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AUTHOR: Pinhook

Make Race Day A Holiday

Make Race Day A Holiday

AUTHOR: Pinhook


Make Race Day A Holiday

How to Throw a Race Day Party that Breaks the Mold 

There’s no time like the present to start pulling all the details together for an exceptional Kentucky Derby party. A good place to find inspiration is with two titans of Kentucky culture: thoroughbreds and bourbon, each boasting a storied history and close ties to the state’s proud racing heritage.

Why are we so excited about the Derby? Because horse racing has been part of our identity from the beginning: “Pinhook” is in fact an old Kentucky term for buying foals and nurturing them into champion racehorses. And our bottles’ design reinterprets the shapes used on jockey silks. Perhaps most notably, each year the labels on our new vintages feature real-life Kentucky thoroughbreds at the outset of their careers—follow along and you might even see one of them in the Kentucky Derby someday.

And since we are Pinhook, we like to do things a little differently, and we like Derby parties that break the mold. Think creative bourbon cocktails, new takes on old-school dishes, an eclectic soundtrack, and inventive décor. You’ll be in good hands with our guide—because don’t forget, we train all year for this.

Make Race Day A Holiday
Make Race Day A Holiday

Drinks: Serve up some new, old, and batched cocktails.

No annual event is as closely tied to a particular cocktail as the Kentucky Derby is to the mint julep, and if you’re hosting a party for the first of the Triple Crown Races then your guests will be expecting one. But you shouldn’t stop there. Bourbon makes a fantastic base, and this is one party at which focusing on American whiskey is not only acceptable but appreciated. We asked Sean Josephs, our master blender and in-house party planner, just what he’d serve up for his own horse racing party. We have single and batched recipes too - so you don’t have to bartend the entire time. That said, it’s also a good idea to have beer and wine on offer, as well as non-alcoholic options, especially to keep guests hydrated during a warm, sunny day.

Pinhook's Horse's Neck

A drink you can make in under 2-minutes that’ll help hosts keep the pace as guests arrive. Named after the distinctive long lemon peel winding its way from the base of a highball to its rim, this boozy quencher tastes as good as it looks. Our version swaps orange for lemon to better complement our Kentucky Straight Bourbon. This drink is fast, simple, and especially with our bourbon, totally delicious. It makes for a great welcome cocktail. For batching, we suggest preparing the glasses with orange peels beforehand, then combining the bourbon and ginger ale just as guests arrive to keep the bubbles bubbling. Guests can add ice and pour their cocktail from a pitcher themselves.

Single Cocktail

2 oz Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon
3 oz Ginger Ale (we suggest the classic Kentucky “Ale-8-One”)
1 Long spiral orange peel

01. Peel and place the orange peels into a highball glass, allowing them to spiral from base to rim.
02. Fill the glass with ice, then add bourbon.
03. Top with ginger ale, stir, and serve.

For A Crowd

20 oz Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon
30 oz Ginger Ale,(we suggest the classic Kentucky “Ale-8-One”)
10 Long spiral orange peel

01. Place the orange peels into each of the 10 highball glasses, allowing them to spiral from base to rim.
02. Fill a pitcher halfway with ice, then add bourbon.
03. Fill the pitcher the rest of the way with ginger ale, stir, and cover.
04. Place glasses next to the cocktail pitcher and a bucket of ice for guests to serve themselves.

The Classic Mint Julep

The Party Pleaser - and our batch recipe is truly one made for the party. 

This is the best way to enjoy the julep with your friends. The preferred cocktail of many presidents also appeared in Gone with the Wind before becoming the official cocktail of the Derby in 1938. The partnership endured, and today no race-day party would be complete without it. We suggest these dishwasher safe stainless julep cups and using crushed pebble ice to keep with tradition - because some things just don’t need improvement. To maximize your time enjoying the juleps with friends, we recommend pre-batching the night before. 

