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Derby Day Spice

By Sheridan Lane, director, culinary program and operations, Lincoln Land Community College

It is starting to feel more like spring, and one of my favorite sporting events is quickly approaching! As the longest continuously running sporting event held in the United States in its 148th year, the Kentucky Derby embodies all things I absolutely love about hospitality: rich in tradition, a little adrenaline rush (if you so choose), plenty of philanthropy, getting dressed to the nines and donning a big hat or fun fascinator, loads of Derby Day foods from savory to sweet, and, of course, lots of bourbon!

In this day and age, choosing a bourbon can be as daunting as choosing a horse with tough odds - there are just so many great ones out there, but like wine or anything else, pairing the right one for the intended use can be important. According to Kentucky Distiller’s Association, “Bourbon production has skyrocketed more than 360% since the turn of the century with premium small batch and single barrel brands driving the Bourbon renaissance as America’s only and official native spirit.”  The association goes on to say, “Bourbon is an $8.6 billion signature industry in Kentucky, generating more than 20,100 jobs with an annual payroll topping $1 billion. Spirits production and consumption pours more than $235 million in state and local tax coffers every year.”

While it is certainly on my bucket list to someday spend the entire week at the Derby from Thunder Over Louisville to the final run, I will happily settle this year for a fun day with friends and a few creative tweaks to traditional Derby favorites. This year’s Derby Day festivities will include a batch of Ed Lee’s (food writer, restauranteur and Top Chef Winner) Jalapeño-Spiked Bourbon Julep alongside a pimento grilled cheese with rendered Mexican beef chorizo and homemade quick pickles, and Derby Pie Brownies for dessert. I decided upon using the Four Roses for its delicate and spicy characteristic in my Julep, Eagle Rare in the caramel on Derby Pie Brownies, and Angel’s Envy for the sipping I will do while prepping my Derby Day treats - didn’t I say lots of bourbon after all?

Lee’s Jalapeño Julep

Make ahead: jalapeño simple syrup

Makes 12 ounces or 12 portions of simple syrup if following the cocktail recipe below.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, chopped (seeds and all)


In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and peppers and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain the syrup and allow to cool. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Ingredients for 1 cocktail

  • 4 to 6 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
  • 1 oz. jalapeño simple syrup (recipe follows)
  • Crushed ice
  • 2½ oz. bourbon
  • Splash of club soda
  • A jalapeño slice for garnish


Place the mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup, add the simple syrup, and gently bruise the leaves with a wooden muddler or a wooden spoon.  Add enough crushed ice to fill the cup almost two-thirds of the way. Add the bourbon and stir gently, then fill the cup almost full with more crushed ice. Top with a splash of club soda. Garnish with the mint sprig and slice of jalapeño and serve immediately.

Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value-Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education.

Cooking or food questions? Email