2018 Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby Bottle

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We are gearing up for the Kentucky Derby, and our annual Derby Party, on Saturday! And, to get ready, I’ve purchased the annual commemorative Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby bottle. I always get mine from Hi-Time Wine Cellars, and when we were in Richmond, Virginia last weekend visiting our daughter I also picked one up from a local ABC store.

Each year features different artwork, which I’ve written about before (and read my interview with the 2017 artist Thomas Allen Pauly). This year’s bottle does not disappoint and will be displayed prominently on our bar at the party. The artwork is by Keith Anderson, an artist and employee of Brown-Forman (the company that owns Woodford Reserve). From the tag on the bottle:

… Anderson colorfully portrays the sprint out of the gate in the most iconic horse race in the world. Anderson works mainly in colors and acrylics and has a love of bleeding colors with a focus on equine portraits.

You can also read my previous post about special bourbon releases around the Kentucky Derby.

Bourbon, horse racing, and the Kentucky Derby intermingle often. That’s because the heart of Bourbon country, Louisville and Lexington, is near Churchill Downs, Keeneland and many of the country’s horse farms. A lot of bourbons have horse and horse racing themes to them, which might be why I like bourbon so much!

We are looking forward to Saturday! What are you plans for watching the fastest two minutes in sports?

 

Thanksgiving Cocktails

While we traditionally serve wine during the Thanksgiving meal (I recommend a nice pinot noir – a light red pairs well with turkey), bourbon cocktails are a great way to start your Thanksgiving gathering. I was asked by my sister-in-law Cheryl to come up with a couple fun cocktails for Thanksgiving Day at their house. Challenge accepted!

I have been pouring over internet sites to find some fun drinks. A common theme among the cocktails I’ve found is What I have found is  cranberries, cinnamon, and apple cider. I asked the guys at Hi-Time Wine Cellars what bourbon they would use in a fall cocktail. They suggested Buffalo Trace and Elijah Craig. They said the spice in both bourbons will play well with the Thanksgiving flavors. The Elijah Craig at 94 proof is just a little higher proof than the Buffalo Trace at 90.

Obviously Bourbon Bill is planning on serving bourbon cocktails but there are also plenty of cocktail recipes out there using rum, vodka or another liquor. Your menu should definitely drive the cocktails.  As I mentioned above, also think also about what you will serve to drink with the big meal. We usually get some of the newly released Beaujolais Nouveau from France, or a California Pinot Noir to serve with our turkey (usually cook one on the Weber grill and deep fry one).

The three cocktails I recommend are below. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!

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The first drink I would suggest is a Bourbon Cranberry Cocktail. This drink I found on the Food Network from Nancy Fuller. The recipe makes a lot so you may want to cut it in half unless you have a lot of Bourbon drinkers.

Bourbon Cranberry Cocktail
2 Cups Fresh Cranberries
1 Cup Orange Juice
1/3 Cup Sugar
3 Cinnamon Sticks
1L (about 4 Cups) Bourbon
Orange Peels for Garnish

Combine the cranberries, orange juice, sugar and cinnamon sticks in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and cranberries start to pop, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then combine with the bourbon in a pitcher. To serve, pour into glasses over ice and garnish with an orange peel.

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The next drink is for the going the fall apple route. We went apple picking with the kids in Virginia a little over a week ago. When I saw this drink I thought it was the perfect sophisticated fall bourbon drink. I got this one from the Woodford Reserve website. They have a lot of creative cocktails on there.

Woodford Reserve Apple Cider
4 ounces hot fresh apple cider
2 ounces Woodford Reserve
1 ounces brown sugar syrup (recipe below)

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well until chilled and pour into your favorite stemmed glass.

For the syrup: Combine equal parts water and brown sugar. Bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

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For my last Holiday cocktail, I would suggest a “Fall Fashion Issue.” It’s an Old Fashioned from Bourbon & Banter.  “In autumn, I like to add the seasonal flavor of apples. Cider is delicious, but there’s no place for juice in an old fashioned. No, you have to keep things boozy with applejack. Applejack was first made by William Laird in New Jersey in 1698. George Washington liked it so much he asked Robert Laird for the recipe in 1760. Laird & Company received distillery License No. 1 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 1780.” For this old fashioned we split the spirit duties between bourbon and applejack. The bitters will be aromatic, the sugar is honey, and the water is always ice.

