Some things just go hand in hand: wine and cheese, beer and pizza, bourbon and the Kentucky Derby. Held every year in Louisville on the first Saturday of the month of May, the Derby is the grand finale of the two-week festival leading up to the big event. Considering the race has been said to be “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” it’s certain that participants and spectators alike will all need a stiff drink to get through the pressure buildup to the race, and even more booze to celebrate, should their trusty steed claim the victory title.
When in Louisville, we recommend drinking as the Kentuckians do. Stick to bourbon and drink it straight! We love a solid Mint Julep, but nothing represents Kentucky like a bourbon, neat. We’ve rounded up six of our favorite sipping bourbons to savor during (and after!) the big race. Grab your favorite bottle and run for the roses.
Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old
This particular bottling of Bulleit comes from Tom Bulleit’s selected reserve, making it a special treat for Derby Day. The bourbon is aged for 10 years in charred American oak, creating a smooth palate of vanilla and baking spice. Plus, the high-rye mash bill (28 percent) is always a hit in our book. It’s one of the more fruit-forward expressions we’ve tasted.
Four Roses Small Batch
Four Roses is one of the only distilleries to make it through the challenges of Prohibition, the Great Depression, and two world wars. The distillery’s award-winning Small Batch bottling presents aromas of spicy fruit on the nose, carrying over to a creamy, less-intense palate of balanced sweetness. It’s definitely one of our favorites.
I.W. Harper Straight Bourbon
Brothers Isaac and Bernard Bernheim started their bourbon brand, Bernheim Brothers, in 1872, after purchasing a distillery in Louisville. They changed the name to I.W. Harper to sound more American, and the distillery was subsequently one of only 10 given permission to make bourbon for medical reasons during Prohibition. After disappearing from the U.S. market for 20 years, the bourbon is back and better than ever, currently distilled at the Stitzel-Weller distillery for a minimum of four years. It gives nutty, cake-like characteristics on the palate, thanks to the high corn content of this bottle, making it one of our favorite sweeter styles.
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Believe it or not, Woodford Reserve Distillery is considered a National Historic Landmark. They began producing their first bourbons back in 1882. Presently, this small-batch, artisanal product focuses on balance and excellence. Aromas of spicy wood and sweet grain dominate the nose, creating a strong palate of fruit-forward, peppery notes. A bold example of solid sipping bourbon.
Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon
The name derives from the two portions that make up a skeleton key, an homage to the five keys that regularly hang outside the Stitzel-Weller Distillery’s door. Lighter-bodied and full of bright fruit flavors, this bourbon goes down just a little too easy.
Eagle Rare Bourbon
This award-winning bourbon, crafted at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, is intricately made, aged for a minimum of 10 years. Aromas of honeyed oak and slight citrus dominate, carrying over to a robust, dry palate of candied nuts and sprinkles of baking spice. A perfect sipper to end Derby day.