A menu inspired by the iconic traditions and flavors of 150 years of the Kentucky Derby 

Distilled: The Kentucky Derby 

Celebrate The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports with a Menu Inspired by the Traditions and Legacy of Pappy Van Winkle 
 The Kentucky Derby is officially a sporting event - but it is also officially a holiday dedicated to food, flavor and celebration. After all, there is an entire Kentucky Derby festival dedicated to the cuisine, the events and the fun leading up to the two minute race. It figures that Kentucky is known for stretching a two minute race into a two week celebration proving we really do know a thing or two about how to enjoy ourselves.

Ask anyone what they know about Kentucky and you are likely to get a response that includes a few of the top four : bourbon, basketball, horses and therefore, the Kentucky Derby. 

Following in the legendary footsteps of our great-grandfather Pappy Van Winkle and our great-grandmother, who were known for many things, chief among them being their love of entertaining. It's no wonder that Pappy dedicated his life to crafting the perfect version of a bourbon meant to invite celebration and enjoyment. We have been forever inspired by his hard work, craftsmanship and promise of quality - just as we are forever inspired by the legacy of entertaining and hospitality they embodied. 

That spirit of hospitality and entertaining was never more evident that during their legendary Kentucky Derby parties. While Nana always had her table laid with linens and silver - even for breakfast, and was known for her creative Christmas decorations, it was really their Derby parties that set the stage for what we know and love about entertaining.

Of course they understood the importance of drinks, after all the iconic Kentucky Derby cocktail is a bourbon drink - the legendary Mint Julep. In fact their Derby brunch was originally referred to as a "Mint Julep Brunch," but they also understood the importance of food - specifically traditional southern fare - as the base for entertaining.

As our aunt, Sally Van Winkle Campbell, recounted in But Always Fine Bourbon the story of the legendary Derby party as featured in Life goes to a Party that "Derby was more than a horse race, it furnished an excellent excuse for many convivial trimmings which have only a nebulous connection with the event motivating them.” 

 That may very well have been the case for the origin of these many traditions, however they are all so ingrained into the overall celebration of Derby now that one simply can't tell untangle them from the entirety of the celebration. 

A typical menu for their iconic and quintessential Derby brunch isn't entirely different than what we would serve at a Kentucky Derby brunch today. As the Life article further regaled us with the imagery of their dining room table "laden with the traditional Kentucky fare: scrambled eggs, buttered grits, and of course, beaten biscuits with country ham.”

 While beaten biscuits are as traditional as they come, they are also a laborious process - a true labor of love - that most people no longer bother to spend time with. During the preparations for our Derby part in 2019, our dad, Julian Van Winkle and his sister, Sally, got together to make beaten biscuits the old fashioned way - pulling out the old press that Sally had inherited. It was a true step back in time, but one that really drove home the connections between these special traditions and generations. 

Kentucky Derby: the Traditional Menu for honoring and celebrating an iconic event

The musts: ham biscuits, cheese grits, strawberries, cold asparagus - all the essential springtime flavors. The additional Southern classics and trimmings: pimento cheese, shrimp cocktail, fruit salad, a simple charcuterie board. Additional southern flair: fried green tomatoes. Dessert, Kentucky Derby Pie - and of course, the next iconic Kentucky tradition - the Bourbon Ball.

 Even if you are fueling up before heading to Churchill Downs, or hosting al all day soiree - the menu sets the stage for the entire day.  Hosting a derby brunch may sound intimidating, but it can be done on any level. It is, at it’s most simple, a special occasion devoted to an event that includes so many time honored traditions all you have to do is follow along. 

The Menu: 

Enjoy some of our favorite traditional or tradition inspired recipes, with a perfectly added legendary Kentucky touch of iconic Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Flavor. After all, what is a more perfect way to celebrate the 150th Kentucky Derby than with Pappy Van Winkle infused and inspired dishes that honor his legacy. 

Ham Biscuits:

We have a variety of options for this truly classic southern delight. While certainly if you were attending Pappy & Nana's legendary brunch you'd be enjoying hand-made beaten biscuits - these days we typically substitute one of our favorite store bought versions.

Country Ham Biscuits with Maple Rosemary Butter 

This traditional favorite (with store bought biscuits) gets an extra hit of flavor from butter infused with either our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Original or Spicy Maple Syrup

Beaten Biscuits with Maple Glazed Ham

Feel like tackling the truly traditional original?


A truly southern specialty, grits are always on the table if we are hosting any kind of brunch - from Easter to a bridesmaid luncheon, you are guaranteed to find some version of grits (our favorite are cheese grits) on a Southern table. We have always used another local Kentucky favorite - (also family owned and operated for generations) Weisenberger Mills grits in our kitchen and love their suggested recipe here for a basic cheese grits recipe (with Louise's suggested modification of  2 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of milk for extra creamy and flavorful grits). 

 Grits, grits and more grits. 

Of course, any Southern chef will have their traditional favorites, as well as a some surprising options for added flavor. We've got plenty of options to give your grits extra flair - like Cast Iron Maple Grits - featuring our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Syrup and crispy bacon, or Cast Iron Grits & Greens that gets a dash of sweet heat from our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce. 

Fried Green Tomatoes.

A delicious addition to any southern event, ours are made using our heirloom cornmeal and Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup for an extra hint of tradition and flavor. 