Fall Fashion Issue
1 oz bourbon
1 oz applejack
1/4 oz honey syrup
3 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice in a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

To make honey syrup mix equal parts of honey and hot water. 

 

Triple Crown Mixology: The Belmont Jewel

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For those who don’t follow horse racing as closely as I do, the Belmont Stakes is this weekend! Continuing my series on drinks specific to the three Triple Crown races, today I’m sharing with you the “Belmont Jewel” –  the official drink of the Belmont Stakes (recipe below). The name is a reference to Belmont being the 3rd jewel in the Triple crown.

The Belmont Jewel is made with Woodford Reserve, the official bourbon of Belmont Park. Belmont has changed their drink over the years. In 1975 it was “The Big Apple” which was made with rum, apple liquor, and some sort of fruit juice. It only lasted a year or two then it was changed to “The White Carnation” which was a combination of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, soda water, and cream. It was created with the thought of the blanket of white carnations put on the winner. It was not well received by the patrons. How long it lasted seems to be lost in history. In 1997, then head bartender of the Rainbow Room, Dale DeGroff invented the “Belmont Breeze.” Believing that a track drink should be whiskey-based, he made what he called “an old-fashioned whiskey punch, which has mint as a garnish.” It was made from Bourbon or Rye, sherry, orange juice, pimento bitters, fresh mint, and orange zest.

That brings us to 2015 and the Belmont Jewel. As part of a modernizing effort they wanted to have a drink that was bourbon based, easy to make at home, and in large quantity at the track. They needed a drink that was more “fan friendly” and this was it.

Having been to the Belmont to see American Pharoah win the Triple Crown, I can attest to the fact the crowd was lined up to buy the Belmont Jewel and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. I will only admit to having more than one.

Here’s the recipe:

1.4 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
2 oz. Lemonade
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice
Orange zest

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously with ice. Serve in a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with an lemon twist.

Let’s all toast the last Jewel in the Triple Crown and the start of summer with a Belmont Jewel!

Interview: Thomas Allen Pauly, Woodford Reserve Artist

Each year, Woodford Reserve puts out a special edition Kentucky Derby bottle. The official bottle for 2017 has been released and is available in specialty liquor stores across the county. I had the opportunity to interview Thomas Allen Pauly, the artist who created the art for this year’s label.

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The 2017 Woodford Reserve bottled, art by Thomas Allen Pauly

Woodford Reserve has been releasing a special Kentucky Derby bottle for 19 years (it’s also the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby). They are always a work of art – colorful, and exciting. Each one is different. This year’s art was inspired by the view Tom saw when he got his first glimpse from the roof of Churchill Downs. He has photographed there for years but never from the roof.

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Tom was born and raised in Chicago not far from Wrigley Field. He got his introduction to horse racing at Sportsman’s Park in 1978, going with a friend who had a horse in one of the races. The horse, Rusty, won, and Tom got his picture with the group in the winner’s circle. He was hooked on horse racing. Tom decided to use the picture as inspiration for a painting. Once he had finished the painting he showed it to his friend who wanted to purchase it. This led Tom back to the track to watch more racing, shoot pictures, and do more painting.

His first Kentucky Derby was in 1999 when Charismatic won. He did a painting of Charismatic from images he had taken that day. He now makes it an annual event. Most recently he has been there taking pictures for Illinois Racing Magazine. This year he will be covering the race from a different perspective for Chicago Style Magazine.

In 2010 and 2011, Churchill Downs and The Game invited Tom to have a solo exhibit at the track for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. It was here he met Don Berg, the CFO of Brown Foreman. Berg liked Tom’s work and bought a piece. It was this friendship that brought him the opportunity to pitch them on doing the bottle art. In 2016 he did his first Kentucky Derby bottle for Woodford Reserve. With this year’s bottle he is now the first artist to be awarded the honor of doing a second bottle. What an honor for him to do the art for one of the best bourbons in the world depicting the “greatest two minutes in sports.”

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Last year’s Woodford Reserve bottle, art by Thomas Allen Pauly

Tom’s art has taken him around the world to see, photograph and paint horses from the Arc de Triomphe, to the Dubai World Cup, the Hong Kong Cup, and numerous Preakness, Belmont’s, and Breeders Cup Races. He has also been to painted steeplechase races in the U.S. and abroad. And, he was the official artist for American Pharoah when he won the Triple Crown.