For A Crowd

2 750ml bottles Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon
6 oz Simple syrup
2 Bunches mint leaves
20 Mint sprigs, for garnish

01. 24 hours before your party, combine all bourbon and simple syrup in a container and stir.
02. Add one bunch of mint to each of the now-empty bourbon bottles.
03. Return the whiskey and sugar mixture to the bottles, then chill in the fridge overnight.
04. Store the excess for topping off throughout the party, or mix into a cocktail for a Derby Eve treat.
05. For the party: Place a mint sprig in each of the 20 cups next to a bucket of ice (crushed is classic) and the bottles containing the cocktails.
06. Encourage guests to grab a glass and pour a drink straight from the bottle!

Only need a few Juleps this time? Check out this single serve version.

The Bourbon Breeze

This one is sure to be this year’s favorite, an elevated drink inspired by other “breeze” cocktails and named after the horse on this year’s Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon bottle. 

A sunny day at the track (or in your yard) calls for a supremely refreshing, fruit-forward drink. The Bourbon Breeze pairs bourbon with the tropical, citrusy notes of pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and lime juice for a plucky pick-me-up refresher.

Single Cocktail

1.5 oz Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon
1.5 oz Pineapple juice
1.5 oz Cranberry juice
.25 oz Lime juice
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 Lime wedge

01. Mix bourbon, pineapple juice, cranberry juice & lime juice in a shaker with ice, then shake vigorously.
02. Strain into a collins glass filled with ice.
03. Add straw; garnish with lime wedge.

For A Crowd

15 oz Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon
15 oz Pineapple juice
15 oz Cranberry juice
3.75 oz Lime juice
30 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
10 Lime wedges

01. Mix bourbon, pineapple juice, cranberry juice & lime juice in a pitcher, stir vigorously.
02. Add 5 oz of water for dilution.
03. Store in the fridge and pull right before serving. Consider transferring to an empty Pinhook bottle to shake and emulsify before serving.
04. Pour into collins glass filled with ice.
05. Add straw; garnish with lime wedges.

The Watermelon Winner

Here’s your new race day tradition, a cocktail that offers something unexpected to guests and heralds warmer summer months ahead. 

And the real race day winner? A mix of bourbon, basil, and lime juice cooled by a fresh watermelon cube. Also known as the Basil Marceaux, its refreshing balance of bright citrus, light herbal notes and bourbon will quench thirsts until long after the sun goes down.

Single Cocktail

1.5 oz Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon
.5 oz Simple syrup
.5 oz Lime juice
3 Cubes watermelon
3 Basil leaf

01. Add all ingredients and 2 basil leaves to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously.
02. Double strain (from shaker into a strainer over the glass) into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
03. Garnish with remaining basil leaves.

For A Crowd

15 oz Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon
5 oz Simple syrup
5 oz Lime juice
30 Cubes watermelon
30 Basil leaves

01. Add Watermelon pieces into a blender; set to puree until fully broken down.
02. Add bourbon, simple syrup, lime juice and ⅔ basil leaves into a pitcher.
03. Double strain the watermelon puree into the pitcher.
04. Stir, then pour the mixture into rocks glasses filled with fresh ice.
05. Garnish with remaining basil leaves.

Need more of a step-by-step? Watch the master (blender, that is), Sean Josephs, give a guided tutorial on how to make each cocktail The Pinhook Way. 


Make Race Day A Holiday
Make Race Day A Holiday

Food: Make something new, something old, and everything easy to feed your guests.

A Derby party generally runs from mid-afternoon through early evening–not exactly mealtime–so you’ll be well-served to put a contemporary Kentucky spin on something the South does better than anyone: finger food. Make everything before the party kicks off and let guests eat at their leisure throughout the afternoon. 

We’re drinks experts, not chefs, so we asked some of our friends to put together some of their favorite recipes that take an unusual approach to classic southern cooking. Below you’ll find a selection of Southern and Kentucky-specific classics revised for casual grazing.

Deviled Eggs with "City Ham" Salad


From Chef Shane McBride: “There are several pillars of culture in Kentucky, like the Kentucky Derby, Bourbon, and bluegrass. And then there’s HAM! One of my all-time favorite hams is from Newsome’s Country Hams made right in Princeton, KY. Now this recipe isn’t using their awesome country ham but the “Gourmet Ham,'' which is more akin to a honey-baked ham than the prosciutto-like country ham. I grew up calling this style of ham “City Ham.” As far as the eggs go, you can’t go wrong with a delicious deviled egg and some of Kentucky’s finest bourbon.”

