Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bourbon Recommendations for Friends

How many times are you asked by friends to recommend a bourbon?  I really struggle with this because my favorite is just that, MY favorite.  Because I like Ambrosia apples, does that mean that it is the best apple?  Most of the time, Ambrosia suits my taste.  However, I don’t have a bad thing to say about a good Fuji or Pink Lady.  The same can be said for bourbons.
For this entry I thought I would share what I tell my friends who are searching for a good bourbon.
I don’t think that they should start with an expensive limited release bourbon.  Everyone thinks they want Pappy because the media has told them that it is “the best bourbon” and that is what they think they want.  I try to convince them that they can get a REALLY good bourbon for not a lot of money without camping out at their liquor store for months. 
I usually ask my friend in search of a bourbon to come to my house for a tasting.  We host a bourbon tasting party every year but it usually has a theme and some twists for the enjoyment of my bourbon savvy friends.  This is not what my friend on a mission needs.  While I like my bourbon neat, I encourage my friend to add a little water to take it down to about 80 proof.  Here is what I offer my friend as examples of what is available:
A wheated bourbon like Maker’s Mark, Larceny or Old Fitz
A low rye bourbon like Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare or Elijah Craig
A higher rye bourbon like Town Branch, Old Forester or Woodford Reserve
Another offering that I like to share that can be a really good gateway whiskey is Gentleman Jack or George Dickel Barrel Select.  I know these are Tennessee whiskeys but both are really good starter spirits for those who want to eventually get into bourbon.
If my friends doesn’t live near me or is unable to come up for a tasting, I suggest that a trip to a well stocked but not fancy (expensive) bar would be money well spent.  A shot from each of the categories above over the course of several days can give an overview of preferences.  Probably the best option, although not very practical for many, is to visit the tasting rooms on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Not everyone can do that so the bar is probably the best option for most.
Each of the bourbons or Tennessee whiskeys that I offer my friends is widely available at any good liquor store for $30ish.  I don’t want to expect anyone starting on bourbon to lay out big bucks for something they may not like.  If, after a tasting, they can narrow down to a few, they can get out of the liquor store for less than $100.

When pressed by the friend to identify my FAVORITE bourbon I really have to hedge.  In summer, I like a wheated or low rye bourbon.  However, when I sit by the fire on a cold winter night I really enjoy the “Kentucky Hug” from a bourbon with a spicy rye kick.  In the rare occasions when I make mixed drinks, like the juleps for Derby Day, I typically use a higher rye bourbon.  My favorite bourbons fit my tastes and, like Ambrosia apples, may not fit the tastes of others.  I rarely spend more than $50 on a bottle of bourbon.  I don’t want to buy a trophy, I want something that I enjoy drinking and sharing with my friends.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hosting a Kentucky Derby Party

Our family loves the Kentucky Derby.  We watch other races, especially the Triple Crown, but there is nothing like the Kentucky Derby for elegance and history.  I guess that my attention span is too short to enjoy automobile races or many other sporting events. However, the two minutes of excitement at Churchill Downs keeps me gripped to my seat.
Probably our favorite thing about the Derby is having great friends over for fun, drinks and watching the fastest two minutes in sports.  As described in a previous recent post, I take my juleps seriously and only use the best ingredients.  In 2016, I made used over a case of Woodford Reserve in the juleps for our Derby party.  My wife makes the best pulled pork barbecue that I have ever eaten and her Kentucky Pie is without peer.
We encourage our guests to dress for the event and many of the lovely ladies wear traditional floral hats.  I, of course, wore a white suit with a black ribbon tie.  All of our friends are welcome regardless of dress.  We just want to enjoy a day with some great friends.
When guests arrive, we give them an envelope with $12 in Derby Bucks that they can bet on any horse they wish in $2 increments.  The $2 bills are modified with iconic images of the Kentucky Derby and even a famous fried chicken magnate on the front.  On the reverse of the bills there are places for guests to put their name and the horse for the bet.  The wallet also contains my julep recipe and a bit of information about mint julips that we are serving.  The last thing in the wallet is the most recent odds sheet for the race to guide the betting.
After discussions on the merits of each horse over dinner and drinks, each guest places their Derby Bucks bets in containers labeled for each horse.  Some guests read up to see how a horse has done in prior races under expected race conditions of the day.  Others just like the name of a certain horse or the color of the jockey’s silks.  All betting is closed before post time and everyone gathers around the televisions.
After the race has concluded and a horse is wearing the roses, the guest with the most money won is awarded a Kentucky Derby Commemorative bottle of Woodford Reserve.  The second place better gets a nice julip beaker (glass) commemorating that year’s running of the Derby.  Interestingly, neither winner in 2016 likes bourbon!  Their husbands, however, enjoy Woodford a great deal.
Probably our best Derby party was in 2012.  The Kentucky Derby was on May 5 that year so we had “Cinco de Derby” and mixed Derby hats with sombreros.  The meal included barbecue and enchiladas.  Drinks were juleps and margaritas.  Making it even better, our younger daughter and our (now) son-in-law graduated from their undergraduate programs so we threw in a graduation theme as well.  It was quite the eclectic afternoon.
My wife and I were really hoping to host another Derby party next month but, unfortunately, I have to work out of town on that day.  We will really miss having our friends over and enjoying our time with them.  I may get back home barely in time to catch the race but will be unable to watch all of excitement of Derby day.  I guess we will shoot for 2018 as our last Derby party in our current home before we move back to Central Kentucky where we will hope to continue the tradition in our new home.

For anyone considering hosting a Kentucky Derby party, I highly recommend it as a great way to bring friends and family together.  To help, I have included images of our invitations, Derby Bucks and other contents of the guests’ envelopes.  
Snapshots from our 2016 Kentucky Derby party are here.
Images of invitations and wallet contents are available here.
If anyone would like a better copy of the materials that I used last year please comment on the blog or contact me via email and I will be happy to send cleared copies of anything you would like.  Although I wan't be hosting a party this year, I may be able to help someone else in their race day get-together.