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Five Whiskeys for Your Derby Party this Saturday

Image via Bourbon Blog

The crime of the century has been solved, although the victim sits on death row.

As you’ve undoubtedly read, heard or swallowed (even if your only source of news is KSR), the mystery of the infamous $100,000 Frankfort bourbon heist has been solved: Nine members of a criminal syndicate/softball team were arrested this month for stealing more than 200 bottles and 18 barrels of prized Kentucky whiskey over a seven year period.  Worse yet, authorities plan to destroy much of the seized bourbon, prompting calls for a gubernatorial pardon from Carla Carlton, the self-proclaimed “Bourbon Babe.” Shamefully, my old boss, Governor Steve Beshear, has not immediately spared the whiskey’s 15-, 20- and 23- year old lives.

Still, executives at Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace Distillery must be clinking their bourbon glasses in celebration of the extraordinary publicity they’ve garnered for their signature product at the heist’s center: Pappy Van Winkle.  One of the rarest liquors on the market — due to long aging, minuscule production and colossal demand — it’s developed a cult following, name-dropped continuously on Justified and in movies such as Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Internship.  Purchasing a 1 and 1/2 ounce drink at a restaurant will generally cost you more than the price of your meal, and premium bottles — which for the average consumer are nearly impossible to find — can fetch up to $25,000.

But while sampling Pappy is a must for any bourbon-lover’s bucket list, unless you are planning to stock up your private jet in the coming weeks, it’s not worth the expense.  Instead, if you are planning a Derby party this coming weekend, or are just in the mood for expanding your taste-bud horizons beyond the typical Jack, Jim or Makers, I suggest sampling these five of my favorite moderately-priced whiskeys:

(WARNING: If you are making mint juleps, or prefer to dilute your whiskey with a cola product, stick to the cheap stuff.  If you are spending the extra bucks on fine bourbon, please drink responsibly — and serve it neat (straight), or maybe with an ice or two or a splash of water. And don’t you dare drink and drive.)

1.  Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($50-$70 for a 750 ml bottle)

For years, I felt incredible guilt over the contrast between the Brown family’s incredible support of my political career and my personal failure to identify a Brown and Forman bourbon that I could stomach.  Then I became a has-been, and Woodford Reserve introduced what has become my go-to drink — its Double Oaked product.  The liquor can best be described as a unique dessert bourbon, that smells like chocolate and caramel, and tastes fruity, like baked apples.  Its smooth and sweet character makes it the perfect starter bourbon for someone who’s new to the drink, but it will continue to satisfy snobs like myself in many multiple tastings.

2. Booker’s True Barrel Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($50-$70)

Back in college — after I turned 21, of course — my vice of choice was Jim Beam.  Today, due to the inappropriate volumes I ingested in my late adolescence, even a slight whiff of Jim sends sympathetic pangs of nausea and Sunday morning hangovers through my body.  However, Mr. Beam’s grandson, Booker Noe, now annually produces a small batch of a distinctly tastier and more satisfying product.  Booker’s is sweet, with strong cinnamon and cedar sensations.  But watch out — it packs a punch: Depending on the batch, the proof ranges from 120 to 130 (meaning it is 60-65% alcohol content).  Not for beginners.

3. Pearse Lyons Reserve Whiskey Single Malt ($30-$40)

When I first learned that a Nicholasville company named Alltech had agreed to serve as lead sponsor of the 2010 World Equestrian Games, like many Kentuckians I wondered what a phone company had to do with horses.  As most of us soon learned, however, Alltech actually was an animal nutrition conglomerate that is now serving humans a wide variety of adult drinks.  Its CEO, Pearse Lyons, is a charismatic, peripatetic force of nature, an Irishman who has emerged in less than a decade as one of Kentucky’s greatest corporate citizens.  And with a previous career as a biochemist in the Irish whiskey industry, he is now mixing his two worlds by aging his eponymous single malt in old bourbon barrels.  The end product is sweet like molasses — smooth going down, with a woody bite at the end.  Pearse recommends adding a splash of water; I prefer mine straight with a slice of lime.

4. Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon ($35-55)

If your mood favors crisp over sweet, head over to the drink named after the late legendary Master Distiller.  I know this sounds like heresy, but I prefer this Buffalo Trace bourbon to its cousin Pappy.  And it is certainly much, much more affordable.  It smells like an old leather baseball glove dipped in vanilla, and its light and spicy taste has hints of honey. Pretty much every bartender in Lexington has heard me ask for it, because since Lee’s death in 2013, it’s been very difficult to buy retail.  So if you find any Elmer T. at your favorite bar or neighborhood liquor store, please tweet at me, and I will be right over.

5. WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye Whiskey ($70-$90)

No, this is neither a Kentucky product, nor is it bourbon, but it has close connections to both.  And it is an extraordinary whiskey.  Made in Vermont under the supervision of former Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, and finished in bourbon barrels, the rye with the funny name is the epitome of smooth.  The aromas resemble ginger and nutmeg, while the flavors are reminiscent of mint and butterscotch.  It’s the only product on the market that’s both 100% rye and 100 proof, and it is so crisp and creamy that at times you don’t feel like you are drinking alcohol.  If all you want to do is sip straight whiskey on your front porch swing, this is your perfect drink.  Just be prepared to share it with your neighbors.