Thomas Allen Pauly & American Pharoah copy

Back to the bourbon. Woodford Reserve is an amazing, balanced bourbon. It has hints of spice, fruit, nuts and of course the grain. Everyone’s palate is different and you will pick up different overtones of flavor. It is good neat, on ice, in a Mint Julep, or mixed if you must.

It was delightful talking with Tom. We are both fans of horse racing and bourbon. And how does Tom like his Woodford Reserve? In an Old Fashioned made with a mix he calls “The Elixir” from the Pair O’ Lakes Lodge in Spooner, Wisconsin.

I got my bottle of Woodford Reserve from Hi-Times Wine Cellars. The bottles will start to appear in most good liquor stores. They make a great addition to any bourbon collection. Enjoy the bourbon and the bottle with a good friend any day, but especially on Derby Day (Saturday, May 6th this year).

While waiting for Santa: Woodford Reserve

Our final bourbon gift suggestion this week is a trusty standby, Woodford Reserve! A great bourbon to sip by the fire on Christmas Eve, drink on the rocks with guests, or gift to family and friends you love!

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I’m a big fan of Woodford Reserve. It’s smooth enough to sip, but also at a price point that you can justify using it to mix a great Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or other bourbon drink. I keep it in a decanter for serving as our “house bourbon.”

You can find Woodford Reserve for about $25 from Hi-Time Wine (For $20 you can buy a nice 375mL stocking stuffer of Woodford) and is also readily available at most liquor stores.

It’s a little cold for Souther California and has been raining so I plan on drinking this by the fire on Christmas Eve!

Bourbon Drink: Bourbon Bill’s Mint Julep Recipe

Naturally, Mint Juleps are a huge hit at our annual Kentucky Derby party. With the derby just a little over a week away, I thought it was the perfect time to share my mint julep recipe with you. There are many variations on the mint julep recipe. Traditionalists generally vary between using simple syrup, powdered sugar, or even granulated sugar. And lately restaurants have been mixing it up even more adding things like peach puree. I’ve tried all sorts of variations and have found simple syrup to be the best.

To start, you need to start with a good bourbon. Because the main and essential ingredient in a mint julep is the bourbon you want to use a bourbon with a taste you really like. Last weekend we made ours with Woodford Reserve. I have to be honest, at our Derby party we use Evan Williams – when you’re serving so many people it just makes the most sense.

To get ready for the party, and the onslaught of thirsty attendees, we make a huge batch of simple syrup a couple days before. To make simple syrup you just boil equal parts sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. [TIP: Because the bar gets busy at our party and to save time, I infuse the simple syrup with mint rather than having to muddle mind in every single mint julep made at the party. Simply add a healthy dose of mint leaves to our warm simple syrup mixture and let steep until the syrup has cooled, then discard the mint leaves.] Then let the simple syrup cool on the kitchen counter and then transfer it to a container to refrigerate until party day.

The julep glass is another important component! That could be a Kentucky Derby glass like the one pictured below  (this year’s glasses arrived a couple days ago to our house), or you could use a traditional silver Julep Cup.

Bourbon Bill’s Mint Julep Recipe

  1. Fill a glass full with crushed ice (If you haven’t infused your simple syrup with mint you need to muddle mint in your glass before putting ice in the glass)
  2. Pour in 1 ounce of simple syrup
  3. Pour in 2 ounces of bourbon
  4. Add a splash of good water & mix
  5. Garnish with a mint sprig
  6. Add 2 tall thin straws and enjoy!

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Make yourself a Mint Julep and remember to bet the gray!

Limited Edition Kentucky Derby Bourbons

Kentucky Derby festivities are coming up quickly, as we are just 2 weeks away from the “most exciting 2 minutes in sports.”  It’s also the time of year when the bourbon distilleries come out with special bottles and promotions around the event.  As I previously wrote about, the 2016 Woodford Reserve commemorative Kentucky Derby bottle is on the shelves.  I got mine at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, Ca.
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This week, I got information on 2 new special bourbon bottles.  As a Makers Mark Ambassador, I got an email from Rob Samuels about a special charity bottle they will have to commemorate American Pharaoh’s Triple Crown Victory.  It is in the silks and stable colors of American Pharaoh and the Zayat Family.  I called the distillery and I was told they will cost between $75-85 depending upon your location.  If you click on their link starting May 1 you can find a location near you to purchase one.   I called Hi-Time Wine Cellars to see if they were getting the Pharaoh bottle and they thought they would but it had not been confirmed.
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Another new offering is from Calumet Bourbon.  They have a boxed set with a Derby glass. The glass has Calumets’ name on it.  It is different graphics than the official Kentucky Derby Mint Julep glass.  Below is a photo Caskers sent me.  May be a real collectible.  This is available from Caskers on line.  I have not seen it anywhere else.
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If you type in Kentucky Derby Bourbon into google you will find lots of listings of bourbon related recipes, goods,  and decorations related to the Derby.   The link below ups for some additional bourbon drinks for your party.

