Whiskey Education

April 29, 2024

Kentucky Derby Traditions: Mint Juleps, Hats, and Whiskey

The thunderous sound of hooves on the track, the kaleidoscope of vibrant hats, and sweaty silver mugs filled with crushed ice, mint, and bourbon. These quintessential images come to mind when thinking about the Kentucky Derby. More than just a horse race, the Kentucky Derby stands as a cultural landmark, celebrating traditions that have been cherished for over a century.

This iconic event, held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, is steeped in history and legacy that continue to draw people from all over the world.

But what is it about the Kentucky Derby and these traditions that make it so unique? Let's explore.

The History of the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby, often dubbed "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports," is one of the most prestigious horse racing events in the world. Established in 1875, the Derby has a rich history rooted in tradition and excellence. It was the brainchild of Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of William Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition and inspired by the Epsom Derby in England.

The original Kentucky Derby aimed to showcase the breeding and racing prowess of Kentucky, a state renowned for its thoroughbred horses. Something that’s very prevalent in Kentucky, today.

Over the decades, the Kentucky Derby has become a sporting event and a cultural phenomenon, attracting spectators from around the globe. Its iconic status is due in part to the race's pageantry, including the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home" and the display of extravagant hats worn by attendees. Throughout its history, the Derby has seen triumph and tragedy, from legendary horses like Secretariat setting records to jockeys overcoming incredible odds to emerge victorious.

As the first leg of the American Triple Crown series, alongside the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, the Kentucky Derby holds a special place in the hearts of horse racing enthusiasts. Each year, on the first Saturday in May, the eyes of the world turn to Churchill Downs as a new chapter in the Derby's storied history unfolds.

The race continues to captivate audiences with its blend of athleticism, tradition, and spectacle.

Kentucky Derby Traditions

Among the rich tapestry of traditions that define the Kentucky Derby, a few stand out for their uniqueness and historical significance. From the iconic mint julep that quenches the thirst of thousands to the sea of extravagant hats that color the crowd, these traditions are as integral to the Derby as the race itself.

Each carries its own story, contributing to the overall spectacle and allure of the event. Combining these cherished customs creates an atmosphere that is both festive and reverent, encapsulating the spirit of the Derby and ensuring its place as a timeless American tradition.

The Mint Julep Tradition

Since 1939, the mint julep has held the prestigious title of the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, a status it earned due to its widespread acclaim within the horse-racing community. This beloved beverage's roots reach back to the inaugural Derby Day in 1875, when juleps were already a state favorite. The Prohibition era saw an innovative twist with bartenders serving mint juleps in souvenir metal cups designed to resemble miniature Derby trophies made from silver or pewter.

The Art of Derby Hats

Hats have become an iconic symbol of the Kentucky Derby, ingrained in its cultural fabric and embodying the event's sense of tradition, style, and elegance. Dating back to the Derby's early years, fashionable hats were worn by both men and women as a symbol of status and sophistication. Over time, the tradition evolved, and elaborate hats became synonymous with the Derby's unique flair, with attendees using them as a means of self-expression and creativity.

Kentucky Bourbon and Whiskey

Bourbon and whiskey hold a special place at the Kentucky Derby, reflecting the deep-rooted heritage and culture of the region. Kentucky is renowned as the birthplace of bourbon, with its fertile soil, limestone-filtered water, and climate ideally suited for distilling this beloved spirit.

As such, bourbon has become intrinsically linked to the Derby, symbolizing the spirit of hospitality and celebration that permeates the event.

Beyond the mint julep, bourbon and whiskey bars dot the grounds of Churchill Downs, offering an array of fine spirits for enthusiasts to savor while enjoying the thrill of the races. The presence of bourbon and whiskey at the Derby pays homage to Kentucky's distilling heritage and adds to the event's ambiance, fostering a sense of camaraderie among attendees.

Amid the pageantry and excitement, the race and its accompanying traditions remind us of the uniqueness and splendor of American culture.

For enthusiasts and novices alike, the Kentucky Derby is an event that is as much about engaging the senses as it is about commemorating the past and charting the future. It exemplifies how time-honored traditions can continue to thrive, enriching our lives and connecting us to our shared heritage.

This is no coincidence if this also sounds like your favorite Kentucky distillery.

Whether you’re in town for the derby or visiting Kentucky one of the other days of the year, be sure to check out Lux Row Distillers. We may be partial, but it’s one of the most beautiful distilleries in Kentucky and its tradition and heritage go as far back as the derby itself. 

Of course, we have great bourbon, too.

April 19, 2024

Blood Oath Pact No. 10: A Toast to Tradition and Innovation

Get ready to raise your glasses and toast to a milestone in bourbon craftsmanship as Lux Row Distillers proudly announces the release of Blood Oath Pact 10. This latest edition marks a decade of dedication to excellence, blending tradition with innovation to create a truly remarkable spirit.

February 13, 2024
Lux Row Distillers Distillery

Can Bourbon Only Be Made in Kentucky?

Bourbon holds a revered place in the hearts of whiskey aficionados, both for its deeply American spirit and for its rich, complex flavor. To some, the link between bourbon and Kentucky is as indelible as peanut butter and jelly or The Kentucky Derby and the mint julep. However, you may be surprised to learn that bourbon doesn't actually have to be made in Kentucky. 

In this deep dive into bourbon, we peel back the layers of misconceptions to reveal the origins of bourbon, how it became so synonymous with Kentucky, and some of the other places bourbon is made. 

Continue reading
January 18, 2024
bottles of bourbon whiskey

Are Bourbon, Scotch, Rye and Whiskey the Same? 

