How to Throw a Great Kentucky Derby Party

Full disclosure ... At the end of this post, we are going to try to sell you our Mint Julep Glasses for your party. They are a party must-have. Now ... onto the show.

How to Throw a Great Kentucky Derby Party 

This being the 150th edition of the Kentucky Derby, the hype is the highest it has ever been. This article should help make your party the best it can be, and to hopefully sell you our totally awesome stainless steel Giddy-Up Julep Cups! 

Throwing a great Kentucky Derby party is all about capturing the spirit of the race: the excitement, the elegance, and the charm. You want your guests feeling like they're right at Churchill Downs.

Setting the Scene

The above photo is over the top for most parties, but we needed a good stock image to start the article off right.  

You want to start but doing your best to create the ambiance of the Kentucky Derby at your party venue. We like black and gold as the primary colors (reminiscent of jockey silks), but reds are good too.

Incorporate horseshoes, horse figurines, and red roses (the official flower of the Kentucky Derby) into your centerpieces and table settings. If you don't want to splurge on red roses, get yourself a tablecloth that has roses in it, like this one which has roses and is a derby themed. 

The best Derby party scenes involve live horses, so don't forget to rent several horses to roam your property with a 12 person clean up crew to follow behind them. This can really make or break a party. Do this early as horses run out of stock fast! (satire alert, just checking if you're still paying attention. If so, congrats, you're among the 1% that don't just skim.) 

Mint Julep Excellence

Probably the most important aspect of a good party is to provide a proper mint julep bar, and the key to making a julep is to nail the ice. If you provide ice cubes, you fail right off the bat. Crushed ice is a must! 

Crushed Ice Options: 

1) Use the crushed ice button on your refrigerator (but you'll probably run out of ice in the first 30 minutes).

2) Have a dedicated person to smash ice with a mallet and a Lewis bag (we do not recommend it for several reasons, which we don't need to beat up). 

3) Find crushed ice to buy somewhere. Good luck with that. It's hard to find. You can also smash it right in the bag of ice. It's just difficult to get it fine enough without ripping the bag. 

4) Use a blender and fill up a very large insulated ice bucket (like this one from Real Deal Steel [that's us!]. This will keep your ice available all party, it's much classier and accessible than a cooler and will not sweat. 

5) Buy an ice crusher and bagged ice and have the guests do it themselves or fill up an ice bucket periodically. Don't chince though ... buy quality, here is a good one.

Have Two Juleps on the Menu, one with a virgin option, and actually make a physical menu with instructions. Use this example if you like: 

Classic Mint Julep - You'll need:

Fresh Mint - Bourbon - Crushed Ice - Bar Spoon - Scoop 

  1. Muddle mint and 1/4 cup simple syrup in the bottom of your cup
  2. Add 3 oz of your favorite bourbon and pack with crushed ice
  3. Stir until the outside of the cup is frosted
  4. Form an ice dome over the top of the cup and garnish with a mint sprig

Example Of a Second Option. You could also call it your party's signature Julep  

Blackberry Mint Julep (Mocktail Option Provided) - You'll need:

Fresh Mint - Fresh Blackberries - Bourbon - Lemonade - Crushed Ice - Bar Spoon - Scoop 

  1. Muddle mint and 1/4 cup simple syrup and two blackberries in the bottom of your cup
  2. Add 3 oz of your favorite bourbon and pack with crushed ice (for mocktail, use lemonade instead of bourbon)
  3. Stir until the outside of the cup is frosted
  4. Form an ice dome over the top of the cup and garnish with a blackberry and mint sprig

Please consider using Real Deal Steel Mint Julep Cups. We have every option including personalized cups and bulk order pricing. Please view our collection on our website HERE: or on AMAZON HERE

Do it for the Kids

You think kids like kiddy cocktails, just imagine their elation over a junior julep! Try snowcone flavoring or grenadine, crushed ice, and a gummy garnish. Serve in these stainless steel 3 oz RDS Espresso Cups or 10oz Kids Cups.


If you are going to serve food or heavy apps, consider a southern fare: Serve up classic Southern cuisine such as hot browns, bourbon-glazed ham, pimento cheese sandwiches, and shrimp and grits. Don't forget the Derby staple: Derby Pie, a delicious chocolate and nut pie. There are loads of Derby-centric recipes on Pinterest.

Dress Code

Encourage guests to dress to impress in their Derby best. Think seersucker suits, sundresses and OF COURSE fancy hats, and bow ties.

mint julep real deal steel

Prizes and Entertainment

Awards for Best-dressed couple, Most extravagant hat (encourage feathers and flowers), Classiest box tie. Come up with more of your own interesting prizes. 

Create a playlist of classic Southern and horse racing-themed music to keep the party atmosphere lively between races. Provide some activities to keep guests entertained. 

Horse shoes is of course great if you have a setup. This horse racing game is always a big hit at parties! The one pictured below was impressively crafted by a guest out of wood, but if you don't want to quit your job to free up time for that, you can buy one here. Have plenty of pennies (or $100 bills if that's your speed) available for guests. The game was a big hit! 

Derby Trivia: Put together a trivia game with questions about the history of the Kentucky Derby.

Photo Booth: Set up a photo booth with Derby-themed props like jockey hats, horse masks, and oversized sunglasses. Encourage guests to take fun photos throughout the party.

Craft Station: Set up a DIY fascinator or bow tie-making station where guests can create their own Derby accessories to wear during the race.

Betting: Setup a pool. Have all the betting lines written on a board and then have guests choose which order they will select their horse in. If you have too many guests for the number of horses, you have have multiple guests on one horse and split the winnings. Not enough guests, have more than one horse per guest. 

Live Coverage: Of course have pre race coverage on your largest TV, having a projector setup for outside parties can make a big difference.

Whether it is your first Derby party or you're an old hat (pun intended) hopefully you can take or leave some of these ideas and make the 150th run for the roses one for the ages. 

Until next time,
Keep it Real