Release of Woodford’s 2016 Kentucky Derby Bottle

We are just a month and a half away from the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. Have you started planning your Kentucky Derby gathering? Whether it’s you and your best friends in the den, or a backyard full of people, what bourbon will you serve on Derby Day? As an avid horse racing fan, this is my favorite time of year. Its spring, horse racing’s Triple Crown is around the corner, and it’s time to enjoy a little bourbon on the patio.

I will cover a lot of related subjects the next 2 months and today I am excited to share the special edition 2016 Kentucky Derby Bottle that Woodford Reserve released just a few days ago.

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I believe this is the 6th one of these they have done since becoming the “official bourbon” of the Kentucky Derby. The bottle always has new art, is colorful, and brings the race right to your bar. What better way to jazz up the big day! This is a perfect bourbon for a Mint Julep during the Kentucky Derby.  This year’s bottle does not disappoint. You can read more about the bottle’s artwork in the press release Woodford sent out.

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Woodford’s press release says the bottle will be out in March. It’s usually available at your better liquor stores, BevMo and Total Wine.  The best part of the Woodford bottle is what is inside the bottle. Woodford reserve is a fantastic Bourbon and, as I said in my post about Bourbon Country, a great tour.

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I was actually asked yesterday what bourbon I serve on Derby Day. There are a lot of good choices and I just think you have to start with Woodford. I love to have bottles on the bar with a horse racing theme. The next that comes to mind for me is Blanton’s. It’s another great Bourbon in an equally impressive package. Blanton’s was the first to market and sell single barrel bourbon. The unique bottle that looks like cut glass is topped by a cork with a brass horse and rider on it. Even more unique, there are 8 different positions of the horse and rider from standing to a full gallop. At the base of each horse’s back foot is a letter that corresponds to the gait you see. The 8 letters spell out Blanton’s.

Lexington is another horse racing themed Bourbon and named after the famous horse Lexington. Not quite the quality of Blanton’s or Woodford but a very reasonable price point. Other horse-themed bourbons are Chestnut Farms and Calumet. Calumet is named for the famous farm which bred several Triple Crown winners, including Citation and Whirlaway.

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Whatever you pour, remember that bourbon is the essential ingredient in a Mint Julep. Make sure your guests enjoy the best.

Visiting the Bourbon Trail

A great adventure for spring is hitting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Lynn and I did the Bourbon Trail in the Fall a few years ago. Kentucky is a big state and you can’t cover it all in a day, or even two. Before hitting the road, you definitely want to have a plan of attack to see the distilleries you want to tour.

But first, if you are going to earn the official Bourbon Trail t-shirt or Julep Cup, you need to decide which trail you will follow. “Which trail?” you say. Yes! There are 3 trails: The Bourbon Trail (mostly the big distilleries you’ve heard of), the Craft Bourbon Tour (smaller distilleries) and the Urban Bourbon Trail (Louisville’s distilleries). All 3 are unique and offer different experiences, and can also be mixed and matched together.

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Lynn and I drove to Kentucky after visiting our daughter in Richmond, Virginia – so that kind of determined where we began. If flying in, your could start in Lexington and end in Louisville, or vice versa.

We started at “Old Pogue” without reservations. It was during sequestration and while we had planned to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway through Shenandoah National Park, we were shut out, so we went on to Maysville, Kentucky. We showed up at Old Pogue for the first tour of the day. We knocked on the door and when John Pogue opened the door we said we were there for the first tour. John said, “I didn’t know I had a tour this morning,” and we said, “You do now.” It was just the 3 of us.   What a great way to start the week.

Old Pogue is a great little Craft Distillery. Founded in 1876, it closed after prohibition and was re-opened by 5th and 6th generation Pogues. They even bought back the old antebellum home of the family which sits next to small distillery.

