Bourbon Cocktails for Derby

April 28, 2015

I’m stepping outside of Kentucky this week and giving Oregon bourbon a try! These Derby-inspired cocktails are made with Burnside Bourbon provided by Eastside Distilling in Portland, Oregon. 

    Mint Julep Bourbon Ball Cocktail | Fake Food Free
After 10 years living in the Bluegrass state, it’s no surprise that I rarely look beyond Kentucky for my bourbon. It’s good stuff. Pretty much the whole world agrees. 

But as we explore new craft spirits, I’m trying more and more that I like, including bourbon. We are in California now, of course. So maybe it’s time to celebrate Derby week with something a little more local, or at least on the same coast. 

As I’ve written in past posts, few people will argue that this is the best week to be in the Bluegrass. It’s difficult to explain Derby week to someone who has never experienced it. And by experiencing it, I mean that we lived over an hour away from Louisville and never actually went to the Derby.

It’s hard to put it into words, but this time of year there is a spirit and excitement that permeates the air across the entire state. 

I don’t wear hats and I pick my horses by looks, personality and heartfelt stories, but I’m still pretty crazy about Derby week. During our time in Kentucky, some years we watched the race at Keeneland (the race course in Lexington), others we had parties at home, some we watched at home alone, and sometimes in hotels while traveling. 

I’m happy to say that the Derby air somehow followed me to California. It may be apparent to no one other than me, but I still start looking for Kentucky-inspired recipes, stock up on mint and breakout the bourbon cocktails during this week before the big event. 

Bourbon Cocktails with Eastside Distilling Burnside Bourbon | Fake Food Free

So when Eastside Distilling offered to send along their bourbon to try, I knew it would be the perfect way to combine my Kentucky fever with something new and exciting on the West Coast.

I received both the Burnside Bourbon which is a 4 year barrel aged straight bourbon whiskey, and the Oregon Oaked Burnside Bourbon, the Burnside Bourbon aged another 60 days in heavy-charred Oregon oaked barrels.As two big bourbon fans, my husband and I really enjoyed both.

The Burnside packs quite a punch at 96 proof and the website mentioned how well it works in common bourbon cocktails. So I gave bourbon cocktails some thought. I thought of the mint julep, the whiskey smash and the old fashioned. 

Mint Julep Bourbon Ball Cocktail | Fake Food Free | A combination of bourbon, cream and chocolate liqueurs, and fresh mint.

But as my husband mentioned, most people are familiar with those cocktails. One thing fewer people are familiar with is the bourbon ball. One of the best chocolate truffles on the planet, in my opinion. There are several variations, but mostly it is a truffle filled with a nougat-like cream or a dark chocolate cream that has been infused with what tastes like a full shot of bourbon. Then it’s covered in more chocolate and sometimes topped with a pecan. 

Mint Julep Bourbon Ball | Fake Food Free

Since I can’t seem to stray from my love of mint juleps, the Mint Julep Bourbon Ball seemed fitting. Cream liqueur, bourbon, chocolate liqueur and mint served in a glass filled with crushed ice. It might be the best Derby dessert I’ve made so far, and the Burnside Bourbon was a perfect fit. 

Mint Julep Bourbon Ball Cocktail | Fake Food Free

The Oregon Oaked Burnside Bourbon has more depth of flavor and is a bit smoother, given the extra aging. I wanted to make sure this cocktail let you know you’re drinking bourbon. The smoky vanilla flavors of the bourbon prompted me to make a vanilla bean syrup for just a little sweetness. (The syrup also makes a great use of an empty vanilla bean pod once you scrape it for another recipe.)

The aroma notes on the bourbon include apricot so a few dried apricots serve to deepen the flavor and as a garnish. Finally, I pulled out the bourbon smoked sea salt to coat the rim and balance the flavor of each sip. If you can’t find bourbon smoked sea salt, just plain smoked sea salt will work fine.

Backstretch Bourbon Vanilla Bean Cocktail | Fake Food Free

 This drink is a little sweet, but smoky and rich enough to serve as a pre-dinner cocktail sipper. 

