Drinking Holidays

The Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo Are Merging

These two early May drinking holidays are morphing into one cocktail-fueled celebration.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Thanks to a twist of boozy fate, Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby are both this Saturday.

This actually happens fairly often since the so-called Run for the Roses take place the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville and Cinco de Mayo is, of course, always the fifth of May.

While at first blush this might not seem like a big deal or even matter. What do these two events have in common except that they both have a signature drink and they’re in early May? And even those two drinks—the Mint Julep and the Margarita—are worlds apart, right?

Well, over the last few years those worlds have certainly collided and the two drinking holidays have begun to overlap in interesting ways and have become increasingly popular.

To start with, over the last 20 years, both bourbon and tequila have seen their reputations and sales rise substantially. And what’s driving this surge in interest are higher priced bottling and a connoisseurship whose possibility 20 years ago would have seemed ludicrous.

In particular, what sells well are ever older bottles of both whiskey and tequila—either reposado or añejo. And both mature tequila styles require aging in a barrel, which is more often than not, you guessed it, a used one that previously held American whiskey. As a result of sharing barrels, the flavor profiles of the two spirits have grown somewhat similar over the past few years.

In fact, Buffalo Trace even has the Corazon Tequila Expresiones line. The tequila is aged in barrels that have held some of the most famous and sought-after bourbons and ryes. A new batch of these special spirits, including a George T. Stagg Añejo ($80) and Sazerac Rye Añejo ($80), will be hitting store shelves in the next few weeks.

The similarities extend to also how the two spirits are now drunk. While you can make a Margarita with whiskey (the bigger the flavor the better) and a Mint Julep with tequila, a number of other cocktails are now popularly made with either spirit. Tequila is now often swapped in for bourbon in the classic Old-Fashioned (spirit, sugar, bitters, water) and both are used in common Negroni variations. I’ve even seen people order tequila Manhattans.

As a result, May Fifth now includes for many drinkers a round of afternoon Mint Juleps and ends with Margaritas and shots of tequila. Cheers!