The Eggs

Serving: makes 12 pieces of deviled egg

6 large eggs, hard boiled, cleaned and cut in half with whites and yolks separated.
2/3 cup Dukes Mayo
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Pickle juice
½ teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
¼ teaspoon Smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon Ground black pepper

01. In a medium bowl, mix the egg yolks, mayonnaise, mustard, pickle juice, tabasco, paprika, salt, and pepper. Mix with a hand blender until smooth and creamy. Give it a taste and adjust salt and hot sauce levels to your taste.
02. Scrape yolk mixture into a piping bag with a star tip and refrigerate.
03. Line up the egg white halves and spoon in about a tablespoon of the ham salad into each one. Then pipe about the same amount of the yolk mix right on top.
04. Garnish with a little dusting of smoked paprika and minced chives.
05. Pour a large bourbon to wash it down.
06. Enjoy.

The Ham Salad

Serving: makes roughly 3 cups; enough to have a few spoonfuls to make sure it’s right!

2 cups Newsom's 'Gourmet Ham' or your favorite "city" ham diced in small pieces
½ cup Dukes Mayo
1 tablespoon Whole grain mustard
¼ cup Finely chopped banana pepper
¼ cup Finely chopped dill pickles
¼ cup Finely diced celery
2 tablespoons Finely diced shallot
⅛ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon Ground black pepper

01. Combine the ham, mayonnaise, and mustard in a medium-sized bowl until incorporated.
02. Fold in the banana pepper, dill pickle, celery, and red onion and stir to blend completely.
03. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Smoked Fish Finger Sandwiches


From Kyle and Jeff: “The tea sandwich is a quintessential finger food for parties and celebrations. They’re also the perfect finger food, and in the South, certain tea sandwiches are classics. Not only are they super-easy to make, but they look nice. This recipe helps elevate the humble tea sandwich from familiar to something special. This recipe works great with anything from crab meat to smoked trout, really any kind of flaked or smoked fish can work. At our restaurant, Birch, we use the fish of the Midwest, Walleye.”

7 lbs Smoked fish
2 lbs Cream cheese
3 oz Roasted garlic
1 oz Chopped dill
1 oz Chopped tarragon
1 oz Chopped parsley
Zest & juice of 4 lemons
Kosher salt to taste
White bread or brioche
Thinly sliced cucumber
Salt & pepper
Trout roe to garnish

01. Gently mix all ingredients together until well combined so that the mix can be spreadable.
02. To assemble, spread the fish salad mix on a slice of brioche or white bread, just enough to cover a slice so that it isn’t a heaping amount.
03. Place the sliced cucumbers across the fish salad and season them with kosher salt and black pepper.
04. Top the sandwich off with another piece of bread and wrap the sandwich with plastic and refrigerate.
05. The sandwiches are served best if they can sit a few hours wrapped in plastic and cold. Trim the crust and cut sandwiches in desired shape and size. (We cut them into nine pieces.)
06. Garnish with caviar or trout roe.

Bourbon Glazed Pork Tenderloin


From Chef Joshua Lanning: “I love the idea of celebrating corn, especially for Derby Day. Corn has such a rich history in the U.S., from being eaten raw to being ground into meal and, of course, you can’t forget that it’s the basis for bourbon. I wanted to create a warm, homestyle dish where corn would be highlighted. Even though it may be served alongside a juicy pork chop, I chose this recipe to specifically ensure that the flavor of the corn would enhance every component. You can also make the corn alone as a side dish and batch it out for a crowd. Cheers to the best Derby Day ever.”

