Party Time Is Racing Towards Us

How to plan an epic Derby Party

April 2015 Feature Austa Cook

It’s called “the greatest two minutes in sports” for a reason. Send 19 to 20 horses pounding down the track at breakneck speed, slight jockeys perched like oxpeckers on their backs, and anybody’s heart rate would be a little high (particularly if your money is on the line). The vibration rattling your teeth and the bolts of your seat is second only to the IMAX experience in movie theatres.

But if you’re not in town for the annual Kentucky Derby race, part of the fun in joining in the Derby spirit is to throw your own party. And the only way it could be even better is to throw that party on a houseboat!

This is a collection of recipes, party favors, decorations, and game ideas that will all culminate into the most fantastic Derby Party you’ve ever thrown (or even been invited to). Like any other party, throwing it on a houseboat not only adds the spice of adventure, it’s also about the same as planning any other party, just requiring a little extra tweaking here and there to fit your accommodations.

Derby Truffles

Let’s start off with some bourbon! Showcase the classy derby taste in chocolate glory with Derby Truffles from They’re simple enough to make, but decadent to eat.

The ingredients are as follows: 12-ounce bittersweet chocolate baking bars (chopped), 1 1/2 tablespoons cold butter (cubed), 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 9 tablespoons heavy cream, 1/4 cup bourbon, 5.3-ounce package of pure butter shortbread cookies (crushed), 2 cups finely chopped roasted, salted pecans and wax paper. All you have to do is heat the cream and bourbon without letting it boil, and then pour it over the chocolate, butter and vanilla. Stir as everything melts, then add the crushed cookies and chill. Once the mixture is cold, shape out small balls and roll them in crushed pecans, setting them on wax paper to chill an hour longer. These will store well for five days, so you can make them ahead of time. 

Mint Julep

Let’s continue with some more bourbon. Necessary to any Derby Party is the classic Mint Julep ( Traditionally served in silver cups to encourage a light coating of frost on the outside, Mint Julep is sure to invite the Derby spirit in a snap. Take leaves from 4 to 5 mint sprigs and 2 sugar cubes (or 1/2 ounce simple syrup) and muddle them in the bottom of your julep cup. Add 2 1/2 ounces of bourbon whiskey, fill the rest with crushed ice, and stir well before serving with a garnish of mint. To serve a non-alcoholic version, you can try tricks like substituting the bourbon with lemon juice and ginger ale (


If you want some spicy sweet crispiness, these Bacon Wrapped Pimento Cheese Poppers found at only require 12 jalapenos, 1/2 cup Callie's Biscuits Fiery Pimento Cheese, 8 slices of bacon, and 1/4 cup brown sugar. All you have to do is scrape out the insides of the jalapenos (wearing gloves, of course), fill each pepper half with as much pimento cheese as you can, wrap them in bacon, and top with a sprinkling of brown sugar. Bake them for 20 minutes (or until the bacon is at your favorite crispiness) on a pan that’s been preheated in the oven at 400 degrees.

Other Ideas

There are probably more mentionable Derby recipes than there are ounces of bourbon present at said Derby Parties, which is really saying something. But a few more recipes to check out are these Bourbon Brown Sugar Ribs (, Kentucky Bourbon Bacon Chex Mix (, and this delicious cousin of Derby Pie, aka Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Pecan Pie from—litigation issues not included. (Is bourbon included? Yes, yes it copiously is. What a silly question.)

As with any houseboat party preparations, most—if not all—of the prep for these foods can be done in your land-bound kitchen at home, leaving the eatin’ for the houseboat.

You’ve Gotta Decorate!

Let’s move on to decorations! There are some really fun ideas out there. Of course, you can never deck out the salon or galley enough with roses or silk (or a less pricey silk-like counterpart). The Better Homes and Gardens website recommends rolling out a red carpet and representing the jockey’s racing jerseys with a colorful silk tablecloth for a high-end party feel. You could create a trophy cup centerpiece and sprinkle rose petals inside and down the center of the table, as well as hang silk banners around the room. For an added Derby touch, freeze rosebuds in ice cubes and use them to cool down the drinks (

If you’re after a looser party atmosphere, you can use plastic trophies with people’s names as placeholders, filled with candy or drinks ( You could also leave toy horses with red name blankets as placeholders or party favors; kids especially would be delighted ( Round out the fun atmosphere by stringing a sparkly red bow garland around the room, crafted cleverly out of dyed bowtie pasta and glitter (


Holding a Derby hat and bowtie contest always gets interesting quickly. Encourage your guests to transform any wide-brimmed hat into a Derby hat by adding lots of feathers, ruffles, ribbon, silk flowers, and other such touch-ups. For the men, call for multi-colored, multi-patterned bowties—the louder, the better. Better Homes and Gardens also recommends holding a contest to make the best hat out of things like trash bags, aluminum foil, and duct tape for a fun twist.

Have everyone wager on the winning horse and learn “My Old Kentucky Home,” the traditional Derby song ( Then have some good old-fashioned contests on your dock with games like potato sack races, stick horse races, horseshoe toss, bean bag toss, or Pin The Hat On The Southern Belle—hilarious downloadable poster prints are found at the Hostess With The Mostess blogspot. You can also print out the Pin The Jockey On The Horse templates.

At the end of the day, give out ribbons for the biggest hat, craziest bow tie, best appetizer, “race” winners, best dressed, and so forth (

If you want more ideas, just go to and you’ll be overwhelmed with all the charming suggestions.

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