The Oaks Lily is the official cocktail of the Kentucky Oaks horse race on the Friday before Derby Saturday. With a name like “Kentucky Oaks” you would think it is a good Bourbon cocktail, correct? After all, what better connection to Bourbon than oak? However, it is not a Bourbon cocktail, but a vodka cocktail. Here is the official recipe:

1 part Finlandia Vodka

1 part sweet and sour mix 

¼ part Triple Sec 

3 parts cranberry juice

Fill a stemless wine glass with crushed ice. Add the ingredients and stir. Add a straw and garnish with blackberries and a lemon wedge.

I also found this recipe on

1 ½ ounces vodka

½ ounce orange liqueur

½ ounce simple syrup

½ ounce fresh lemon juice

3 ounces cranberry juice

a lemon wheel 


Add all of the ingredients into a highball glass, fill with ice and stir. Garnish with a lemon wheel and 2 skewered blackberries.

I can imagine a group at Churchill Downs sitting around a table trying to decide what cocktail to make official for the Kentucky Oaks race. The mint julep is the cocktail for the Kentucky Derby, so surely the fillies need an official cocktail as well. They decided to make it a cocktail that would appeal to women – something pink and sweet made with vodka because women don’t drink Bourbon. It should be a lollypop flavored drink. They should have invited Peggy Noe Stevens to that meeting, the founder of Bourbon Women could have set them straight! Bourbon women love Bourbon and particular, the high proof ones. She could have given them a good Bourbon cocktail recipe for the Oaks. Despite the fact that Bourbon Women hold an annual “Not Your Pink Cocktail” contest, I am sure that Peggy would have made an exception for this cocktail. After all women are the theme of the day and breast cancer survivors in particular are honored. A pink ribbon is the symbol of breast cancer survivors and everyone is encouraged to wear pink to the race, so a pink cocktail is not out of the question. But make it with Bourbon, the spirit of Kentucky.

Maybe Peggy would have better suggestions, having the whole Bourbon Women organization to pull recipes from, but I have one that I have tried, that is made with Bourbon and is pink. It is from the book New Classic Cocktails by Gary and Mardee Haiden Regan. It is called the “Harper Cranberry” and it is simple to make. It calls for I. W. Harper Bourbon, but I am sure that it would taste just as good made with Old Forester or any other Bourbon available at the Churchill Downs bar. Here is the recipe:

2 ounces I.W. Harper Bourbon

3 ounces cranberry juice

Fill a double old fashioned glass with ice cubes. Add the Bourbon and cranberry juice and stir until chilled. Serve at once.

Another possibility of a pink Bourbon cocktail can be found on the Woodford Reserve website called Woodford Spire. Here is the recipe:

1.5 ounces straight Bourbon whiskey

2 ounces lemonade

1 ounce cranberry juice

Add ingredients to mixing glass and stir. Pour over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The Kentucky Oaks needs to have an official cocktail made from Bourbon. The drink should reflect on Kentucky traditions and vodka does not do so. When the Kentucky Oaks race was first run in 1875, they were not drinking vodka cocktails, they were drinking Bourbon. When a visitor to the race goes home, they should remember the great Bourbon cocktail they drank to celebrate the Oaks Day at Churchill Downs. If nothing else, they should take the vodka out of the present Oaks Lily recipe and replace it with Bourbon. If the Bourbon Women I know are any indication of what type of Bourbon, then it should be a high proof Bourbon – at least bottled-in-bond Bourbon. Churchill Downs really should rethink their choice of an official cocktail for the Kentucky Oaks.