Belles and beaus are readying their bells and bows for the premier event of the South: the Kentucky Derby. And amid the horses and hoop skirts, that oh-so-Southern cocktail, the mint julep itself, is poised to make its annual gallop through the world consciousness. A genteel concoction of sugar, water, ice and mint; founded upon that most Southern of spirits, bourbon; the mint julep is to the South what the martini is to the North. (See Our Tips for Perfecting the Mint Julep and Drinking It in Style). But with the rise of “boutique bourbon,” small-batch artisanal spirits (made often by hand to achieve a very specific flavor), tradition and the julep had best get ready for a shot in the arm.
Here are three such brands to make your derby party libations legendary:
In the distillation biz, the “angel’s share” is that portion of a vintage lost to evaporation. To Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, that only means angels aren’t discerning drinkers. Henderson dusted off his 40 years of experience to come out of retirement, tempted by the Louisville Distilling Company with the irresistible offer to make bourbon as he personally saw fit. Their collaboration resulted in Angel’s Envy (86.6 proof), a spirit individualized one year to the next. This year’s release is Expression 10/10, and possesses a warm spirit and a rich amber hue, with ephemeral hints of port wine.
“Angel’s Envy is a lot of things,” says Henderson. “It’s my life’s work. It takes into account over 200 years of bourbon heritage and mingles it with over 400 years of port wine heritage. And it’s something I’m going to let develop each year so every batch will be a natural expression of the distiller’s craft.”
“Devil’s Cut is a first for us,” explains Rob Mason, senior director of bourbons (U.S.) at Jim Beam. As the angel’s share is given up to the ether, the Clermont, Ky.-based distiller came up with a term for the amount of bourbon absorbed into the barrel during aging, dubbing it the “devil’s cut.”
Says Mason, “It’s that liquid, and the rich flavors from deep within the barrel wood it contains, that we extract and put back into our bourbon.”
This rare, barrel-wood spirit is held until it develops the proper balance of notes, then is blended into extra-aged Jim Beam Bourbon and bottled at 90 proof. A robust premium bourbon with a deep color, aroma, and character that showcases intense notes of wood and vanilla, Devil’s Cut has a long, smooth finish with hints of sweetness – perfect on its own or as a mixer.
To Jimmy Russell, a Master Distiller at Wild Turkey with 50 years of experience under his belt, “A boutique bourbon is one you take your hat off for before you drink it.”
So when it comes to Wild Turkey Rare Breed, mind your manners. It is an exclusive “barrel proof” spirit, meaning no water is added to reduce the level of alcohol during the bottling process. It’s through this method that Rare Breed’s medium to full body is captured, its nose of spring flowers balanced by a touch of black pepper and almonds, a remarkably smooth palate and a 108.2 proof. With hints of light oranges and mint and tones of sweet tobacco, the finish is very long, warm, and nutty with notes of hot peppers and very well-toasted whole-wheat bread. An extremely delicate marriage of select six-, eight- and twelve-year-old bourbons is used to find such perfect smoothness and consistent taste.