Friday, May 1, 2015

Bourbon's Always a Winner at the Kentucky Derby Party

As a young child, the first day of, or the first weekend of May always meant the Maypole and May Day.

                                                                                                            Bourbon Balls

Now I'm a consenting adult and it has an entirely different meaning. North or South, rain or shine, warm or cool, there occurs an event that marks the start of the season to many. Derby Day - the queen mother of horse racing - The Kentucky Derby.

 Like weaving colored ribbons on a Maypole can herald spring for a child, so too can sipping Mint Juleps on Derby Day bring as much gaiety to it's celebrants. Don't get the wrong idea here, I'm not a sporting person and I probably never will be. Lack of cash reserve and complete disregard for rules of any game will guarantee my future as a looker-on. Having accepted this to be my role I can feel free to indulge in more interesting duties.

                                                                                 Bourbon Beef Marinade

In the case of the Kentucky Derby the name has become almost synonymous with Mint Juleps. These frosty drinks are as much a part of the derby as the horses themselves. In fact some fans spend more time arguing as to what is the true recipe for a julep than debating which horse will take the crown. All of the purists would agree that top quality Kentucky bourbon is the best place to start. No ordinary whiskey will do for a substitute. In fact there is a distinct difference between the two...

When whiskey makers fled out of western Pennsylvania during the whiskey Rebellion some two hundred years ago they settled in Bourbon County, Virginia. This land was later annexed as a part of Kentucky, became a state in 1792, and finally was divided up into thirty-three smaller counties. The name of their "Bourbon County Whiskey" stuck and in passing years became simply known as Bourbon.

                                                                  Sweet Potato with Pineapple and Bourbon
                                                                  Classic Southern Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

There are legal restrictions that separate the distilling of bourbon from other whiskeys. Straight Bourbon must be all whiskey and have a mash bill, jargon for recipe, containing at least 51% corn. Blended Bourbon is cut down again by mixing at least 51% straight bourbon with other spirits. Although most bourbon is made within the original boundaries of Bourbon County, it can be manufactured anywhere. As the early settlers discovered however, the sweet spring water in Kentucky gives the final product a distinct flavor. Ohio Valley water emerges in Kentucky after being filtered through tight layers of porous limestone for miles underground.

After it is distilled the law dictates that the bourbon be aged for at least two years. Most distillers will allow at least four years for this process. With each given year the liquor will become smoother and darker.

                                                                                      Bourbon-Pecan Tart

The finished bourbons do differ from each other and each quality distiller has it's own secret mash bill. Usually they improve on the minimum of 51% corn and start with around 75%. Secret amounts of other grains make up the balance of the full mash bill and give each bourbon a flavor of it's own.

Connoisseurs can spot all of the subtleties better than you and I, but never be defeated, we're going to make a good effort at catching up. I suggest we salute Derby Day by sharing in Kentucky's pride, the Honorable Bourbon. We'll spend an entire weekend sampling various bourbons, tasting their virtues both in the glass and at the stove. This Rhode Islander's own memorial of the Kentucky Derby will of course begin with juleps, The Perfect Mint Julep, by Bill Samuels of Makers Mark.

                                                                           Bill Samuels Perfect Mint Julep