Step One: The Pork Tenderloin

2 ½ lb Pork Tenderloins, trimmed and seasoned (seasoning recipe below).
1 bunch Thyme
1 sprig Rosemary
4 cloves Garlic
1/2 small onion, chopped
Neutral Oil (for example avocado oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil)
½ cup of Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon
1 cup Chicken Broth
Chili Flakes (Urfa Biber would be ideal)
Cornstarch Slurry (equal parts cornstarch and water)

Pork Seasoning:
4 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
4 Tablespoons Ground Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika (we suggest this one: Bourbon smoked paprika)

01. Season the pork tenderloin with the pork seasoning at least 1 hour before cooking. Save some seasoning for the succotash.
02. Place a pan on medium high. Starting with a couple tablespoons of neutral oil, place the seasoned pork into the pan and sear on high heat to get a good color on all sides. Once a good color is achieved, turn the heat down and add two big spoons of butter along the thyme, rosemary, garlic and onion. As the butter melts, it should be frothy and bubbly.
03. Baste the pork roasts with the flavorful butter.
04. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 135F. This may seem low but once rested, the pork will have hit a perfect temperature. Remove from the pan and place on a tray and tent with foil. Pour out 75% of the fat in the roasting pan, also removing the garlic, thyme, rosemary and onions. Set the onions and garlic aside to use in the finished glaze.
05. Turn the pan back on to medium heat and add two big spoons of butter. When the butter turns browns and smells nutty, turn the flame off and carefully add the bourbon to the pan, deglazing all the flavorful bits off the pan and starting to build a pan glaze for the pork.
06. Turn the flame back on under the pan and carefully let the bourbon ignite white it reduces into a buttery syrup. Once a syrup is achieved, add the chicken broth and cook for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust with salt and black pepper.
07. Whisk in a very small amount of cornstarch slurry and bring the glaze to a boil. If it is too thick, add a small amount of chicken stock. If too thin, Add a small amount of cornstarch slurry. Just be sure that you can taste that lovely bourbon glaze you’ve created.
08. Reserve until ready to serve.

Step Two: The Succotash

2 Cups Cooked Farro
1 Cup Corn kernels
Neutral Oil (for example avocado oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil)
1 Green onion, thinly sliced
Pork Seasoning
1 Head of Fennel, sliced in thin ribbons
½ Stalk of Celery, sliced thinly

01. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil to the pan.
02. When very hot but not smoking, add the cooked farro and corn into the pan. Season with a healthy pinch of the pork seasoning. Continually stir and cook until a little color appears on the corn. Add the sliced green onion and place in a serving dish.
03. Combine the celery and fennel in a bowl. Season with lemon juice and salt. Place on top of the farro/corn succotash.

Step Three: Final Details and Serve.

01. Place the pork loin back into the pan with the glaze. Spoon the glaze over the pork and place in the oven for 5-8 minutes. Once warm, remove from the oven and slice the pork in ½ inch thick slices. Shingle the slices back into the pan with the glaze and spoon glaze over the pork.
02. Serve on top of a heaping plate of farro-corn succotash with fennel and celery.

Make Race Day A Holiday
Make Race Day A Holiday

Wagering: Up the excitement as the race draws near.

We’re laying out two approaches—they’re not mutually exclusive, and you can incorporate either or both into your party.

Option #1: Online Betting

These days, as long as online wagering is legal in your state, thoroughbred enthusiasts at your party can place their own bets on the big race via platforms like TwinSpires and FanDuel. If you’re going in this direction, it can be useful to provide guests with some basic information to get started:

A Primer for Betting on the Race

Understanding Odds: 

Odds are listed as two numbers separated by a dash, so, 5-1, 7-2, 2-3, etc. The first number indicates the payoff amount, while the second number indicates the initial bet amount. So if the odds are 5-1, you’d receive $5 in winnings on a $1 bet, or $6 total (including the original wager). On 7-2 odds, you’d receive $7 in winnings on a $2 bet, or $9 total. Note that the odds continue to change up until just moments before the race, but the odds for your particular bet are locked in when you place it. 

Bets to Place

The “straight” wagers: These are win, place, or show (or first place, second place, or third place, respectively). If you bet on a horse to show, you win as long as it places anywhere in the top three. If you bet on the horse to place, it must come in first or second, and of course if you bet on a thoroughbred to win, it must do just that.

The “exotic” wagers: The most common types of bets in this more complicated category are the exacta, in which you bet on two horses to come in first and second, in the correct order, and the trifecta, in which you bet on the order of the first, second, and third place finishers. The odds on these aren’t good, but the payoff on a winning bet can be extraordinary.

