How To Host An Unforgettable Derby Party

THIS IS A SPONSORED POST WRITTEN BY ME ON BEHALF OF WHEATLEY VODKA. ALL OPINIONS ARE 100% MINE.

Growing up in Wisconsin I believed that going to a sporting event meant foam cheese heads, body paint, freezing temperatures, and cheap beer. This did not make me an avid sports fan. It wasn’t until I moved to Kentucky and visited Keeneland for the first time that I found a sport I actually enjoyed watching: horse racing. Instead of cheese heads and beer I saw pearls, seersucker, and beautiful mint juleps. I was hooked. While I no longer live in Kentucky, I still celebrate the Derby every year like it’s a holiday. That’s why I encourage you to go all out and experience it fully this year by hosting your own Derby party. Here are a few tips on how to make it a success.

Decorate Your Derby Party Space


Derby fashion is iconic, so I took inspiration from classic Derby day style for my decor. In addition to pastel table cloths and white balloons, I trimmed my space with fascinators, Derby hats, bow ties, and pearls. Not only do these look festive and fun, but if a guest comes underdressed they can throw on a few decorations and fit right in.

Give Your Guests a Derby Party Dress Code

Parties that give your guests a chance to dress up are always more memorable. Not only will they enjoy breaking out clothes they don’t often get to wear, they’ll love having the pictures of themselves at their dapper-est to look back on for years to come.

Not all your guests might be familiar with classic Derby style, so it’s helpful to give them some Derby party fashion inspiration. You can include pictures on your invitation of well-dressed Derby-goers to point them in the right direction or you can simply give them some guidelines like, “fabulous hats required,” “seersucker, gingham, and pastels preferred,” or, “Patrick* don’t even THINK about getting a julep if you wear cargo shorts.”

*We all know a Patrick and he might need a special warning.

Create a Derby Party Julep Bar

A host that’s constantly stuck behind the bar during their party isn’t fun for anyone. As a result, I’m a big believer in finding ways to get guests involved in making their own cocktails. For a Derby party, the best way to do this is by putting together a DIY julep bar so your guests can enjoy learning to make this classic drink.

What to Include in Your Julep Bar

While following the traditions is part of what makes the Derby so special, I can’t resist wanting to bend the rules a bit when it comes to cocktails. So I say get creative and set up your bar with a variety of syrups and an alternative to bourbon: Wheatley Vodka.

Wheatley Vodka

If you don’t know much about Wheatley, you might think using vodka in a Derby party drink is sacrilegious. However, Wheatley actually makes the perfect alternative because of strong ties to Kentucky bourbon. Made by master distiller Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace (the world’s most awarded distillery, ahem), Wheatley brings all the expertise he’s gained making whiskey and to crafting this vodka. Wheatley Vodka isn’t only connected to Kentucky bourbon through its distiller though; it’s also made with the same wheat used in top-notch bourbons like Weller and Pappy Van Winkle. Consequently, it’s characterized by lovely notes of soft vanilla which makes it the ideal complement for syrup flavors one would normally pair with whiskey. In other words, if you’re going to branch out with your Derby party juleps, Wheatley Vodka is the way to go.

Now let’s talk about preparing the syrups. While making syrup can sound a bit intimidating, I swear it’s easy (not this easy, but very easy). I suggest blackberry mint, sweet tea mint, rhubarb mint, and pineapple mint syrups because they pair well with both Wheatley Vodka and bourbon (for syrup recipes and instructions go to the bottom of the post).

Sweet tea mint syrup, blackberry mint syrup, rhubarb mint syrup, and pineapple mint syrup.

Setting Up Your Julep Station

Next, it’s time to assemble your julep bar. Here’s a list of everything you’ll need to include so your guests can make the perfect julep:

  • Wheatley Vodka (and a bottle of Weller for the traditionalists)
  • Plenty of finely cracked or pebble ice
  • Syrups
  • An assortment of garnishes
  • Straws
  • Rocks glasses
  • A cocktail measuring cup

But to make a great julep you’ll need more than just a list of ingredients: you’ve got to have the right technique too. Print out these instructions and put them on your bar cart so your guests will know what to do:

How to Make A Julep

  • Pack a glass 3/4 full of ice
  • Pour in 2 oz of Wheatley Vodka and .5-1 oz of syrup (depending on sweetness preference)
  • Stir the julep for 15-20 seconds with a straw
  • Leave the straw inserted, and pack the rest of your glass full of ice
  • Select a sprig of mint then “spank” it across the back of your hand to release the oils before inserting it next to the straw (you want to be able to smell it as you drink)
  • Garnish with fruit, and wait an additional minute for frost to form.
  • Enjoy.
Frost formed on a julep cup

Here are the four different juleps your guests can make with these ingredients:

Southern Snacks to Serve at Your Derby Party

Sadly, I’m not much of a chef. While I love to go all out preparing drinks, I don’t have as much fun in the kitchen when it comes to cooking (#priorities). But that’s never stopped me from finding ways to keep my guests from going hungry when I’m entertaining.

