The Kentucky Derby: A Guide To Enjoying it All

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The Kentucky Derby: Our Essential Guide to Entertaining, Hosting and Enjoying the Traditions 

Sharing the Heritage and Legacy of Pappy Van Winkle

The Kentucky Derby, the name alone conjures up images of cold mint juleps, big hats, parties, celebrations, and of course, fast horses. Crowds of revelers, clutching tickets bearing strange sounding terms like Across the Board or Triplefecta, with programs highlighted and names selected - whether you choose based on the statistics of the statistics of the thoroughbred, the jockey or the trainer,  and how they handle the track conditions, or whether you are superstitious and choose based on the color of the silks or the name of the horse itself. 

Eager betters gather to urge their horse along, prodding with urgent requests that swell to a thunderous collective scream, thousands upon thousands shouting “go baby, go” in tandem. Mint juleps sit, waiting for a moment of victory or defeat, their sweet invitation is ideally suited for either - and a crowd of colorful hats and seersucker suits, bowties and feathered fascinators mingle in the crowds. These two minutes of splendor situated after a months long celebration that takes over a city and settles into the hearts of anyone who has ever attended, or who dreams to one day. The most exciting two minutes in sports is a celebration truly like no other.  

 As native Louisvillians with deep rooted ties to this magnificent occasion, we’ve grown up with the Derby as an ever present backdrop to our lives. We have memories of crowding downtown to watch the Pegasus Parade, the penultimate occasion in the Derby Festival lead up to the main event itself, and gathering on the riverbanks of the Ohio River to cheer on the race before therace -The Great Steamboat Race. A tradition since 1963 that, along with the parade, the Great Balloon Race, where hot air balloons are simultaneously released in the chill of an early spring morning and the great colorful orbs are followed all over town until one is christened the winner, have become just as ingrained in the great Derby celebrations as the seminal day itself. 

Of course, looming ever so large in our lives are the resplendent stories of the legendary Kentucky Derby parties hosted by our great-grandparents. A Kentucky Derby brunch is a common occasion in our hometown, you either attend the actual races or you celebrate at a fête that is oftentimes just as grand. The attire and the menu usually match that of the actual track goers, Derby hats are expected and Mint Juleps will be enjoyed.  Nana and Pappy were well known for their Derby brunches, so much so that they were featured in a the 1937 edition of "Life Goes to a Party" inLife Magazine.  Guests were dazzled with colorful displays and decor and trayfuls of classic Mint Juleps were served to eager guests. 

  We tried our hands at our own Derby event a few years ago. Hosting our own version of the infamous Derby brunch, we had every detail, from our Dad’s beloved derby jacket that still bears the rip down the back he got, depending on which version of the story you hear, during an infield trip one year. We included many nods to the brunches of past -  including our traditional menu and of course, an array of silver Mint Julep cups, either as the traditional vessel for the quintessentially Kentucky Derby cocktail, or as a vase for flowers or a creative way to display cutlery on the buffet. 

Life Magazine also featured in their article, the recipe for "The Stizel-Weller Julep" served in an iced cold traditional mint julep cup bearing Pappy's initials, with an inviting and refreshing sprig of mint, more than likely freshly plucked from Nana's garden that very morning. 

The Kentucky Derby is every bit as magical and entertaining as one would imagine. A tradition that will celebrate it's 150th year, with no signs of relinquishing it's legendary status or it's rightful place in the lore of Kentucky history. As we've mentioned, the Derby holds another significant tie to our own family's connection to Kentucky history, as it was Derby Day in 1935 that Pappy opened the doors to the Stizel-Well Distillery. In a twist of fate we can't possibly ignore, as the Kentucky Derby is preparing to celebrate their 150th, we too are honoring another iconic name in Kentucky history, our own great-grandfather, Pappy Van Winkle, whose continued presence is as intrinsically tied to the backdrop of Kentucky as the Derby, and celebrating his 150th birthday as well.   Springtime in Kentucky this year is just that much sweeter for us. 

So whether you will tune in with bated breath to see who will be crowned the champion of the Run for the Roses, you are hosting your own Kentucky Derby brunch, or you are making the long awaited trek to this year's special occasion and will join thousands at Churchill Down's on Derby Day, we have comprehensive guides to getting the most out of your Kentucky Derby celebrations.  "And down the stretch they come..."

Pappy & Company's Kentucky Derby Guides:

Entertaining & Hosting

Kentucky Derby Menu Planning: The sips and bites to celebrate Kentucky's traditions

Kentucky Derby: Pappy Van Winkle Cigar Guide