We are already busy planning for the Derby at our house!
We are already busy planning for the Derby at our house!
Bluegrass THREADS is thrilled to be celebrating 5 years! Five years feels momentous—we’ve made it!
This blog has been a source of personal inspiration and growth during the first five years of my son’s life, the loss of my father, job transitions, big moves and many of the other changes (good and bad) over this half decade.
image by Desarae Anderson Photography
To celebrate and commemorate this milestone, I want to highlight these top 5s—the most read and shared stories of the past 5 years:
I hope that your Derby Day was fantastic! My family loves to celebrate the Derby—with beautiful hats, good food, silly wagers and laid-back fun. In fact, we are such fans of the days festivities that our family dog is named KY Derby (she goes by Derby, for short).
We managed to snap a couple of photos to commemorate the fun this year, including one with my son and I posing with the Derby stick pony he made. I was excited for an excuse to wear my new Lilly for Target dress. (Really—I’m obsessed with these Lilly prints!) My oversized Lands End tote was full of wine and bourbon as we headed out the door to our party.
Before the race, we enjoyed sipping mint juleps and we followed the face festivities with a homey, “Kentucky dinner” of ham, fruit salad with honey yogurt sauce, hashbrown casserole, asparagus, and corn pudding. We topped it all off with a delicious Eton Mess parfait for dessert. Yum!
It was fun to kick-back and enjoy our family’s company and our delicious feast. While its fun to be at the excitement of the track, in my book, you can’t beat the peaceful atmosphere of a party at home.
How did you spend your Derby?
image by AHOwens
This is one of my favorite fool-proof holiday drinks. They can be made by the pitcher, so it is easy for guests to self-serve. No bartender needed!
I served this cocktail at my annual holiday open house last year and it was a big hit. The rosemary has a wonderful fragrance and the drink is not overly sweet. Even the guys loved it!
Check out the recipe here.
Cheers! May your days be merry and bright…and may all your ‘Christmases be white.’
image by AHOwens
Some of my favorite holiday decor is simple and natural and can carry you through the winter months. In other words, I like touches that are more wintry than “Christmasy”. I think that holiday decor should also be something personal and meaningful.
Perhaps my favorite decoration in my home this year is my living room “bar” that features a vignette of meaningful items sprinkled with some burlap ribbon and a touch of greenery:
image by AHOwens
All of these items are on top of my husband’s childhood dresser, which we have used (with new hardware) to store tablecloths or other linens for entertaining. By grouping these small items together, they have a greater impact on the room. I think that it is a sweet focal point in the room that tells a lot about our family.
What are your favorite holiday decorations? Any ornaments or chatychkes with special meaning?
With the Run for the Roses just around the corner, here are some of our favorites for celebrating the most exciting two minutes in sports:
image by dthoskins
What are your Derby Day traditions?
If there’s one thing upon which you can hang your hat, it’s that a Kentucky Gentleman always keeps his promise. As such, I owe the faithful readers of Bluegrass THREADS a glimpse at my personal Bourbon collection. Enjoy!
1. Sazerac Rye
I’m not a huge fan of Rye, but when I’m in the mood for something spicy, Sazerac is an affordable go-to.
This is a first-time buy for me. I have yet to meet a Van Winkle I don’t love, and this higher proof offering is no exception. Smooth, but with the serious kick you expect to feel from something bottled thus.
I love Woodford Reserve – It was the first bourbon I ever tried, and I’ve been a devotee ever since. It’s smooth, but not too smooth. I love the aftertaste, and I haven’t found a bourbon I love more as an ingredient.
This one was a gift, and It was a good one. Buffalo trace is a sharper taste, and it’s another that goes very well with your favorite bourbon-centric confection.
This is the primo. I have tried all the Van Winkles, and despite being a mid-price iteration (on Julian’s scale, of course) this wheated bourbon is my favorite of them all. I find the 20 and 23 year versions sweeter, and I think the 15 has exactly the right bite.
This is a fantastic example of the single barrel concept. I love the caramel and vanilla notes as well as the finish on this bourbon. I’d put it up against any of the single barrel varieties.
This is my go-to sipping whiskey. I challenge anyone to find me a smoother finish – perhaps Lot A? I may or may not be sipping this one as I write this post. (Hint: I am.)
Another first time purchase for me… And I haven’t cracked the cork yet. More coming soon!
A special bonus – my favorite new bourbon accessory is this travel flask and beaker set – perfect for enjoying your favorite spirit wherever you find yourself!
And, finally… Thanks to all who participated in our Bourbon Review contest! We’ve selected one at random, and the winner is… Heather!!! Congratulations, Heather, we’ll be in touch to get your details in short order!
Yours in the Commonwealth,
The Kentucky Gentleman
Over the last several years, a quiet but profound revolution has taken place. Dynasties have been toppled, economies have been shattered and the world has been fundamentally altered by the emergence of a new King.
I’m speaking, of course, of Bourbon.
The world has recently realized what we Kentucky Gentlemen have known for decades – that there is simply no finer way to fill a glass than with a spirit that’s spent the last several years (or more if you can stand to wait) aging in newly charred oak. Bourbon, especially small batch and single-barrel varieties, have enjoyed a recent boom all over the world, and who better than a native son to give you the foundations of our native spirit? I will introduce the quintessential bluegrass spirit in a series of posts, beginning with the very basics.