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So KSR Nation — what am I missing?  Share you favorite whiskeys in the comments below.

Article written by Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, The Recovering Politician (Twitter: @RecoveringPol), writes about the politics of sport and the sport of politics...and sometimes about bourbon. Jonathan has been elected twice as Kentucky's State Treasurer; practices as a crisis management attorney; authored three books on faith, public policy and crisis management; serves as a Contributor to The Daily Beast, played straight man on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; reached the final table of the World Series of Poker; and with his summer camp sweetheart, raised two remarkable twenty-something daughters.

10 Comments for Five Whiskeys for Your Derby Party this Saturday



  1. 25OR624
    8:20 pm April 26, 2015 Permalink

    Question: Which artisan/distiller uses organic, non-GMO corn and product? I know the answer is an intoxicated “who gives a Rat’s arse” but the question is becoming increasingly important and needs to be on the table.



  2. MIDDAY
    8:24 pm April 26, 2015 Permalink

    My 3 favourite “affordable” bourbon:

    1. Basil Hayden’s (best neat)
    2. Blantons
    3. Bookers (best overall) good call, JM.



  3. Buckets
    10:07 pm April 26, 2015 Permalink

    A bottle of Corner Creek will only cost you about $30 and it’s great.



  4. BTownUKFan
    10:33 pm April 26, 2015 Permalink

    Man, I hate to tell you but Booker’s not producing anything these days. He passed a few years ago. His son Fred is the master distiller at Beam’s now…and another note. “Jack” is not bourbon and should not be mentioned in an article discussing good bourbon.
    The good people at Beam’s once sent a sample of Jack Daniel’s to a scientist for analysis. His response was short and to the point: “I have bad news, your horse has diabetes.”

    Yes the “Btown” in my alias is because I grew up in Bardstown: Bourbon Capital of the World!!



  5. UKnowMe
    10:35 pm April 26, 2015 Permalink

    I don’t think you can go wrong with anything Buffalo Trace is putting out. From Eagle Rare to any of the Weller’s or all the EH Taylor line they are at the top of their game. I wish Beam would move away from the flavored craze and beef up their premium line because I enjoy all of their Small Batch collection.



    • Mr.Himerus
      12:44 pm April 27, 2015 Permalink

      I could not agree more, I have been a fan of Beam my whole life however it seems that they have diluted their brand so bad of late that I am not sure they will recover. Between the maple, the fire, the apple, and hell whatever else they choose to shove in their 4 year….. I really like my bourbon to taste a lot like freaking BOURBON!!!!



  6. mostdiggity
    10:47 am April 27, 2015 Permalink

    Kentucky fans need look no further than Basil Hayden Small batch, from the family which includes Kentucky’s first All-American in 1921, a guy by the name of “Basil Hayden”. Basil also coached Kentucky in 1926 before leaving to chase his dream of teaching school. Known as the “Blond Adonis”, Basil came from a long line who began distilling single barrel small batch, aged 8-9 years in 1796. It’s as smooth a Bourbon as you will ever taste. The nostalgia is a bonus.

    Of course, we could not or did not free up Devin Booker against Wisky for ONE SINGLE THREE point attempt, leading me to wonder what we were thinking and perhaps made up Devin’s mind about a possible return. I for one felt like Cal was holding him back the last ten games of the season (and I hate to speculate on what possible reason?). But, hes’ gone and Bookers Bourbon goes down finer than Devins three point shots against Wisconsin. The “if only” Borbon for Cat fans.



  7. symphonist41169
    12:38 pm April 27, 2015 Permalink

    Gotta include Angel’s Envy on any list, and even at $55 is less expensive than most listed.



  8. Mr.Himerus
    12:48 pm April 27, 2015 Permalink

    Being a bourbon guy my whole life I have several, personally I would never list Whistle Pig in a list of bourbons. Plus to pay $80-$90 for a bottle of non-kentucky brown liquor is sinful. Now that I have kicked my soapbox away here are mine:

    Eagle Rare – lb for lb there is no smoother bourbon on the market today. Clean from beginning to end, simply perfection.

    Woodford – (any of their options are fantastic)

    Old Granddad 114 – fantastic $20 bottle, little hot but worth it.



  9. satcheluk
    1:06 pm April 27, 2015 Permalink

    I’ve been drinking Maker’s Mark since I attended UK over 20 years ago and that remains my everyday bourbon. I also like your Woodford Reserve and Booker’s recommendation. Now that I can afford it, I keep a bottle of Booker’s for those who can appreciate it.

    So many small batch options now. Thanks for the tasing notes.

    Not sure how anyone can drink Jim Beam. I couldn’t stomach it in college. Wouldn’t even take it free, as it was sometimes offered.