How To Throw The Perfect Kentucky Derby Party
The Kentucky Derby® is right around the corner, and the ‘Run for the Roses’ is such an excellent excuse for a party: festive hats, delicious food, fabulous drinks (it even has its own signature cocktail, after all!), and the adrenaline fueled excitement of the fastest two minutes in sports! I’ve partnered with 14 Hands Winery to provide you with tips to host your own next-level Derby viewing party, and I’ve got all the inspiration you need: wine-infused cocktails, food ideas and pairings, fashion & décor tips, and even your music playlist--- so start getting your invite list together, because we’re off to the races!
Prepare a Southern-inspired Wine Pairing Menu
I’ve been a fan of 14 Hands wines for years now: they’re that magical combo of delicious and affordable (‘high quality to value ratio’, as we say in the wine industry), so I was excited when I learned that 14 Hands is the preferred wine of the Derby and is actually going to be served at Churchill Downs on race day! It’s just so fitting because the winery is in eastern Washington horse country, and ‘14 Hands’ signifies the height of the wild horses of the region--- so the equestrian tie-in is perfect. They even released a special bottle for the occasion, their Limited Release Kentucky Derby® Limited Red Blend that you can snap up at retailers nationwide.
While it’s true that bourbon is very traditional for Derby, it’s really important to have a good wine selection on hand. The key to being a great host is making sure you provide for all of your guests’ needs, and I know a lot of my crew prefer wine (or at least we can’t drink bourbon all day long… we might have one julep and then switch to wine after). I chose four different 14 Hands bottles, and let the wines inspire the food pairings! Southern fare is perfect for the theme of the day.
The 14 Hands Brut is a traditional-method sparkler--- that is, made in the same method as Champagne. It’s bright, lively, and crisp with zippy apple and citrus notes, and so it’s a lovely palate cleanser in between bites of creamy and luscious deviled eggs. The acidity in the wine can stand up to the tang of pickled shrimp, which really elevates the standard deviled egg into something much more special and festive.
Is there anything more perfect for springtime celebrations than rosé? The wine is really juicy and has aromas of wild strawberry and flavors of melon, ripe white peach and citrus. I wanted to incorporate peaches into my pairing, and the contrast of salty country ham, spicy arugula, and the sweetness of fresh peach makes for an irresistible appetizer that’s as pretty as it is delicious.
The Kentucky Hot Brown is a famous dish from the Brown Hotel in Louisville, and it’s essentially an open-faced sandwich on white bread with turkey, bacon, tomato, and melty cheese sauce. I turned it into a bite-sized canapé and paired it with the 14 Hands Brut Rosé--- because the wine is crisp, light and fresh which balances out the richness of the dish, and the tart strawberry flavors of the wine play nicely with the savory cheese and salty bacon.
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, and it’s rich and soft with tons of plum and blackberry flavors, a little cocoa in the finish, and some velvety tannins that give it a nice bit of structure. This is a wine that calls for some richness in the food pairing! Bourbon pulled pork brings to mind Kentucky, and spooning the pork over pimento cheese grits in single-serve ramekins makes it party-ready.
Mix up a Signature Cocktail: Sparkling Pineapple Juleps
A julep is a category of cocktail that combines a botanical element, some sugar, and a spirit. According to cocktail historian David Wondrich, the OG julep was made with violets and brandy! So, don’t necessarily feel limited to bourbon and mint if that’s not what you like; I encourage you to have fun playing with all kinds of flavor combinations. I wanted to bring wine into the mix, so I made a sparkling pineapple, mint, and gin julep topped off with the 14 Hands Brut. Instead of using fresh pineapple and then having to add sugar or simple syrup, I used pineapple preserves to save a step--- besides already being sweetened, the fruit quality is more concentrated and the preserves give a wonderful texture to the drink.
Recipe: The Lush Life Sparkling Pineapple Julep
Combine one tablespoon of pineapple preserves and 7 mint leaves in a cocktail shaker and muddle. Add 1.5 oz gin, fill shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Pour into a glass and top with 5 oz sparkling wine. Garnish generously with mint sprigs and a slice of fresh pineapple.
Lush Tip: Consider the environment: paper straws are much more eco-friendly than plastic, and really pop visually!
Encourage a Festive Dress Code
On your invites, encourage your guests to get into the Derby spirit with their style! Seersucker and pastel bowties are fun for the fellas, for the ladies fabulous hats are mandatory. Vintage and thrift stores are fun places to hunt for creative party attire that looks like you stepped straight off of Millionaire’s Row.
Set the Scene with Charming, Country-Chic Decor
Our creative director Robyn created a country-chic rustic tablescape with burlap runners, antique lace, vintage photos in charming silver frames, mason jars and of course lots of bright florals. Equestrian touches like horseshoes or horse cutouts are a playful and whimsical detail.
Don’t Forget About Party Favors
If your friends are crafty, create a DIY hat decorating station! You can instruct guests to bring a plain hat to deck out, or provide thehats yourself; depending on your timeframe and budget. Source ribbon, silk flowers, feathers and other fun items from your local craft store; set out some glue guns, and let guests create their own designs. These one-of-a-kind creations will be a great keepsake for guests to take home.
Raise the Stakes & Place Your Bets
The race is a little more fun if you have some money down on the winner! Let your guests fill out wager cards, have everyone throw a dollar or five in the pot, and the winner takes all.
Bring It All Together With Music
The right playlist keeps the party going long after the race is over. We created a playlist on Spotify for you to grab--- our mix brings Kentucky to the party with bluegrass versions of our favorite pop songs & irresistable dance jams to keep the fun going. Just make sure to have plenty of wine on hand to fuel your guests as they dance the night away!