Option #2: The Pick-and-Trade Pool

A Derby Party truly comes to life when guests can make things interesting amongst themselves. Here’s how to go about it:

Ten dollars buys a guest an opportunity to pick a horse’s name from a hat (at a large party, each name might appear in the hat two or even three times, to make sure everyone has a chance to play). After all the horses have been picked, the free market takes over, with guests able to trade horses or even buy or sell horses at a price agreed upon by the two involved parties up to the moment the horses are in the gate. The entire pot minus $10 goes to the person holding the winning horse’s name at the end of the race, or is split between the multiple persons with that horse. The remaining $10 goes as a consolation prize to the person or persons with the last-place horse. 

Make Race Day A Holiday
Make Race Day A Holiday

Decoration: Set the race day scene.

No one ever said that a posh Southern springtime party had to be staid. (Well, they may have, but this party isn’t for them.) This is the Run for the Roses, of course, so red roses are a no-brainer, but why not arrange them with some unexpected blossoms, like minimalist dried pampas or quirky craspedias. 

Another décor tip: Pinhook’s very own thoroughbred-themed bourbon bottles bring the myriad elements of Derby tradition—racing, horses, bourbon, and beauty—together in a single object with unexpected good looks. 

You can take a further cue from Pinhook’s bottles by incorporating the shapes and colors of jockey silks—using this diamond-pattern table cloth, for example, or a simple, colorful pennant banner

While a stable of racehorses might be too much (and smelly) for a party, whimsical hobby horses will always bring a smile to your guests’ faces. If your home is large enough, your guests can race them, too! (Who doesn’t like decorations that double as entertainment?) Speaking of games…

Make Race Day A Holiday
Make Race Day A Holiday

Party Games: Add some friendly competition with Pinhook prizes.

Since Derby parties last long after the horses pass the finish line, we have an array of friendly competition to keep the party going, and raise the spirits of those who missed out on backing the winning horse.

Best Dressed Wins the Most Bourbon:

It’s never a bad idea to reward the guest who shows up in the best Derby Hat. You can run this contest like a Halloween costume party, ideally by recruiting three or four judges. As a trophy, the winner could do worse than a bottle or two of Pinhook Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

Derby Winner or Bourbon?

Can you guess which are the names of past Derby Winners and which are brands of Bourbon? Since the Derby is all about Horses and Bourbon, this game is sure to be a crowd favorite. Put together a list of 20 names, with half being the names of Derby winning horses and the other half bourbon brands. Guests have a set number of minutes (5 minutes usually) to write "Derby" or "Bourbon" next to each name. Once everyone has finished guessing, the host reads the answers. Players earn a point for each correct answer and the person with the most points wins! Don't worry, we at Pinhook made the work easy on you. Download our form here


If you’ve got a backyard and want to stay on theme, set up a game of horseshoes! We dig this set, but there are plenty others available for quick shipping.

Horseracing Board Game:

Again, stay on theme. This board game is one of our favorites and it looks beautiful on your coffee table to boot. And you can practice wagering here so you are a pro by Derby time.

Make Race Day A Holiday
Make Race Day A Holiday

Attire: Dress the part, from Derby hat to toe.

This party calls for donning your springtime best, however you choose to interpret that. Florals, seersucker, and bright colors all have their place, while the tradition of elaborate hats dates to the very first Derby, whose founder borrowed from British racing to bring a whiff of nobility to his event. Conveniently, the Derby hat also protected those in the stands from the blazing Kentucky sun, and the tradition stuck. Etsy is a great resource for contemporary takes on formal women’s hats, and Tenth Street Hats makes classic hats for men at reasonable prices. With any luck, a solid portion of the party will take place in a garden/terrace/grassy lawn, so in addition to the requisite hat, guests will want to have sunglasses on hand (and sunscreen).

Make Race Day A Holiday
Make Race Day A Holiday

Music: Don’t forget the final touch, or should we say, sound.

One of our favorite playlists is the Curious Louisville Derby Playlist, which we found in the Curious Louisville project from Louisville Public Radio. It’s a 2017 crowd-sourced playlist by Kentucky natives with a mix of traditional songs, party mixes, and tunes by Kentucky musicians. At five and a half hours, it will keep your party going through the homestretch!