Fundamental to an understanding of bourbon whiskey is a broader understanding of whiskey itself. There are an overwhelming subset of whiskies (Canadian, English, Irish, Japanese, Scotch, etc.), and bourbon is an American Whiskey, meaning simply that it is distilled in America from a fermented mash of cereal grains. It is the specific blend of these grains, known by bourbon aficionados as a mash bill, that elevate an American Whiskey to a Bourbon Whiskey.
The rules that govern Bourbon whiskeys are quite simple, and (quite surprising to some) have exactly nothing to do with the geography of the great state of Kentucky. Bourbon must be:
1. Primarily Corn (51% is required by law for a whiskey to be termed a Bourbon)
2. Aged in new, charred oak barrels. Ever wonder why Bourbon Barrel Ale cropped up? Those barrels start to pile up after a while… (incidentally, BBA is FANTASTIC if you haven’t sampled it)
3. Distilled to no more than 160 proof.
4. Barreled at no more than 125 proof (a whiskey’s proof will increase during the aging process as water evaporates through the barrel, leaving an ever more concentrated spirit as the years pass).
5. Bottled at no less than 80 proof (again, the math may trip some of you up – typically a bourbon is cut with water to a specifically desired proof during the bottling process. We will discuss exceptions later).
Don’t mistake the lack of geographic limits for a discounting of Kentucky Bourbon: most bourbons are made in Kentucky, and many distillers swear by the limestone-heavy water as a crucial element in crafting a fine spirit.
Now that we have skimmed the rules (I know you’re all here for the recommendations, I’m not delusional!), let’s get to the real stuff – what you should be drinking. It bears mentioning that what follows is an opinion, sprinkled with facts and a substantial amount of personal research.
image via My American Dream
Past the basics, many subsets (yes, more categories) are used to describe the bourbon you’re considering. Some of these terms are vitally important, while some are pure marketing jargon – it’s important that you know the sheep from the wolves.
Small Batch – I list this first as a caution… the term ‘small batch’ is perhaps the greatest of the wolves in bourbon marketing. Small batch bourbons are purportedly crafted in smaller quantities, implying a greater attention to detail and an increased rarity. Unfortunately, no rules exist to govern what a small batch of bourbon is, so in effect anyone who can spell both Small and Batch, organize them on a label and print can charge a few more dollars for their trouble. This is not to say that small batch Bourbons are to be avoided, but you shouldn’t prize this attribute.
Single Barrel – Small Batch may be bunk, but this one has real meaning. A bourbon labeled thus is telling you that it is the product of one barrel, meaning that it has not been mingled with multiple barrels prior to its bottling. My favorites in this category include one of my preferred everyday bourbons, Blanton’s (the original single-source bourbon), as well as 10-year-old Eagle Rare.
Image via Wikipedia
Mashbill Contents (Rye, Corn, Wheat) – We know that all bourbons have to be at least 51% Corn. The remaining 49% is typically filled with more Corn, Barley and Rye. The balance of these grains are what distinguish the flavor profiles of the host of bourbons on the market. Bourbons with a high Rye content (Four Roses Single Barrel, Basil Hayden, Bulleit et al.) are typically a bot more bold and spicy (think Rye bread), while those high in Corn will be a tad sweeter, as is the case with Buffalo Trace’s Old Charter. When these grain levels are taken to the extreme, you are left with Rye Whiskey (I love Sazerac and Van Winkle Rye) or Corn Whiskey.
Image via Spar
Wheated Bourbons – There are moments in all things where genius is accompanied by insanity – distilling is no exception. A handful of rebellious distillers choose to add Wheat to their mashbill, and the results can be absolutely phenomenal. Maker’s Mark is the best known amongst the wheated bourbons, but the genius of wheat is found in the Van Winkle varieties (which, ironically, are impossible to find). Revived after prohibition, a third and fourth generation of Van Winkles now distill this magical spirit in ages ranging from 10 to 23 years. These are my absolute favorites amongst bourbons – you will find no fewer than 3 varieties of Van Winkle on my shelf at any given time. Wheated bourbons are exceptionally smooth and a shade softer than your average bourbon.
Image via Elements Bar Blog
Cask Strength – Bourbon is typically distilled at a high proof and then cut to a specific proof when bottled. Cask strength varieties eschew this tradition, offering themselves exactly as they entered the world. These bourbons are exceptionally flavorful, but should be consumed with both water and care – they are extremely powerful. Bourbon lovers will adore the flexibility of these spirits, as they offer the opportunity to cut the whiskey to taste. Always do so – not only will cutting ensure that you do not dial everyone you ever dated, it enhances and unlocks the flavor of your chosen cask-strength. Always ensure that you are cutting with water that matches the bourbon you’re drinking – Louisville’s tap water can win all the awards it wants, but a distilled or spring water will usually be a better choice. Lexington tap water is right out.
These are but a few of the variants you’ll encounter, but to my eyes they’re the ones worth mentioning. In the end, picking the right bourbon has a whole lot to do with how you plan to drink it. I prefer mine neat, you may prefer it on the rocks or in a Manhattan – and we’d love to hear about it! To encourage you, Bluegrass Threads will be giving away a year-long subscription to The Bourbon Review. To enter, simply like us on Facebook and tell us about your favorite Bourbon or Bourbon-based cocktail in the comments below! We will be accepting comments/entries until 9 pm on Sunday, August 12. I will announce the winner in my next post, where I’ll be telling you what I keep in my personal liquor stash.
-The Kentucky Gentleman
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