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We then continued on to Town Branch

And then it was on to the rest of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail passport. Although they are big they are all different. Lynn had read about the “Corn to Cork” tour at Woodford Reserve. It was a great education and they do very small groups. Its more expensive and you have to book in advance but well worth it. We sampled some bourbon right out of the barrel at Woodford Reserve. Lynn also got to fill a barrel at Jim Beam, and while there also filled her own bottle of Knob Creek. Along the Bourbon Trail, we also visited Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Evan Williams.

The Craft Tour gives you the chance to see things even more up close and have a more intimate experience. We haven’t completed that passport yet, but did a lot of it. I will write about the Old Pogue experience later. It deserves a whole blog.Willett Distillery was another great experience and well worth the stop.Limestone Branch also offered another unique experience.

We also visited many others that technically aren’t part of the branded “Bourbon Trail.”  Makers Mark is another incredible experience and tucked into this beautiful valley. Another “must see” is Buffalo Trace – purveyors of Pappy Van Winkle, E.H. Taylor, Blanton’s, Stagg, and a number of other great bourbons.

The Urban Bourbon Trail is a bar hopping experience that allows you to experience all that great bourbon you have been tasting and reading about all week. When you combine that with the food in Louisville it’s an evening you will not forget.

We ended our trip in Louisvile, and stayed the night at the Seelbach Hotel, a great old historic hotel. While we were in Louisville, we stopped by the Brown Hotel for a Hot Brown – a must do in Louisville!

Feel free to leave a comment below if you’re planning your Bourbon Trail visit and are looking for additional suggestions on your trip!

My 3+ Favorite Bourbons

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Talking about my 3 favorite Bourbons is a little like trying to list my 3 favorite cars. Pick a category: sports car, race car, weekend driver.   When it comes to bourbon is it neat, on the rocks, best mixer, or best value? How do you pick just 3 from so many good Bourbons? So, I will give this post a qualifier: today I’m talking about my favorite everyday bourbons I drink. Because, given unlimited money, supply, or special occasions you’re talking a whole different ballgame.

In my opinion, you can’t beat Blanton’s Original Single Barrel – either neat, or over a large ice cube (don’t let it get too much water in it). It’s easy to find, regularly on sale, and really smooth. I am also a big fan of 1792 (the year Kentucky joined the Union). It’s an excellent bourbon at a fantastic price point.  Next on my list is Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Blanton’s and Woodford are my 2 sipping whiskies on a regular basis. BTW, if you ever visit the Bourbon Trail, Woodford does an incredible “Corn to Cork” tour that I highly recommend.

If you are looking for a craft bourbon at a good price point, Old Pogue is one of my favorites. It’s spicy and complex, but the distillery is so small it’s not even available right now unless you find a liquor store with a dusty bottle left on the shelf. Go to their website and get on the waiting list; its worth the wait. Also, the Old Pogue tour is the subject of a future blog.

If you are mixing mint juleps or our house’s favorite drink, bourbon and ginger (with a lime), Evan Williams Black Label does the trick. In the Fall 2015 Whiskey Advocate Lew Bryson wrote an article titled “In Praise of ‘Table Bourbon’” a la the way French have “table wine.”

It’s a bourbon that good for everyday drinking-well made, ready for a cocktail, a simple highball, or ice destruction duties-and priced for everyday drinking, too. one of the best values in Bourbon. You can get a bottle of good bourbon for under $25, from the same distilleries, the same warehouses, the same barrels and mashbills as bourbons that are hyped, rare, and over $100 a bottle.

Evan Williams is a great “table bourbon.” You can find the 1.75L Evan Williams Black Label on sale at big spirits stores and grocery chains for $14.99 to $17.99 if you keep an eye on the ads. Well worth stocking up for mixing and parties. This is what we use for mint juleps at our annual Derby Party (more on that later this spring).

But, how can I not mention Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (more on Angel’s Envy on Thursday). It’s hard for me to even stop there. That is why my bar cart has over 25 Bourbons on it. So, moral of the story, I’m having trouble narrowing my favorite everyday bourbons down to 3.  The beauty of today’s market is there are many bourbons for many tastes. Bourbon and whiskeys like wine and should and can suit your particular tastes. My opinion? Don’t listen to the experts, drink what you like.