Backstretch Bourbon Vanilla Bean Cocktail | Fake Food Free

It turns out that with a little help from Oregon and Eastside Distilling we have some killer cocktails to serve on Derby day. Proving again that a little tradition with something new and different almost always leads to a winning combination. 

Mint Julep Bourbon Ball

Serves: 2


4 oz. bourbon (I used Burnside Bourbon)
2 oz. Irish cream liqueur (like Bailey’s)
1 oz. creme de cacao
6 torn fresh mint leaves
Handful of ice
Crushed ice for each glass
Extra mint for garnish


Add the bourbon, Irish cream, creme de cacao and 6 mint leaves to a cocktail shaker. Add the handful of ice and stir well for at least 1 minute. 

Fill two low ball glasses with crushed ice. Strain the cocktail into each glass. Garnish with fresh mint and serve. 


Backstretch Bourbon Vanilla Bean Cocktail

Serves: 2


1 teaspoon fine granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse bourbon smoked sea salt 

3 unsweetened dried apricots, diced
3 oz. bourbon (I used Oregon Oaked Burnside Bourbon)
1/2 oz. vanilla bean syrup (recipe below)
Large handful of ice
Extra dried apricot for garnish


Place the sugar and sea salt in a spiced grinder. Process until it becomes a fine powder. Pour it onto a small plate.

Add the apricots to a cocktail shaker. Pour in the bourbon and vanilla bean syrup. Add the large handful of ice. Stir well for at least 1 minute. 

Coat the edge of two small martini-style glasses with a little of the vanilla bean syrup. Rim the glasses with the sugar and sea salt powder. 

Strain the cocktail into the two glasses. Garnish with half a dried apricot and serve. 

Vanilla Bean Syrup

1 cup fine granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 leftover vanilla bean pod

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 30 to 45 seconds. 

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla bean pod. (You just need the previously scraped pod, not the paste inside the vanilla bean. Use that for a good dessert.) 

Let the syrup cool to room temperature. Discard the pod before using the syrup. Small black specks will be visible in the syrup. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Mine lasts 2 to 3 weeks. 


Disclosure: The bourbons used in this post were provided by Eastside Distilling. I was not required to write about them and received no compensation (other than the bourbon shown here) for doing so. Thoughts are my own. 

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  • Joanne April 30, 2015 at 5:36 am

    The Kentucky Derby definitely isn’t as big in NYC as it is where you are…but I will take any excuse to cocktail! Love these!

    • Lori April 30, 2015 at 6:12 am

      I haven’t quite figured out if it’s big here in the Bay Area, but we are definitely celebrating! If not, maybe we can spread the fever!

  • Tracey | Salty Sweet Life April 30, 2015 at 5:42 am

    Lori, you have outdone yourself! I am amazed at the creativity in these two cocktails and they both sound so wonderful! And Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt?? Where on earth did you find that? And I never would have thought to add apricots to a drink! I’m definitely going to have to try these ASAP!

  • Lori April 30, 2015 at 6:22 am

    Thanks, Tracey! The sea salt is from a company out of Louisville, Bourbon Barrel Foods. You can find it online. We could find it at all local food stores in KY. They make great stuff. I need to get more myself soon! And Dan gets full credit for the apricots!

  • Kaitlin April 30, 2015 at 8:47 am

    I have never been into the Derby – I guess I never really heard about it until last year. But this post makes me want to partake. Both of those cocktails look so good!

    I’ve only recently gotten into bourbon too. I’ve really been liking Bulleit, but I’d be curious to try this kind! The long aging + smoothness appeals to me 😀

    • Lori April 30, 2015 at 9:52 am

      It is definitely a fun time. And hooray that you are getting into bourbon! I definitely still have my KY favorites like Woodford Reserve, but bourbons like this from Eastside Distilling are growing on me. The craft distillers are doing some great stuff!

  • suki May 5, 2015 at 9:55 am

    These look so good. There are Derby parties in the Bay Area, but it’s just a bunch of people looking for an excuse to wear hats and drink. 😉

    • Lori May 6, 2015 at 6:38 am

      Thanks, suki! I’ve been hearing about those parties more and more! Saw some julep photos in my instagram feed. 🙂