This Derby Champagne Cocktail will please bourbon drinkers and clear spirits drinkers alike. And for those of us who partied the night before (or every night that week), a lighter cocktail at brunch will get the palate ready for juleps a little later at the track. Here, I’ve combined a muddle of mint and strawberry with whiskey and sparkling wine, but this works equally well with vodka or gin for non-whiskey drinkers. (Just don’t tell the whiskey enthusiasts!
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Here’s Why You Can’t Call This a Julep (Technically)
A typical Mint Julep consists of whiskey, simple syrup or sugar, muddled mint and lots of crushed ice. Here there’s no ice, and while there is simple syrup and a touch of bourbon, a healthy topping of bubbles takes this far from the julep template. For more on a classic julep, see my article on how to make a classic Mint Julep.
Nevertheless, this cocktail uses three flavor ingredients from the julep family: bourbon, simple syrup and mint. Let’s call it julep adjacent!
Why this Strawberry Champagne Cocktail Works for Derby
Derby is a time for all things whiskey, and since we’re adding a touch of whiskey to the cocktail, and a bit of mint, it’s got two of the main flavors we associate with cocktails at the track. In Louisville especially, where the official drink of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs is the Mint Julep, this association comes to mind quickly for those who are locals or those who spend their springs (and falls) at the track.
One great thing about this cocktail is you can swap out the flavored syrup for any fruit syrup. Peach, blueberry, blackberry and cherry will all make delicious variations on this cocktail. Maple or caramel syrups are not recommended. They”ll make the drink too heavy.
Ingredients in this Champagne Derby Cocktail
For this cocktail you’ll need the following ingredients:
- strawberry (or whatever fruit you’re using)
- simple syrup (here’s the recipe for the strawberry simple syrup)
- bourbon (or sub gin or vodka for non-whiskey drinkers)
- sparkling wine (dry is best)
For the bourbon, choose a lighter bourbon, 85-90 proof, and something that’s got some lighter fruit and floral notes in it. I’ve used both Woodford Reserve and Four Roses Small Batch successfully to make it.
While I used strawberry because it is easy to make a simple syrup and they’re plentiful this time of year, peach, blueberry, blackberry and even cherry make wonderful substitutions. Where possible, garnish with fresh fruit and a mint sprig.
You can choose a chocolate liqueur like creme de cacao, but it will increase the proof or alcohol content of the drink. If you do that, garnish with a dusting of cocoa powder on the rim and a fresh mint sprig.
Making a Derby Cocktail with Champagne
While I would not normally muddle in a champagne flute, in this case, since this is meant to be a cocktail that’s a quick drink before a day at the track or parties, it works as a bright start to a fun day. Use sturdy flutes or champagne coupes to muddle the strawberries briefly.
If you prefer not to have the muddled fruit and mint in the champagne flute, batch the ingredients in a mixing glass for the total you’re serving, add the bourbon to the mixing glass, stir well and strain into the champagne flutes. Then you’ll top it will chilled champagne.
Tricks to Make an Amazing Bourbon Champagne Cocktail
While this cocktail tastes delicious almost anyway you make it. Here are some tips to help you make a great bourbon sparkling wine cocktail:
- Chill your glasses before hand. This keeps the drink cold in the glass longer as you sip on it. And sparkling wines always taste better when well chilled.
- Make sure your champagne is well-chilled before you use it to top your cocktail.
- Use very ripe, juicy fruit. Berries, especially, fade in flavor the longer they’re in the fridge. Chop them a bit to make them easier to muddle in the glass.
- Use fresh mint. If you have mint in your garden, pick straight from the plant. The best place to purchase it is from a farmers market or a store that sells it directly from a garden. If you have to use mint from the grocery store in the small plastic boxes, take them out, trim the ends and put the stem ends in cold water to refresh them a bit.
Other Cocktails You’ll Enjoy
- Strawberry Mint Julep
- Chocolate Mint Julep
- Blueberry Sage Julep
- Mint Julep Milkshake
- How to Batch a Julep for Party
- 7 Fun Mint Julep Riffs
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Recommended Bar Tools
You don’t need every slick, beautiful bar tool out there, but there are several I’ll recommend. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, that does not affect the cost of the items below.) My favorite pieces:
You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Trifecta Bubbles – A Derby Champagne Cocktail
- 1 strawberry, chopped
- 3 mint leaves
- 1/2 oz strawberry simple syrup*
- 1 oz whiskey or vodka or gin if you prefer
- Sparkling wine
- Garnish: mint and strawberry
- Rub 2 mint leaves along the inside of the flute and rim.
- Muddle 1 mint leaf, 1 chopped strawberry and syrup in the bottom of a chilled champagne flute.
- Add 1 oz of whiskey (or vodka or gin).
- Top with sparkling wine and garnish.