Bringing Kentucky Derby traditions to the West (recipes, video) |

Bringing Kentucky Derby traditions to the West (recipes, video)

Après serves its mint julep in a tin cup, with crushed ice and garnished with a mint sprig.
Heather Jarvis / |


View this story online at to watch how a mint julep is made with Vaughn Swanson from Après Handcrafted Libations in Breckenridge.

Triple Crown Winners

Year Horse

1919 Sir Barton

1930 Gallant Fox

1935 Omaha

1937 War Admiral

1941 Whirlaway

1943 Count Fleet

1946 Assault

1948 Citation

1973 Secretariat

1977 Seattle Slew

1978 Affirmed

2015 American Pharoah

— Source from the official Kentucky Derby website,

It’s time for big hats, bets and mint juleps. The 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby will be held Saturday, May 7 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It is the first race of the Triple Crown, a set of three thoroughbred horse races for 3-year-olds in May and June, including the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. There have been only 12 horses in the event’s history to have achieved this feat.

A horse race first run on May 17, 1875, the race now has several long-standing traditions that even those not at the actual racetrack will participate in at home, while watching the horses on TV.

The Kentucky Derby is known for guests in big hats, the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” and horses draped in red roses. The red rose became the official flower of the race in 1904, and it was 1925 when New York sports columnist Bill Corum famously dubbed the Kentucky Derby the “Run for the Roses.”

The mint julep is probably one of the most well-known accompaniments to the Kentucky Derby. Vaughn Swanson at Après Handcrafted Libations in Breckenridge provided this recipe for the bourbon drink made famous by the race. According to the Kentucky Derby website, each year almost 120,000 mint juleps are served over the two-day period of Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs Racetrack.

Après serves its mint julep in a tin cup, with crushed ice and garnished with a mint sprig.

“It’s a different take on a bourbon drink,” Swanson said. “Usually bourbon drinks can be in your face and aggressive sometimes, but that one’s like a minted bourbon, which you wouldn’t buy because no one wants minted bourbon. It’s not a mojito, because it has bourbon in it, and it’s not so sweet, because you can still taste the bourbon. But you just get that nice little hint of mint and it’s great for a summer day, for being outside in the sun. And with the crushed ice it’s really refreshing.”

Mint Julep

From Après Handcrafted Libations in Breckenridge


1 brown sugar cube

6 mint leaves

2 ounces bourbon of choice

6 drops of water

crushed ice

Step one: Add sugar and mint leaves to mixing container

Step two: Add drops of water

Step three: Muddle all together

Step four: Add your choice of bourbon

Step five: Stir to mix ingredients without ice

Step six: Use a julep strainer to strain over ice in a copper mug

Step seven: Garnish with a mint leaf or two


This next recipe, Run for the Roses Chocolate Pecan Pie, is one from Vera Dawson’s new book, “Baking Above It All.” The dessert is so famous that its name, “Derby Pie,” is trademarked.

“When served warm, the chocolate is intense and almost flowing, like thick hot fudge,” Dawson said. “It’s nicely complemented by the chopped pecans and, if you use it, both are enhanced by the smooth, complex taste of bourbon.”

From South Carolina herself, Dawson said the Kentucky Derby is like Super Bowl Sunday for those in the Southeast.

Run for the Roses Chocolate Pecan Pie

From Vera Dawson’s book, “Baking Above It All”

Bake in a 9-inch pie pan


1 single, nine-inch pie crust, home-made or commercial

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup of granulated sugar

½ cup of flour

½ teaspoon of salt

8 tablespoons (one stick) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 generous tablespoon of bourbon (optional)

1 generous teaspoon of vanilla

1 cup of good quality semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup of chopped pecans, lightly toasted

Vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream for garnish

Step One: If you plan to prebake the pie crust, do so according to the directions that accompany the recipe or the store-bought crust. You can add the filling to the warm prebaked crust; you need not cool it completely before filling.

Step Two: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position.

Step Three: Beat the room temperature eggs (if necessary, warm them in a bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes — you want them at room temperature) at high speed with a hand-held electric mixer until lemon colored and light. Slowly add the sugar, beating on high, until the mixture is thickened and even lighter in color.

Step Four: Add the flour, salt, and melted butter, reduce the mixer speed to low, and mix until well combined. Add the bourbon (if using) and vanilla, and mix again on low speed. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans by hand.

Step Five: Spoon the filling into the pie shell. Fill only to about a quarter inch below the top of the crust; the filling puffs up as it bakes. You may not use all the filling. With one of my shallower pie pans, I have a little over half a cup of filling left over. Put the filled pie pan on a cookie sheet and bake until the filling and crust are deep golden. Start checking at about 32 minutes, though it may take closer to 45 minutes if you haven’t prebaked the crust. If you’ve prebaked the crust, you may need to cover it with pie shields or strips of aluminum foil to prevent it from overbaking while the filling cooks.

Step Six: Remove the pie from the oven. You can serve it when it has cooled to warm or you can cool it completely, cut it, and then rewarm it. Serve it with vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

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