Thursday, April 30, 2009

Round Two: Early Times

Woodford Reserve likes to say that it is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, but everyone who has been there knows that’s not exactly true -- scratch that, it is only exactly true. Woodford paid a lot of money to tag the Derby. While they were at it they sponsored the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, which immediately precedes the Derby. Fair enough, but the drink that is poured at Churchill is the Early Times premixed Mint Julep. There’s even some people dressed up in giant Early Times bottles dancing around in the paddock. (Other people saw that, right?)

When the fans stand and wobble and slur through the forgotten lyrics of “My Old Kentucky Home” the whisky they are spilling on their shoes is Early Times Kentucky Whisky.

I don’t know why Brown-Forman decided to spell it whisky, without the American ‘e,’ but I do know that the reason it is not a bourbon is because some of the product was aged in barrels that are not new. Bourbon must be aged in unused barrels, period. According to Chuck Cowdery, bourbon expert of the first water, this saved some money and brought the Early Times spreadsheet into shape when they needed it to be. Since Brown-Forman sells (lots and lots of) Jack Daniel’s Cowdery says that they believed at the time that no one cared if the bottle said “bourbon” or not.

I like Early Times a lot, always have. It’s straightforward, a little rough around the edges, good with ice. Walker Percy’s Dr. Tom More drank a lot of it, and that’s a good recommendation. It’s unbeatable at its price point. And it makes a killer mint julep, especially if you’ve had mint syrup infusing in the fridge overnight.

Pour a tablespoon or two of mint syrup (I leave it to you, it depends upon how minty your mint is, and how sweet you like your drinks) into a glass, pour in a double shot of Early Times, fill it with crushed ice (half a tray of ice in a clean towel smacked with a meat tenderizer will fill one rocks glass), stir it a couple of times with a spoon. Don’t fold it when you stir, just make the ice turn around in the glass. I swear I can almost taste the ink on the betting slips.


The pre-mix is very good, too, and lots of liquor stores have stacks of it come Derby Day. I’ve been made fun of for this, but the truth is that the pre-mix is best if you add a shot of bourbon to it.

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