It’s Derby week, and a run for the roses means I’m learning about and sipping Kentucky bourbon & other American whiskey types

It’s Derby Week

Last weekend was the Kentucky Derby. How do I know this? Every restaurant I went into on Saturday had it on their TVs. How much do I know about it? Not much. My husband asked me which horse I would bet on (if I bet, which I don’t), and I replied, “The brown one.” Other things that come to my mind with the Kentucky Derby? Dan Fogelberg’s song, Run for the Roses (yes, I’m an Easy Listening dweeb), Jerry Seinfeld’s standup routine about horse racing, “Oat baaaaag, I get my oat bag now. Oat bag time for me!” There’s all the fancy hats, mint juleps, derby pie (yum!!), and of course, Kentucky bourbon. Now you have my attention (that’s not surprising). American whiskey has so many variations, and I’m just scratching the surface.


Kentucky bourbon, Kentucky Derby, American whiskey
Action at the Kentucky Derby (photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Trivia, Bourbon-style

The whiskey tradition in Kentucky is long and rich with history. There’s an interesting timeline on Tiki-Toki: The History of Kentucky Bourbon detailing some of the highlights of the whiskey industry in Kentucky. I was surprised to learn that, according to Tiki-Toki, the earliest known mention of charring the inside of a whiskey barrel came from a letter from a Lexington grocer to a distiller in 1826. I wonder how he thought up that idea? Also, the term “brand-name” came from the practice in the 1830s of distillers burning the names of the distilleries onto the barrelhead. When the barrels were displayed in bars, the branded names were visible to the customers. Neat! (The things you learn from the Interweb.) This site has lots of other interesting tidbits about bourbon history…I encourage you to go peek.

My favorite Whisky Wednesday spot, Gordon’s DTX, recently had a tasting featuring American whiskies, so I was able to sample some interesting expressions. I’m glad I attended…I found some surprises that I loved and some drams were just ok (just being honest here, folks). This is another aspect of this world of whisky that I enjoy – everybody can have a different opinion and no one’s taste is wrong because it’s so personal.

Here are some comments from Gordon’s invitation:

Pritchard’s Hill from Jefferson’s Reserve…is a sensational whiskey that consists of Jefferson’s bourbon finished in Cabernet Sauvignon casks. The Smooth Ambler…is a unique blend of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. Two of our favorite Private Barrels include the new Widow Jane Bourbon and Four Roses OBSQ. Four Roses is always a crowd favorite being over 60% ABV and Widow Jane will provide you with a whole new variety of flavors. We guarantee that!

 And now, for mine…

 Gordon’s Favorite American Whiskey Picks

at Gordon’s DTX, March 26, 2017

Smooth Ambler Contradiction

2 year old and 9 year old blend

  • Nose: vanilla, light on the nose, water gives more cinnamon
  • Taste: high vanilla, slightly sweet, water slightly softens it, sweeter
  • Finish: finish builds into spice, cinnamon lingers and lasts a while


 Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style

115, over proof

  • Nose: floral, nutmeg
  • Taste: oily, cream, sweets soft, doesn’t smash in face
  • Finish: doesn’t linger, fades off tongue
  • Comments: very good!


Gordon’s Private Barrel Widow Jane Bourbon

Brooklyn based, imported from Kentucky, 3 1/2 yrs , proofed w/ NY water – adds minerals

  • Nose: vanilla, whipped cream, butterscotch
  • Taste: oily, full in mouth, spice builds quickly & fades quickly
  • Finish: fades quickly, no real heat
  • Comments: My favorite! I bought this bottle


Gordon’s Private Barrel Four Roses OBSQ

  • Nose: caramel, cloves, sharper
  • Taste: oily & body, water helps the sharpness
  • Finish: spice builds and lingers; some bitterness at the end
  • Comments: A solid, shippable bourbon


Jefferson’s Reserve Pritchard Hill Cabernet Cask Finished

Blended, finished in wine

  • Nose: plum, higher alcohol
  • Taste: creamy, sweet, soft – no spice at all
  • Finish: some tannic action, fades slowly
  • Comments: Oh my god that’s good! I put it on my list as a “buy”


Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey

  • Nose: vanilla, some brown sugar
  • Taste: more vanilla, surprisingly sweet
  • Finish: fades fast, nothing left
  • Comments: Solid and approachable…to sip, not to savor


I love how the Jefferson’s Reserve just blew me away, and I ended up purchasing (and enjoying!) the Gordon’s Private Barrel Widow Jane. My daughters gave me an early Mother’s Day present…scotch glasses! I put them to good use and immediately noticed the difference from the straight sided low-ball glass I had been using at home…the nose of the drink really came through, intensifying it considerably. These glasses are a nice, thoughtful, and useful gift. Thanks, girls!


 Kentucky bourbon, Kentucky Derby, American whiskey
Sipping my bourbon in my new whisky glass


I’d love to hear your experiences with Kentucky bourbon, American whiskeys, any trivia tidbits you’d like to share, or your thoughts on the Kentucky Derby. And do you bake with bourbon? I make a killer Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie…just in time for Derby Week!

Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!


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