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bourbon history

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.

(more…)
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
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…)
October 15, 2018

8 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Bourbon

Think you know everything there is to know about bourbon? We bet you’ll learn at least one new fact from reading this list. If nothing on here surprises you, then kudos! You’ve earned a drink. (more…)
February 1, 2019
Old Ezra

Demystifying the Label on Your Bourbon Bottle

When you’re in the bourbon section of your local liquor store, you can’t go wrong with any of our fine Lux Row offerings. But even then, you have some choices to make. If you’d like to be a more confident shopper — or you just want to impress people at dinner parties — read on to learn how to interpret that sometimes-mysterious bourbon label.  (more…)
March 28, 2019
Lux Row Distillers Rickhouse

Bourbon’s Secret Ingredient? Barrels

Making great bourbon involves many ingredients, each essential in its own right, whether it’s the corn and grains or the cool, clear Kentucky water. But one of the most crucial elements in shaping bourbon into the drink we love: the charred American oak barrels in which it’s aged. (more…)
March 28, 2019
Barrels being charred at ISC

The Art of the Bourbon Barrel’s Char

By regulation, all bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels. Why? Because unlike other whiskies, no additives (other than water) are allowed in bourbon. No added color. No added flavors. So, other than the distillate itself, bourbon picks up a lot of its character from the barrels. And the character of the barrels depends in large part on the level of char. To learn more about the process, we chatted with Jeff LaHue, head of strategic partnerships at Independent Stave Company (ISC), which supplies and chars barrels for Lux Row Distillers. (more…)
September 23, 2019
Frazier Museum

Top 3 American Whiskey Museums

Ah, whiskey. The deceptively simple, amber-colored elixir has served as the inspiration for song, film, study, and reflection. Scholars have spent centuries contemplating how it’s made, how it has evolved, and the role it has played in history and civilization. In fact, entire museums dedicated to whiskey have sprung up around the world. Here’s our guide to three American favorites. (more…)
November 5, 2019
Lux Row Distillers Bourbon with corn

Corn and Bourbon, an American Love Story

When you’re talking about bourbon, you can make a list of what matters — barrels, fermentation, mash bill, water. But there’s one more important thing that has to be on the list: corn. Without corn, bourbon cannot exist. (more…)
December 16, 2019
Lux Row Distillers Rickhouse

The Evolution of Barrel Making

Bourbon isn’t bourbon until it’s been aged in barrels, both by tradition and by law. It needs a protected, waterproof vessel to come into its own, and wooden barrels are just the ticket. Barrel-making is an ancient process — but there’s room for innovation, says Jeff LaHue, head of strategic partnerships at Independent Stave Company (ISC), the largest maker of whiskey barrels in the world. ISC also supplies barrels to Lux Row Distillery. (more…)
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