The 5 Best Bourbon Buys for Kentucky Derby Day

mint julepKentucky Derby weekend is coming, bringing bourbon-fueled parties and a renewed interest in one of America's most famous cocktails, the mint julep.

While many julep lovers will be diving for their high-priced "small batch," "single barrel" and "heritage" bourbons, the truth is that this is one drink where expensive bourbon definitely takes a back seat to lower-shelf brands. After all, the South's favorite cocktail carries a hefty dose of mint and sugar, and is cooled with a lot of ice, a recipe guaranteed to leave even the most rugged bourbon struggling to keep its identity. As for all those delicate hints of "raisins" and "creme brulee" that higher-priced bourbons allegedly carry -- well, they tend to disappear when mixed with anything stronger than water.

And there's an added plus to trolling the bottom shelf for your Kentucky Derby whiskey: Less expensive bourbons tend to carry a wealth of tradition. In fact, the five spirits that we've profiled below -- all of which cost less than $20 a bottle -- are rich with legend, and loaded with wonderful tales that you can relate while sipping your cool cocktail and watching the ponies!

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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Maria Murray

Sounds more like an ad for Evans bourbon! Who are you kidding? Jack Daniels and Jim Beam have always been up there in sales, and I never heard of Evans bourbon. What a joke.

May 07 2012 at 8:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

how about henry mckenna????

May 07 2012 at 7:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's the perfect mint julep recipe: Start with two jiggers of Kentucky bourbon. It should be at least 100 proof. In a highball glass, muddle three sprigs of dew picked baby mint with one teaspoon of fine grain cane sugar. Pour four ounces of Kentucky branch water into the glass and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Then throw all that crap out and drink the bourbon.

May 07 2012 at 12:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a crock. Obviously not a Kentucky man. It's Makers Mark and Woodford Reserve, followed by Jim Beam, Ezra Brooks are also acceptable. Nothing from Tennessee, Virginia or any other heathen state should touch your lips in a min julep. It's pure blasphemy.

May 06 2012 at 11:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have found Ezra Brooks to be a pleasant sipping bourbon at a modest price, I like a decent spirit, not trying to make a status statement.
Neat Please, Dan

May 06 2012 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Any bourbon on rocks with a splash of branch water is a man's enjoyment. No sissy's please. Bourbon is the only true American whiskey, made right here in the good ol' America. A tradition enjoyed by our forefathers and past on to us red blooded patriots to savor. Women who enjoy a good sippen whisey are included. Can I get an Amen?

May 06 2012 at 4:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kolblh's comment

Well said, however, I prefer my bourbon straight up.

May 06 2012 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jnrentz's comment

Amen. Not even ice.

May 07 2012 at 1:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Welcome MSGT

A pint of good old moonshine and I will beat any horse in the race lol

May 06 2012 at 2:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How many free cases of bourbon did Bruce Watson for doing this advertisment?

May 06 2012 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Old Grand Dad is medicinal? - I find a nice vanilla lilt to it for after-taste, and wouldn't drink any other bourbon. My grandmother was from Lousiville (Loo-a-vuhl), and that was her choice. Certainly good enough for me.

May 06 2012 at 10:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Wayne Bradshaw

Beijing policy makers say they're eager to encourage greater domestic consumption. Chinese shoppers are famously luxury-happy, flying to Hong Kong and further afield in droves to stock up on Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel and more. All of which means the stage is set for the next great innovation to hit China: Louis Vuitton Outlet malls.

May 06 2012 at 12:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply