There has always been a certain simpatico correspondence between the cocktail and horse racing. The Mint Julep has become a mascot, of sorts, for The Kentucky Derby. But as witnessed with The Derby, drinks were actually named to commemorate races as well as horses. The Derby had several variations. Three were in the 1947 Bartender’s Guide by Trader Vic. This one is my favorite.–Ted Haigh

LC Name That Derby Note

Bourbon. Curaçao. Sweet vermouth. Fresh lime. We’re sort of sad we didn’t dream up this comforting little number, although we’re grateful somebody did. We’re not certain what the other two aforementioned variations on The Derby from Trader Vic are, though we’re fairly certain that this eminently likable version makes them irrelevant. And hey, if you can’t find orange curaçao, simply swap any orange liqueur. (You could also substitute blue curaçao, although rumor has it you’ll end up sipping something that’s a sort of lurid shade of green. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We just always appreciate a heads up when our cocktail resembles antifreeze.)

The Derby

The Derby Cocktail

5 / 2 votes
The Derby cocktail goes head to head with the mint julep for the drink of the Kentucky Derby. While they're both loved, this one has bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange curaçoa, and lime juice–refreshing!
David Leite
Servings1 servings
Calories95 kcal
Prep Time5 minutes
Total Time5 minutes


  • Cocktail shaker


  • 1 ounce bourbon whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce orange curaçao
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice, (from 1 lime)
  • 1 lime wedge, for garnish
  • 1 mint leaf, for garnish


  • Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange curaçao, and lime juice and shake, shake, shake.
  • Strain the concoction into a cocktail glass. Add the lime wedge and mint leaf and sip to your heart’s content. Repeat as desired.
Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails

Adapted From

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails

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Serving: 1 cocktailCalories: 95 kcalCarbohydrates: 6 gProtein: 1 gFat: 1 gSodium: 1 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2009 Ted Haigh. Photo © 2009 Quarry Books. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Oh, this is a perfect summertime cocktail. I loved making it and loved drinking it. The Orange Curaçao off sets the bitterness of the whiskey. Just perfect with the lime. Cheers.

This Derby cocktail is a real winner. Not too sweet, with a good kick of lime. Perfectly balanced, to my taste. I usually prefer my bourbon straight, but I did enjoy this mixed drink. My husband, not typically a heavy drinker, loved it so much he drank three!

Love retro cocktails. This is tangy with a hint of sweet. Some of the tasters would have preferred a less tangy note, but I think on a blistering hot summer’s day this would be an inspired drink choice. Easy to make and easy going down. As a side note, Orange Curaçao proved to a difficult find around here. The Blue Curaçao was all over the place, but not a drop of Orange. I had a chat with the guy at the LCBO, and he told me that Triple Sec would make a great substitute, so we used that.

I’m not a big fan of mixed drinks, but The Derby cocktail is actually quite nice. Rather smooth with a nice bourbon feel and a minor afterbite from the lime. I bruised the mint leaf before adding it to the drink to release a hint of its flavor. Unfortunately, we can only get Blue Curaçao here, but really, the only difference is blue coloring. I ended up with a peculiar shade of green for a drink, though.

A nice whiskey cocktail, perfect for serving at your next derby party, or when you just need a new idea for happy hour. The Derby cocktail is simple to make, with ingredients that are easily found. The fresh lime juice adds a refreshing note to the drink. You can also easily scale this up to make enough to fill a pitcher or punch bowl. If you do so, keep it cold with a large ice ring or ice block that won’t dilute the drink too rapidly, or shake each individual portion with ice before serving.

Forget Anna, this is bourbon in the tropics! The citrus notes are redolent of an evening on an island, relaxing with a sunset. The sweet Curaçao carries scents of orange and the fresh lime whisks you away to a sweet-and-sour paradise. I used a Woodford Reserve, so this is a smoooooth getaway from the concrete jungle.

This Derby cocktail is delicious. Think of it as a Manhattan that’s gone to the tropics, with citrus flavor to liven things up a bit. I used Grand Marnier as a stand-in for the Orange Curaçao, which I think is a fine substitution (isn’t Grand Marnier an Orange Curaçao, anyway?

First of all, I didn’t think I was a bourbon drinker. In fact, I rooted around in the wet bar and when I found the bourbon I wondered how old it was and if that made any difference? I do love anything lime, though, so I was game to try this cocktail. It was delicious. Such a nice blend of flavors—perfect for sipping on a warm evening on the porch. Will make this for Derby Day sipping with friends.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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