The official drink of the Kentucky Derby is, of course, the mint julep. Many Southerners wouldn’t dream of watching the Derby without a mint julep in hand to calm their nerves. The Derby just wouldn’t feel like the Derby without a mint julep—unless you’re drinking an Oaks Lily, that is.
The Oaks Lily is the dark horse of Churchill Downs drinking and a favorite of those with the inside scoop on the race track’s beverage options. The cocktail is a kissing cousin of the classic Cosmopolitan, made with vodka, sour mix, triple sec, and cranberry juice served over crushed ice. It’s a refreshing drink and, easier to sip on all day than the more traditional julep. According to The Louisville Courier-Journal, the Oaks Lily was invented in 2006 by Tim Laird, the chief entertainment officer for Brown-Forman, who wanted to give guests an alternative to the mint julep, if for some reason, (gasp!) they don’t like bourbon. The cocktail’s brilliant hue is meant to mimic the color of the stargazer lilies draped around the neck of the winning horse. At first, Laird only served the cocktail at one of Churchill Downs’ bars, but after a line formed out the door, he realized the error of his ways. Now, the cocktail is available throughout the racetrack and is the official drink of the Kentucky Oaks, the horse race traditionally held each year on the Friday before the Derby.
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If you aren’t going to make it to Churchill Downs this year, it’s easy enough to make an Oaks Lily at home, according to the recipe on KentuckyDerby.com, which undoubtedly knows a thing or two about the drink. Combine one and a quarter ounce of vodka, one ounce of Sweet and Sour mix, ¼ ounce triple sec, and three ounces of cranberry juice and stir. While the official recipe calls for an official Oaks Lily glass, which is a stemless wineglass, a Collins or highball glass or old jam jar will work, too. Whichever glass you have, fill with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge and fresh blackberries and serve. The drink is so tasty, you may find yourself craving an Oaks Lily whether there’s a horse race on or not.