If you’re looking for an easy and delicious Derby party menu full of southern flare, I recommend serving up barbecue sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad, and classic banana pudding.

Shopping List:

  • Barbecue and potato salad from a great local spot
  • Hawaiian rolls
  • Coleslaw-ready shredded cabbage
  • Coleslaw dressing
  • Banana pudding mix
  • Milk
  • Vanilla Wafers
  • Whipped cream
  • Bananas

In order to make the entree, fill your Hawaiian rolls with barbecue and serve them alongside the potato salad and the coleslaw.

To make the banana pudding, first beat the banana pudding mix with two cups of milk for roughly 3-5 minutes. Next, once it’s set, spoon it into small serving dishes and top it with whipped cream, Vanilla wafers, and banana slices. It will look so pretty no one will suspect you didn’t make the pudding from scratch.

Set Up a Make-Your-Own Derby Hat Table

While I’ll never discourage anyone from buying an over-the-top Derby hat, making your own with your friends (especially after a julep or two) might be even better. Letting people assemble their headpieces gives them a chance to express themselves and can create great conversation opportunities for guests who don’t know each other well (and probably great teasing opportunities for guests who DO know each other well).

To make your DIY Derby hat station a success, tell your friends to bring either a plain straw hat (you can easily find one for $5) or a headband (if they’d prefer to make a fascinator) with them to your Derby party. Stock a table with a variety of ribbons, faux flowers, foam fruit, tulle, hot glue guns, scissors, and anything else that strikes your fancy at your local craft store. The rest is up to your friends’ ingenuity and skill.

Here are some DIY derby hats for inspiration:

In order to raise the stakes, award prizes for the most creative, most professional looking, and most ridiculous hats.

Arrange a Post-Race Game of Derby Horse Name Charades

Did you now the Derby is only two minutes long? Because it’s so short it doesn’t hurt to have an activity planned for after the race ends and while people are still enjoying their juleps and dessert.

My friends and family always enjoys a good old fashioned cutthroat game of charades, and the outlandish names of Derby horses provide the perfect fodder (ha) for what to act out. Before the party, write down some of the crazy names of Derby horses on slips of paper (a quick Google search will give you plenty to choose from), fold them up, and throw them in a hat. When it’s time to play, divide the party into two teams. On a team’s turn, one of their members will draw a slip out of the hat and try to make their fellow teammates guess the Derby horse name written on it in 60 seconds using only non-verbal clues. The team that guesses the most names correctly by the time all the slips have been acted out wins eternal bragging rights.

See? Sports aren’t so bad.

Enjoy hosting your Derby party!

THIS IS A SPONSORED POST WRITTEN BY ME ON BEHALF OF WHEATLEY VODKA. ALL OPINIONS ARE 100% MINE.

How to Make the Derby Party Syrups:B

Blackberry Mint Syrup

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 cups of blackberries
  • 1 bunch of mint leaves

Instructions: Start by bringing your cup of water to a boil and gradually stir in sugar. Next, reduce heat and add the blackberries. Lightly simmer the blackberries for 15 minutes stirring occasionally (do not let the syrup boil and burn). Add the mint and reduce heat to a very low simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the mixture to sit for another 5 minutes before straining out the blackberries and mint leaves. Finally, allow the syrup to cool to room temperature before putting it in an airtight container and refrigerating. Syrup should be used within 5-7 days.

Pineapple Mint Syrup

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 cups of roughly chopped pineapple
  • 1 bunch of mint leaves

Instructions: First, bring your cup of water to a boil and gradually stir in sugar. Next, reduce heat and add the pineapple. Lightly simmer the pineapple for 15 minutes stirring occasionally (do not let the syrup boil and burn). Add the mint and reduce heat to a very low simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the mixture to sit for another 5 minutes before straining out the pineapple and mint leaves. Finally, allow the syrup to cool to room temperature before putting it in an airtight container and refrigerating. Syrup should be used within 5-7 days.

Rhubarb Mint Syrup

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 stalks of rhubarb chopped
  • 1 bunch of mint leaves

Instructions: First, bring your cup of water to a boil and gradually stir in sugar. Next, reduce heat and add the chopped rhubarb stalks. Lightly simmer the rhubarb for 20 minutes stirring occasionally (do not let the syrup boil and burn). Add the mint and reduce heat to a very low simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the mixture to sit for another 5 minutes before straining out the rhubarb and mint leaves. Finally, allow the syrup to cool to room temperature before putting it in an airtight container and refrigerating. Syrup should be used within 5-7 days.

Sweet Tea Mint Syrup

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 Earl Grey tea bags
  • 1 bunch of mint leaves

Instructions: First, bring your cup of water to a boil and gradually stir in sugar. Next, reduce heat and add the tea bags. Lightly simmer the tea for 3 minutes (to taste) stirring occasionally (do not let the syrup boil and burn). Remove the tea bags and add the mint and reduce heat to a very low simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the mixture to sit for another 5 minutes before straining out the mint leaves. Finally, allow the syrup to cool to room temperature before putting it in an airtight container and refrigerating. Syrup should be used within 5-7 days.

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