The Kentucky Derby is an institution that dates back to 1875. The culmination of horse racing’s arduous 35-race road to the Kentucky Derby and the first race for the Triple Crown, the event has come to be known as the “Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”
In addition to the exhilaration of the race, the affair has also become one of the U.S.’s preeminent spirits holidays. The classic Mint Julep—Bourbon, mint, sugar and a mountain of crushed ice—is the drink of choice at Churchill Downs. But which Bourbon is the best for your Julep? While Woodford Reserve has been the race’s official sponsor since 2018, Kentucky offers a wealth of whiskey options worthy of celebration.
Here are seven Kentucky Bourbons that are guaranteed to please.
Kentucky Bourbons for Derby Day
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival; $150, 96 points. Aged 12 to 15 years in American oak, then finished in oloroso Sherry barrels, this starts with a big, spicy kick, rounding into a long vanilla and caramel finish. Adding water reveals delicious, concentrated layers of spiced caramel, finishing with hints of mocha, hazelnut, lemon peel and dazzling candied ginger heat. —Kara Newman
Barton 1792 Bottled in Bond Bourbon; $36, 95 points. Bright topaz in the glass, this displays a mellow vanilla aroma and a light palate that integrates sweet vanilla and oak, before drying to attractive cocoa, leather and grapefruit peel. —K.N.
Coopers’ Craft; $23, 94 points. Intended to celebrate the coopers who make Brown-Forman’s barrels, it makes sense that this is a particularly oak-forward Bourbon. Oak and vanilla lead the nose and buttery palate, rolling into more concentrated vanilla on the midpalate and finishing with baking spice and a hint of orange peel. Best Buy. —K.N.
Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey; $40, 94 points. Rich vanilla and caramel aromas are enlivened by a hint of fresh pear carrying over to the palate, where rich caramel is underpinned by a perky fruit note. Adding water brings out a silkier texture and tames the alcohol heat, finishing rounded and spiced. —K.N.
Booker’s Bourbon 2017 Sip Awhile; $73, 94 points. Dark amber in the glass and bottled at cask strength as a tribute to former Jim Beam Master Distiller Booker Noe, look for a mellow vanilla aroma while cinnamon fireworks start from the first overproof sip on the bold and drying palate. Flavors soften to vanilla and oak with water, finishing with hints of unsweetened chocolate, espresso and black cherry. —K.N.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked; $50, 92 points. After the usual aging time, this Bourbon is then moved to a heavily-toasted, lightly-charred barrel to extract additional oak flavor. The end result is deep amber in the glass, with bright spice cake and baked apple fragrance. On the palate, it’s lightly sweet at first, showing creamy caramel, but finishes dry, with touches of espresso, oak and Baker’s Chocolate. Overall, a bold, flavorful sipper. —K.N.
Quarter Horse Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey; $26, 89 points. Honey-hued in the glass, this offers mild coconut and lemon peel aromas. This is an exceedingly light, delicate Bourbon, with hints of almond, cedar, ginger and nutmeg. Made by aging for a minimum of one year in oak, overall this is light and smooth, with a touch of violet on the finish. Best Buy. —K.N.