Being a Kentucky native, you might imagine how homesick I tend to get this time of year as we approach the rich tradition of the Kentucky Derby, or as Kentuckians refer to it… the first Saturday in May.
Though the actual Kentucky Derby, traditionally the fifth race of the day, lasts only a couple of minutes, Derby Day in Kentucky is the culmination of the month-long Kentucky Derby Festival. Throughout the month of April, there are countless Kentucky Derby Festival events, including steamboat races, hot-air balloon races, concerts, parades, celebrity galas, formal balls, plenty of fireworks, lots of indulgent Southern food and much more.
Churchill Downs opens its traditional Spring meet the Friday before Derby Day, which is known as Oaks Day, which ends with the running of the Kentucky Oaks.
I am asked all the time how many Kentucky Derbys I’ve attended at Churchill Downs and, as any Kentuckian would understand, it’s only been one. Let’s just say my job out of college put me at the epicenter of the VIP Kentucky Derby experience. Nonetheless, most Kentuckians prefer to by-pass the crushing madness of Churchill Downs in exchange for a hosted Derby Party. Kentucky Derby Parties are legendary and full of tradition.
I’m excited to be launching a Kentucky Derby Party tradition this year at my Naperville Home. Wish I could invite everyone, but space is limited at “My Old Naperville Home”. But “weep not more” my friends as here is some insight into what I have planned for the big day.
First, my guests will begin arriving around post time for the first race of the day, around 12:00 EDT/1:00 CDT. ESPN is covering breakfast at the Downs as well as all races leading up to the actual Kentucky Derby race.
The menu will include plenty of Southern Bluegrass Tradition: Country Ham I’ve shipped in from Keene’s Hams in Bardstown, Kentucky Derby Breakfast Yeast Biscuits, Garlic Cheese Grits, Fried Chicken, Kentucky Beer Cheese, Derby Pie and much more.
Our guests will certainly get in the spirit with a nearly 200 year-old recipe for Mint Juleps, which consists of a minted sugar syrup blended with fresh mint, crushed ice and straight Kentucky bourbon. Additionally, we will also have a bourbon tasting line-up for 5-10 lesser-known Kentucky-based brands.
Speaking of bourbon, did you know that 90% of all bourbon whiskey in the world is produced in Kentucky? There are over 80 Kentucky-based bourbon brands who export their tradition all over the country and world… even Tennessee. Bourbon is known as the official American Spirit and takes its name from Bourbon County in Kentucky where some of the earliest whiskey was placed into charred oak barrels for transport from which bourbon derives its color and distinctive flavor
I grew up very close to bourbon country and even as a child I can remember riding past the Jim Beam distillery on the way to my grandmothers house and smelling the familiar bourbon mash in the air. Makers Mark is located just outside of my mother’s hometown of Lebanon.
If you are interested in the history and tradition of bourbon, you should consider making a trip to Kentucky to cruise the Kentucky Bourbon Trail where you can visit and tour eight distilleries.
As for me, it’s back to the last minute details as Saturday approaches. SM