There is a common perception that Bourbon, Scotch, Rye, and Whiskey are the same spirit with different names, but in reality, they are as diverse as their regions. Each of these spirits has its own distinct flavor profile, production method, and historical background, all of which contribute to the unique character found within each glass. This article will delve into the intricacies of these celebrated liquors, unearthing the salient characteristics that make each unique.  Let's embark on this spirited journey of discovery, peeling back the layers of complexity within Bourbon, Scotch, Rye, and Whiskey.  Continue reading
May 2, 2018

Mint Julep Cocktail: A Quick History

Whether you love the Kentucky Derby for the people-watching (those hats!) or the horse racing, one thing is certain: The derby’s signature mint julep drink is the best tradition of all. The mint julep is a combination of bourbon, mint, sugar, and water, served over heaps of crushed ice in a signature silver or pewter cup. Although the race itself may last only a couple of minutes, derby fans keep sipping their mint juleps long into the afternoon. Curious about the history of this favorite Southern libation? Then read on. (more…)
May 29, 2018

Whiskey 101: A Quick Guide to Grains

Ingredients matter. And regardless of where you are on your whiskey journey — beginner or connoisseur — you gain precious insight when you know what went into the glass you just poured. Understanding exactly what you’re sipping heightens your ability to recognize, appreciate, and savor. Each whiskey starts with a base of corn, rye, barley, and/or wheat grain. These grains — along with the oak barrels they’re aged in — define the taste and aroma of the spirit. (more…)
June 19, 2018

Top 5 Reasons to Love Whiskey

When it comes to whiskey, there’s only one question: What’s not to love? It has taste, stature, distinction, and legacy. It summons flavors we know — caramel, toffee, wheat — then craftily showcases them in a new way. That said, we have distilled it (see what we did there?) to the top five reasons we love whiskey in all its forms. (more…)
June 22, 2018

3 Simple Ways to Drink Bourbon

Before we get started, let’s state the obvious: When it comes to Lux Row Distillers bourbon — Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, David Nicholson, Blood Oath — there’s no wrong way to drink it. We won’t even judge if you want to drink it straight from the bottle — responsibly, of course. (We’re looking at you, Rebel Yellers.) But bourbon is a complex beast, with many facets to unlock, depending on how you choose to sip. Here are the three best ways: Neat The simplest method, “neat” means bourbon on its own, unadorned. A clear, short glass is best, to showcase the whiskey’s amber color. About two ounces — or two “fingers” — is the just-right pour. After you pour, tilt the glass and watch as the bourbon forms a slow trail. Savor the aroma as it curls towards you. The first sip explodes with complexity, with years of aging and blending crossing your tongue, leaving a radiant warmth in their wake. Blood Oath Pact No. 4 is the perfect candidate for sipping neat. As a blend of three bourbons, including one that’s been aged for 12 years, it’s a multilayered whiskey that begs to be measured on its own merits. Water With a splash of room-temperature water, the flavors of the bourbon become more discernable. A few drops will do, but you can adjust to taste. Bottled or filtered water is preferred, as tap has compounds that can affect the flavor. But tap water won’t ruin your drink. Lightly diluted, the drink retains all of the profound flavors of spice and charred oak, but in a buoyant manner that floats over your palate. Whiskey with water also makes the best pairing with food. A spritz of water does a world of good in Ezra Brooks’ Kentucky sour mash. At 90 proof, this straight bourbon has a spicy profile that mellows ever-so-slightly when diluted, allowing you to better discern its notes of cinnamon and chocolate. Ice Ice and whiskey: When the two meet, it’s a mystical moment. The herbal notes fade, and the bourbon’s masculine qualities arise. The first sip is cold, yes, but then it heats up, allowing the whiskey’s sundry flavors — raisin, butterscotch, honey — to unfold. A regular ice cube is fine, but you might take your cue from the pros and get a single large cube. It melts more slowly, for a drink that’s chilled but not watered down. In the Lux Row Distillers family of bourbons, the storied David Nicholson 1843 begs for a dose of ice. This award-winning wheated bourbon boasts a touch of heat and spice that bends and yields to the icy chill, before unzipping its full potential.
Category: Whiskey Education
June 22, 2018

What Bourbon Swillers Need to Know About Ice

Ice seems like the simplest, most basic accessory for bourbon. You turn on the tap, fill the ice tray, put it in the freezer, and take it out when you want to chill your whiskey. Easy, right? Wrong. Over the past few years, mixologists have led us through an ice exploration. Turns out, there is a “right” kind, and it can make or break your whiskey drink. This is why we put together an ice primer. May your bourbon never suffer another ice faux pas again. (more…)
July 17, 2018

5 Reasons Most Bourbon Is Made in Kentucky

Say the word “Kentucky” and the next word automatically falls into place: bourbon. It’s just one of those natural pairings. Nearly all bourbon is made there: 95 percent, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association. The connection between the state and the spirit is undeniable. What is it about the Bluegrass State that makes it the bourbon capital of the world? There are five reasons: (more…)
August 20, 2018

A Glossary of Essential Bourbon Terms

There are some very specific rules when it comes to calling something “bourbon.” Though it is a type of whiskey, bourbon’s base must be at least 51 percent corn, and the spirit has to be aged in new charred oak containers. And to be considered “straight” bourbon, it has to be aged at least two years. What else should you know about bourbon? Familiarize yourself with these terms to become a know-it-all. (more…)
October 2, 2018

A Foolproof Guide to Pairing Whiskey With Food

Whiskey on its own is perfection. But it doesn’t have to be a loner. It cozies up to food in a surprisingly compatible manner. Fine whiskey, including bourbon — served straight, on ice, or in a stimulating cocktail — combined with the right food can be a match made in heaven. You just need to observe a few basic rules. (more…)
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