Arguably, it’s the Kentucky Derby that helped bring the libation to prominence, which is why the Kentucky Derby Museum decided to open a new exhibit, “Urban Bourbon Presented by Four Roses,” to highlight the drink’s celebrated history.
I visited the exhibit, held in the Matt Winn Gallery inside the Kentucky Derby Museum, to learn more about the liquor and its role in Kentucky’s past and present.
One aspect of bourbon I’ve always been baffled by is its distinction from whiskey, which the exhibit finally answered for me.
On May 4, 1964, the United States Congress declared bourbon a “distinctive product of the United States.” Any whiskey called bourbon must meet the requirement of a grain mixture comprised of at least 51 percent corn, is distilled to no more than 160 proof, is aged in new, charred oak barrels, has no added coloring or flavoring and is entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof.
It also must not be bottled below 80 proof and should be called straight bourbon if it has been aged for a minimum of two years. Straight bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of aging, and if the age is stated on the label, it must be the age of the youngest whiskey. Lastly, to meet the distinction of bourbon, it must be produced in the United States.
All these requirements have led to a winning concoction so high in demand, particularly on Derby Day, that the racetrack is known to use 7,800 liters of bourbon, 420,000 pounds of shaved ice and 2,250 pounds of mint in order to create its signature cocktail, The Mint Julep.
Aside from the fun facts I learned about bourbon, I also had the chance to “nose” different varieties of the liquor, taking note of such characteristics as smell, color and taste.
In all, my favorite feature of the exhibit, though, was the interactive virtual bartender in the center of the gallery. By selecting one of many short video clips, you can find out how to make delicious cocktails, including the bourbon margarita.
The drink sounded so enticing, I headed over to Doc Crows after attending the exhibit and ordered the drink from the very bartender who was featured in the video clip. To my surprise, I actually preferred the bourbon version to the traditional tequila-laden margarita. And, the iced tea mixed with bourbon, that I later tried, was equally as tasty.
For someone who thought she was one of the few Kentuckians who disliked bourbon, I walked away from the exhibit – and later the bar – with a new appreciation for what the liquor has done for Louisville’s culture. And, in the end I realized there’s a reason so many people have grown to love the drink. Mix its smooth taste with its cherished tradition and you have the perfect combination for a drink worthy of international fame.
“Urban Bourbon Presented by Four Roses” will be open through December 31. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.derbymuseum.org.
Contact writer Ashley Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.