Thurby, How Locals Celebrate the Kentucky Derby

In recent years the Kentuckian holiday has become somewhat of a national celebration — and more difficult for locals to attend.

By: Eric Kim


Jennie Benedict, born in 1860 in Louisville, invented Benedictine, a spread made of cream cheese, cucumber juice, onion juice and seasonings, mashed together with a fork. Benedictine dip or sandwiches appear on many Louisville tables during Derby week. The original recipe — which is widely available — includes two drops of green food coloring, an ingredient that some cooks and chefs skip today. Louisvillians hungry for their signature spread often stop by La Peche Gourmet-To-Go for famed chef Kathy Cary’s cucumber-rich, crunchy version. Some also order a Benedictine-and-bacon sandwich to go, as fortification until they get their Benedictine home and can whip one up themselves.

Photo by: Sarah Jane Sanders

Sarah Jane Sanders

While the Kentucky Derby is an exciting time for horse racing and julep sipping, in recent years the Kentuckian holiday has become somewhat of a national celebration — and, thus, more difficult for locals to attend.

According to Rob Samuels, eighth generation whisky maker and COO of Maker’s Mark, "As Kentuckians, we love sharing the Derby with everyone. But these days, the track has become inundated with out-of-towners."

Turned out, the solution was a mere matter of changing the date of the festivities.

Locals used to celebrate on Oaks Day (the Friday before Saturday’s Derby). And when that became too busy, born was the annual tradition of  Thurby (the Thursday before Derby).

"Most of the traditions are the same – hats, bow ties and fascinators will all make an appearance at Thurby events and celebrations. You still dress in your Derby best and enjoy a delicious bourbon cocktail. But you get to do so without the fuss or the lines.

"Boiled down: It’s locals taking back Derby."

While racegoers can still enjoy a traditional mint julep, Samuels prefers a Keeneland Breeze — a refreshing cocktail of choice at Keeneland, one of the Derby race courses. According to the whiskey expert, it pairs perfectly with a Benedictine sandwich (pictured), another staple of Kentucky, and with burgoo, a specialty native stew.

"If you’ve never had burgoo, you’re missing out."

Keeneland Breeze

1 1/4 parts Maker’s Mark Bourbon
DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1 orange, juiced
Ginger ale
1 orange wedge, for garnish

Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the bourbon, a splash of the DeKuyper Orange Curacao liqueur and a squeeze of fresh orange. Top off with the ginger ale and garnish with the orange wedge.

Yield: 1 serving

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