Our favorite is Woodford Reserve, but there are dozens of local distilleries churning out delicious options.

Here’s how to make the refreshing libation, the Churchill Downs way:

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Crushed ice
Julep cups
Make simple syrup by boiling water and sugar for approximately five minutes. Then infuse it with mint by cooling it overnight in a covered container with six to eight springs of fresh mint.

When it’s party time, make each mint julep individually. Simply fill a julep cup with crushed ice. Add 1 tablespoon of mint syrup, and then 2 ounces of bourbon. Stir rapidly to frost outside of cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Insider Tip: If the drink is too strong for your preference, you can add soda water to temper it a bit. Just don’t tell anyone we told you that.

Step 4: Serve the Hot Browns

A hot brown is the best possible kind of sandwich. Served open-face, it piles turkey and tomato slices, smothered in hot, melty cheese, and topped with crisp bacon. Trust us when we say no finer combination exists.

Here’s how to cook up the signature sandwich, made famous by Louisville’s own Brown Hotel, and keep your guests full and happy.

1 ½ tbsp. salted butter
1 ½ tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ cup Pecorino Romano cheese – plus extra for garnish
Ground nutmeg
Salt & Pepper
14 oz. sliced roasted turkey breast
4 slices of crusty country bread
4 slices bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced

In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined to form a thick paste or roux. Continue to cook roux for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino-Romano cheese until the sauce is smooth. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
For each Hot Brown, place one slice of bread in an oven safe dish and cover with 7 oz. turkey. Arrange two slices of tomato on top of the turkey. Pour half of the sauce over the dish, completely covering it. Sprinkle with additional cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove and cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top. Sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.
(Makes 2 Hot Browns)
Step 5: Slice the Chocolate Chip Walnut Pie

This traditional pie is impossibly easy to bake, but you’d never know when you bite into it. Like a chocolate-y walnut-studded chocolate chip cookie in pie form, it’s the ultimate crowd-pleasing dessert.

Note: It’s technically known as Kentucky Derby Pie, but the name is trademarked (along with the exact recipe). This is our take, and trust us, it’s pretty darn close. Here’s how to cook up one for your party.

½ cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup melted butter
2 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 ¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 pre-made pie crust (shh don’t tell)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the eggs and butter, then mix to combine. Stir in bourbon, walnuts, chocolate chips, vanilla, and salt. Pour into unbaked pie crust and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool before serving.

Step 6: Make a Friendly Wager

If you were celebrating Derby Day at the track, you’d likely place a few bets. Bring the tradition home with a friendly Derby pool. Here’s how to get it started.

Print out a list of all Derby entries. Traditionally, there are between 15 and 20 horses competing. Get out your scissors and cut the list into little slips of paper, so one horse is listed on each. Put them all in a hat or bowl and have party guests each choose one – without looking! If you want to compete for money, have everyone contribute $5. Not much of a gambler? Set aside a special prize (an extra pie to bring home? A fancy hat?) for the winner. Whoever has the winning horse takes the prize.

And there you have it. All the fixings for a perfect Derby Day, no matter how far you are from the Bluegrass State. Sounds like a fun afternoon, right? Let us know if you’re planning to host your own Derby Party. We can swap recipes!

Thanks Emilie and the entire team at Dot & Bo for joining us today and for tips for celebrating like a local. Can't wait for a julep and a slice of pie!

- Mary Keller and Heath

image 1 | image 2 | image 3 | image 4 & 5 from Dot & Bo team | image 6 


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