You may think of bourbon as a cold weather libation, but the old boys in Kentucky—who were sipping it in the humid months long before central air—know different. And there’s no event more associated with our native spirit than the Derby, where a frosty mint julep is as important as the rakish headwear. For julep making, use a soft, mellow bourbon, without a ton of wood character to tangle with the mint. W.L. Weller Special Reserve, the classic “wheated” bourbon (where wheat replaces the spicy rye grain), offers both, and is priced for cocktailing. (For sipping, we’d opt for Old Weller Antique 107, but juleps go down quick, and so will you drinking them with 107-proof booze) We find the “white whiskey” trend more interesting than delicious, but the Silver Oat Whiskey from High West is a welcome outlier. It tastes like banana and fresh oats, and will drink easy in warm weather. Hirsch 20-Year-Old American Whiskey, matured in used oak barrels, has a noble pedigree, and offers a sexy, honeyed and floral nip, defying its age.
Go-To Cocktail: The New Buddy
Julep recipes are all over the web (just be sure to purchase a lewis bag and mallet for crushing ice). After you find one you like, try this refreshing bourbon concoction from Damon Boelte (Bar Director at Brooklyn’s Prime Meats), a mash-up of an Old Pal and a Boulevardier, and a staple at his apartment when the cold breaks.
1½ oz Bourbon
1 oz Aperol
1 oz Blanc Vermouth
1 Dash Orange Bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass and pour into a Collins glass over ice. Garnish with a large grapefruit twist. For parties, increase the proportions (1.5 cups of bourbon, say), prepare in a pitcher with ice, chunks of grapefruit and blood oranges, and top with sparkling wine. Bonus pro tip from Damon: “freeze some chunks of fruit, and put them into the pitcher with your ice. As they thaw, they won’t dilute the drink, but actually re-flavor it.”
Collins (Tall) Glass