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With a ‘Kentucky Affogato,’ Derby Day Has Never Been So Sweet

Woodford Reserve

The Kentucky Derby may be known as the most exciting two minutes in sports, but for attendees it’s a never-ending party measured in mint julep highball glasses. The drink, comprised of mint, bourbon, and simple syrup, is so ubiquitous at the event that it’s almost a cliché, which leaves the field wide-open for creative alternatives to an old standard. So on Saturday, let us suggest a sweeter alternative: the Kentucky Affogato.

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For this one, Woodford Reserve Brand Ambassador and Brooklyn resident Michael Toscano harks back to his days as the head bartender for the West Village’s Dante, an Italian aperitif restaurant, for which he concocted an early iteration. “It’s starting to get warm, everybody’s outside, and who doesn’t like a good ice cream float?” he tells The Manual.

To call the Kentucky Affogato a “cocktail” can only cause division, as its components could arguably classify it as a boozy dessert. Bourbon whiskey floats a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream, and over top, a warmed, mint-infused simple syrup melts the whole thing down into sweet, milky goodness. Garnished with more fresh mint, it’s as pleasant on the stomach as it is to the nose and eye.

The jury may still be out on how exactly to classify this drink, but the concoction is another delicious way to enjoy bourbon come Kentucky Derby. Like the race itself, it’s all about the horses, and when it comes to a seasonal drink, one can’t go wrong with bourbon whiskey.

The Kentucky Affogato

By Michael Toscano, Woodford Reserve Brand Ambassador


  • 1.5 oz. bourbon whiskey
  • .5 oz. mint-infused simple syrup (see below)
  • 1 to 2 scoops vanilla bean ice cream
  • Fresh mint
  • Grated dark chocolate or nutmeg (optional)


  1. Over a stovetop and with low heat, simmer simple syrup with fresh mint leaves to taste (Toscano recommends 10 stemless leaves for 10 minutes as a baseline)
  2. In a dessert bowl or special coupe glass, pour in bourbon
  3. Spoon out one or two healthy scoops of ice cream into the dish
  4. Drizzle mint-infused syrup over the ice cream, allowing partial melting
  5. Garnish with a sprig of mint, and grate nutmeg or dark chocolate if desired

What You Need to Know

Most people know the traditional affogato as an espresso drink and may be thrown for a loop when this recipe doesn’t include it. “Affogato means ‘drown’ in Italian,” says Toscano. “In the sense of this cocktail, the hot syrup is melting the ice cream into the whiskey.” The bite of the bourbon pairs well with the rich, milky sweetness of a quality vanilla bean ice cream. For those really looking to lean in to the traditional mint julep theme, simply simmer the syrup longer and with more mint. “The longer it simmers, the more flavor you’re going to pull out of it,” he says. Finally, when considering ways to punch up the drink/dish, consider toppings that offer bold scents, or aromatics. These include nutmeg: “It’s going to add; it doesn’t distract from the flavor,” he says.

Read more: History of The Mint Julep

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Jon Gugala
Features Writer
Jon Gugala is a freelance writer and photographer based in Nashville, Tenn. A former gear editor for Outside Magazine, his…
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