Choosing Bourbon for Your Kentucky Derby Mint Julep

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With the Kentucky Derby coming up, thoughts are turning to the mint julep. This cocktail has been the signature drink of Churchill Downs since 1938, when they started serving the mint julep in souvenir glasses for 75 cents each.

If you don’t think the word “julep” sounds particularly Southern, you’re right. The cocktail, known as “julab,” originated in Arabia centuries ago. Eventually, it made its way to the US — with little changes along the way. The addition of bourbon is what really made the cocktail what it is today.

So as you prepare to enjoy Derby Day, here are some bourbon suggestions. Picking a bourbon is an important task.

You want a quality bourbon that mixes well and doesn’t break the bank. Oh, and of course it has to be from Kentucky.

Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon: For under $20, you won’t feel bad using it in a cocktail. However, don’t let the price tag fool you. It’s a very highly rated bourbon with a rich flavor that stands on its own.

Maker’s Mark: There’s a reason this is the go-to bourbon for cocktails. It mixes very well — the sweet and spicy notes go with a lot of mixers. Also, you can usually pick it up for around $20.

Buffalo Trace: This bourbon has the right amount of brown sugar flavor and oak to make a very balanced and truly Southern mint julep. You can generally pick this up for around $25.

Woodford Reserve: I think this is one of the best values out there in bourbon. It’s smooth with layered flavors. This one will make a mean mint julep and also please those who want their bourbon straight instead. Great for a party. Typically, you can find it around $30.

Black Maple Hill: This is a complex bourbon with an almost-fruity start and a nice hot finish. If your crowd will want some bourbon straight as well as in some juleps, this is the choice. It’s about $35.

Photo by Wanderstruck.

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