When you grow up anywhere in the tri-state area of Louisville, Kentucky, Kentucky Derby parties are just as common as celebrating Independence Day. Much like Independence Day, there are often cookouts and cocktails. And as most Louisville-area expats will tell you, it’s not so easy to give those traditions up even after moving 2000+ miles away. For Off Hours Bourbon Founder Jake Ireland, who grew up in Indiana, what started as some Midwestern kids celebrating their Derby traditions in Phoenix evolved into his own style of Kentucky Derby celebration in his now home of California.
“My parents would have our family over to the house and we would usually barbecue and we would have the Derby on from the time the coverage started, and usually there was some betting going on and it was a lot of fun,” Ireland recalls. “I’ve taken a lot of those family traditions and kept them going with my family as well.”
Ireland went to University in Indiana and then moved to Phoenix for a graduate program in Physical Therpay. While in Phoenix, he and his classmates would often get together to celebrate the Kentucky Derby.
“When I was in Phoenix a lot of my classmates were from the Midwest as well, so we sort of created our own tradition there too where we would all get together and bring different foods and drinks and cocktail ingredients and we would watch the Derby,” he says. “When we moved to California, my wife and her family are here, we transitioned to celebrating with siblings and parents, and whoever really wants to join, the more the merrier.”
Even though the Kentucky Derby is known around the world, some of the finer points of the day can be completely unknown unless you’ve actually been to one.
“I think they don’t necessarily understand how big of a tradition it is and how much goes into it,” Ireland says. “In years past that we’ve attended it, when you come back and you tell them the stories and they see all the pictures of everybody dressed up, it’s interesting to explain to them like, okay, here’s what’s going on, and all that leads up to the race itself, and teaching a little bit about the horses and the trainers and the jockeys, why the odds are the way they are, and really kind of what the whole thing is about, They have a decent understanding, but it’s cool to really show them what it’s about and have a good time with it between the food and the cocktails.”
There are some differences when celebrating the Kentucky Derby outside of Kentucky, though, chief among them being the three hour time difference.
“With the Pacific time zone, coverage starts a little bit earlier, so I think people tend to come over late morning,” says Ireland. “We’ve got a handful of different cocktails now that we’ve put together where if it’s earlier and you haven’t had coffee yet there’s our take on Bourbon and coffee with cold brew, and when it gets later in the day we’ve created our own modern version of Mint Juleps as well, to get off hours there. It’s a lot more prep work, but I enjoy cooking and I will put together barbecue pulled pork or brisket, or barbecue chicken the night before. We also serve a lot of dips and biscuits and all that sort of thing. So we don’t go hungry, that’s for sure. But it tends to be a pretty long day by the time everybody gets here and then things wrapped up after the race, so it’s usually late afternoon, which everybody have a pretty good time by then, so we usually try to wrap it up at a fairly decent time, especially now with everyone having kids. It’s a lot of fun.”
Ireland reports that he will often cook with Bourbon, making things like Bourbon barbecue sauce or fruit cobblers with Bourbon baked right in. It’s a chance to show his California family not only the traditions of his childhood, but also the versatility of Bourbon.
So does Ireland have a favorite horse for the Kentucky Derby this year?
“Honestly, I feel like in years past, there’s always been one horse that’s really stood out that was going to be the one, but this year Epicenter seems to be one of the favorites, so we’ll see.”
Fresh Start Mint Julep
1 oz Off Hours Bourbon
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
handful of mint leaves
3 oz of Pompette lemon mint
Clap mint and throw the ingredients into shaker, minus the Pompette. Shake with ice and strain into Champagne glass. Top with Pompette. Garnish with lemon wheel and mint sprig.
The New Fashioned
2 oz of Off Hours Bourbon
fresh orange slice
fresh lemon slice
quarter of ripe peach, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Combine Off Hours Bourbon, maple syrup, bitters and peach in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir then strain into Old Fashioned glass with ice. Garnish with orange and lemon slices.
Early Off Hours Cocktail
1 oz coffee creamer
1.5 oz cold brew concentrate
1 oz Off Hours Bourbon
.5oz maple syrup
Pour ingredients in a glass over ice. Stir. Top with ground nutmeg.
Kentucky Cinnamon Coffee
2 oz of Off Hours Bourbon
3/4 oz of cinnamon syrup
4 oz hot chocolate
sprinkle of cinnamon
Pour ingredients in a glass over ice. Stir. Top with whipped cream. Add a pinch of cinnamon.
Photos Courtesy of Off Hours Bourbon / Adrian Martin / Studio June LA