Bourbon is the key ingredient in the mint julep (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
The first jewel of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, features bourbon as the key ingredient in its famed mint julep. In fact, bourbon is one of Kentucky’s signature industries, right up there with horse racing. Here are 10 bourbons to try before the Triple Crown—so you know which you prefer in your mint julep, of course.
1) Blanton's Original Single Barrel: Blanton's is distilled in Frankfort, Ky. at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. First introduced in 1984, Blanton's offers the bourbon drinker a noted taste of caramel, and many drinkers often describe the spirit as having a hint of citrus as well. At 93 proof (46.5% abv), the bourbon will definitely pack a little more punch than typical 80 proof bourbons. The stopper on each bottle of Blanton's is a jockey on top of a racehorse. What's notable about this is that there are eight unique stoppers for Blanton's Original Single Barrel (each of the eight stoppers corresponds to the one of the letters in B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S), and each of the eight unique stoppers depicts the jockey on horseback in a different position on the track ... so if you collect all eight, you can display a miniature horse race! Price: $60.
BLANTON'S ORIGINAL SINGLE BARREL
Photo by Buffalo Trace
2) Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit: Wild Turkey is distilled in Lawrenceburg, Ky. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit is a single barrel bourbon that is 101 proof (50.5% abv). Many drinkers note this particular bourbon for its vanilla undertones, while staying true to that taste of caramel that all bourbon drinkers expect. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit is typically aged 8-9 years. It is also packaged in a unique bottle. Price: $50.
WILD TURKEY KENTUCKY SPIRIT
3) Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23 Year: This is one of the most sought-after bourbons on the planet - it is very rare and very much in demand by the highest class of bourbon drinkers. Pappy Van Winkle is distilled in Frankfort, Ky. and has a variety of aging times (including also 10, 12, 13, 15, and 20 year varieties). This bourbon is produced in extremely small batches and offers hints of honey and toffee. Good luck finding a bottle! Price: $250 (suggested retail), but due to its rarity, you are likely paying well over $1,000 for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23 year.
PAPPY VAN WINKLE
Photo by Buffalo Trace
4) Four Roses Small Batch: Four Roses is distilled in Lawrenceburg, Ky. and its "Small Batch" variety is available at 90 proof (45% abv). Four Roses uses a unique distillation process by which they make ten separate bourbons using two different mash recipes and five different yeast strains (2 x 5 = 10). These ten bourbons are then mixed and matched and combined to make each of Four Roses' eight different varieties of bourbon, of which Small Batch is one. Four Roses Small Batch is often noted for its hints of fruit and berries. Price: $30.
5) Maker's 46: Maker's 46 is distilled at the Maker's Mark distillery in Loretto, Ky. and is 94 proof (47% abv). Maker's 46 is a fairly new product and was designed to offer an upgraded taste to the already popular Maker's Mark that you may be familiar with. Maker's 46 undergoes the same distillation process as traditional Maker's Mark, with one addition added to the end of the process that makes it more select. Upon completion of the traditional 6-7 year aging process for Maker's Mark, Maker's 46 is removed from the barrel and seared staves of French oak are added to the inside of the barrel. These seared French oak staves add and lock in additional flavors to the traditional Maker's Mark, thereby offering a unique and complex taste that many desire. Price: $40.
6) Buffalo Trace: Buffalo Trace is distilled in Frankfort, Ky. and is one of the finest bourbons you will find for the price (and let's be honest, at 26 years old, I've always got my mind on the budget). Buffalo Trace offers the ever-popular tastes and aromas of vanilla and caramel, all while producing a unique flavor that many note for its sweetness and silky-smooth finish. Buffalo Trace distillery is home to many other spirits, but clearly the namesake bourbon for the facility is produced with the utmost of sophistication. Price: $22.
Image by Buffalo Trace
7) Evan Williams Single Barrel: Evan Williams is distilled in Bardstown, Ky. and is another fantastic bourbon you can find at an affordable price. Evan Williams (or "E-Dub" as we used to call it in school) Single Barrel is 86.6 proof (43.3% abv) and is aged for at least 10 years. On the back of the bottle, you can find the exact dates for when the bourbon was barreled and when the bourbon was bottled, as well as what barrel number that particular bourbon was in. Evan Williams Single Barrel is often noted for its complex taste complete with a sweet and smoky aroma. Price: $25.
EVAN WILLIAMS SINGLE BARREL
8) Jefferson's Ocean: Jefferson's Ocean is blended at McClain and Kyne distillery in Louisville, Ky. However, it is the aging process that makes Jefferson's Ocean one-of-a-kind as Jefferson's Ocean is aged at sea! The salt, humidity, and heat that the bourbon is exposed to while it is at sea gives the spirit a thick and dark appearance, yet still captures the flavors of vanilla, caramel, and brown sugar that bourbon drinkers desire. The motion of the ship allows the bourbon to be constantly moving inside the barrel, thereby exposing more of the liquid to the sides of the charred-oak barrels it is aging in, which speeds the aging process and brings out a robust flavor in this particular bourbon. Price: $70 (suggested retail, though this bourbon is rare, so many must pay a premium).
9) Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Barrel Proof: This distinct bourbon is particularly hot, coming in at 134.5 proof (67.25% abv). Also distilled at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Ky., Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Barrel Proof is bottled directly from the barrel (and therefore is uncut/unfiltered with any water, thereby giving this bourbon its high alcohol content). Not for the faint of heart, this bourbon surprisingly features hints of fruit and flowers in addition to its uncompromising boldness. Price: $85.
COLONEL E.H. TAYLOR JR. BARREL PROOF
Photo by Buffalo Trace
10) Bulleit 10 Year: Bulleit is distilled in Lawrenceburg, Ky. and its 10-year variety is produced at 91.2 proof (45.6% abv). Obviously aged for 10 years, Bulleit 10-year is a richer and more complex version of the Bulleit bourbon you may already be familiar with. Many note a citrus taste in addition to hints of cinnamon and clove when trying Bulleit 10-year, and you can certainly tell that this bourbon was aged longer than others because the oaky taste in the spirit is unmistakable. Price: $45.
BULLEIT 10 YEAR
Photo by Bulleit Distilling Company