The Greens.

While we recommend a cold asparagus with a mustard vinaigrette using our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup, try a grilled asparagus smoked over our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel Stave Smoking Chunks for an extra dose of smoky Pappy Van Winkle flavor.  

Spring Queen Salad with an added crunch from our Pappy Van Winkle Heirloom Cornmeal

The Dessert:

Kentucky Derby Pie. A dessert named for the event is obviously a must. We typically serve our Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie - an old fashioned Van Winkle tradition and recipe, but we aren't at all opposed to calling this one in! We recommend our friends at The Sugar Mamas Bakeshop or even the Southern Baked Pie Company, of course another Holiday favorite is a traditional layered delicacy from Caroline's Cakes - a favorite Van Winkle tradition. 

Of course, we usually revert back to the simplest of specialties. A tradition and delicacy as enmeshed in the roots and traditions and lore of Kentucky history as the Derby itself - the Bourbon Ball. Our recipe, perfected to honor the original Bourbon Ball made famous by Ruth Hanley Booe back in 1938, with our friends at Sugar Mamas Bakeshop, just so happen to be made using Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year - now just what could be more perfectly Kentucky than that?!

   We serve these on a tray next to bright and vibrant spring strawberries for a truly simple, yet beautiful and delicious - display.  For an added touch of Kentucky tradition - we recommend serving them on our Mini Pappy Tray from our Everyday Heirlooms collection, or for rustic charm, on one of our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel stave cutting boards. The Classic.

The Drinks:

Of course, it wouldn't be, couldn't be the Kentucky Derby without the Mint Julep. A traditional southern specialty,  equally as reminiscent of a time when you needed a cold beverage on a sitting porch, this drink has now come to represent and honor both iconic Kentucky traditions - bourbon and the race itself. There is a reason, after all, that Pappy's own Derby brunch started out being called a Mint Julep brunch.

While we are traditionalists at heart - we prefer a home made version, with muddled fresh mint, ice pebbles, and a splash of fine Kentucky bourbon,  over the overly sugared pre-made concoction you will be served at Churchill Downs (don't get us wrong - this will certainly do a in a pinch and we will of course enjoy one while at the track). However, to truly enjoy this beverage the way it was intended-  to properly honor this namesake beverage - it should be served in an iced mint julep cup with a sprig of fresh mint plucked fresh from your own garden that very Derby day morning.

Of course, we have recipes for however you want to enjoy this most Kentucky of cocktails, but we recommend you start with,

The Classic Mint Julep.

Already perfected that and ready for  something new, try the Maple Mint Julep with a splash of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup, or the The Strawberry Mint Julep for an added refreshing spring flavor. Looking for even more variation? Check out our other Mint Julep recipes featuring surprising Pappy Van Winkle barrel-aged infused twists!

The Oaks Lilly

On Oaks Day, the precursor to Derby Day, that has become equally as popular and resplendent with big hats and swelling crowds, the signature drink of the day is the Oaks Lilly - delightfully pink hued to honor Breast Cancer Awareness - now so intrinsically linked to Oaks day that the sartorial choices are overwhelmingly pink in continued celebration.  

The Bloody Mary. 

A classic brunch addition - we recommend a splash of our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce for an added dose of just the right amount of subtly sweet heat. Of course there is always the Pappy Mary that adds candied bacon to the mix! 

The Tequila or Whiskey Sour. 

Want to make it as easy as possible - set up a make your own bar - or whip up a batch of margarita-esque craft cocktails using our incredibly versatile Pappy Van Winkle Kentucky Sour Cocktail Mixer. With the flavor of wildflower honey that has been slowly smoked over retired Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels, combined with bright citrus flavors - for a pour, stir and sip one-stop-shop for cocktails. Pairs well with whiskey, tequila and vodka for endless options and variety.  Find a few of our favorites here

The Old Fashioned

A bourbon cocktail as humbly quietly ensconced in Kentucky tradition, we love a make-your-own Old Fashioned Bar featuring our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned Mixer for truly classic flavor, and Orasella Maraschino Cherries or orange wheels for variety. Sometimes it really is that simple!


Of course, you could just grab your punch bowl (or our Pappy Punchbowl) and include your favorite bubbly, wine or rose!

The Flavors:

Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel Aged Pepper Sauce - the subtly sweet heat of Georgia grown Ghost Peppers, aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrels and infused with signature oaky, smoky rich heat is a perfect addition to any Southern inspired brunch menus.  

 Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup & Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Spicy Syrup

Add a surprising flavor twist to any marinade, craft cocktail or appetizer with the signature flavor of our two syrups - the classic, with the rich, buttery flavor of pure maple syrup highlighted by the iconic flavors of our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and the notes of vanilla, oak and charred sweetness. Kick things up with our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Spicy Syrup featuring a hint of that famous Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged ghost pepper mash. 

Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel Stave Smoking Chunks

Enjoy spring's splendor on the grill! Hosting a Kentucky Derby watch party is the perfect time to grill up some effortless options - especially using

these genuine staves from retired Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrels to enhance your food with signature sweet, smoky flavor . 

Whether you are here for the food, the drinks, the traditions, or the horses - we've got everything you need to enjoy the Kentucky Derby!
Carrie Van Winkle Greener, Co-Founder