Entertaining | Set Up A Bourbon Tasting Bar

How to set up a bourbon tasting bar

Saturday is the Kentucky Derby which kicks off the race for the triple crown. Although I’ve never been to the derby, I have been to a few steeple chases here in Virginia and in North Carolina, and I certainly love watching that iconic 2 minute race on the tv screen. With that in mind, what could be better or more apropos than setting up a bourbon tasting bar and hosting an afternoon get-together to watch the race?

I was working on ideas and recipes for a Kentucky derby party and decided I’d do this companion post to inspire another element of the party OR be used as a party idea on it’s own. Being from the South, bourbon is our spirit of choice when it comes to mixing up highballs, and there are so many good ones to choose from in the mid to high price points – this is NOT a time when you want to scrimp.

chalkboard silver tray sign - bourbon tasting barset up a bourbon tasting bar for the Kentucky derby. Here are loads of stylish and fun ideas.bourbon tasting bar

The bourbon bar consists of 3 stations:

  • Sipping cups for small tasting and comparing
  • A mixers area for making highballs
  • A mint julep station for making the traditional derby drink

To set the scene I used a moss runner to mimic the infield and the parking/tailgating areas where the real party happens at the derby. Some red felt roses and horseshoes are placed on the table, and silver serving pieces are used to give that classic Southern charm.

bourbon tasting bar including mint julepsmint juleps for the bourbon barbourbon tasting bar

  • I chose 4 quality brands of bourbon to sample. NOTE: bourbon whiskey is made with corn, while Scotch- and Irish- whisky are made with barley.
  • The mint julep station is set up with mint simple syrup {recipe below}, ice and a fresh mint plant that doubles as decor and a drink garnish.
  • To make things easier on the host, I used 8 oz canning jars for glasses. Traditional julep cups may be a little difficult to come by for a crowd, but if you have them, by all means, use them.
  • Each glass has a drink marker that resembles a jockey’s whip, and can be used to identify guests drink by the color of ribbon.
  • The area for mixed drinks has a variety of sodas and water to blend with the bourbon of choice. My personal favorite is ginger ale, but my husband likes to add a little sparkling water.

bourbon bar and bourbon meatballs bourbon bar party favorsbourbon tasting bar

  • Since we can’t live on cocktails alone, you must serve some hearty food. I’ve shared some traditional derby recipes here, but I think bourbon meatballs also hit the spot… and I never met a man who didn’t love to have cocktail meatballs at a party!
  • Finally, a great way to send your guests on their way and remind them of what a great time they had, is to set out bourbon themed party favors. Mini bottles of bourbon are the perfect choice for the guys, while yummy bourbon balls are a sweet treat for the gals. Stay tuned – Get the meatballs and dessert balls recipes here.

mint simple syrup recipe for mint juleps

Mint Simple Syrup for Mint Juleps

This came from the folks at Early Times, who provide the “official mint julep of the Kentucky Derby”

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • fresh mint
  • crushed ice
  • bourbon whiskey

Make the mint simple syrup by combining the water and sugar in a sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes.

Let syrup cool and add 6 to 8 sprigs of fresh mint. Cover and refrigerate over night.

Make one drink at a time by adding 1 tablespoon mint syrup with 2 ounces of bourbon over ice. Stir to combine and chill.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Is this your idea of a fun party?  I know my friends would be over the moon with this idea {especially the guys}.  This would be fantastic for any occasion, especially a gentleman’s birthday or a bachelor party.

set up a bourbon tasting bar

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About Chris

Chris Nease is a party stylist and home entertaining expert with over 15 years of experience. In addition to her work as founding editor of Celebrations At Home, Chris is an editorial stylist and has contributed to Homes.com, SheKnows, and countless other websites. Most recently she was featured in Celebrate magazine, and her work has been published in Woman's World, Ocala Style, Yum Food & Fun for Kids, and Cottages & Bungalows.


  1. LOVE this idea Chris! As a southern girl myself, I can enjoy a bit of bourbon. :) And the moss and horseshoes are genius for the Derby!


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