Louisville, Kentucky lies in the heart of bourbon country, so it’s not surprising that America’s native spirit dominates the local bar menus. In addition to understanding the varieties of straight bourbon, Louisville barkeeps have a keen appreciation for the mixed drink, and they are leading the revolution in the way the spirit is consumed. Most are encouraged to be creative. “It’s fun to figure out what a great bourbon cocktail is,” says Doug Petry of RYE. On a recent visit we found that, from classics to hybrids to innovative infusions, there’s truly a bourbon cocktail for everyone. Mix some up for the Derby this weekend and you won’t care who wins…
Bourbon Mojito Bourbons Bistro Bar Manager Jeff Shaw captures the synergy between the mint julep and the mojito in this drink. He muddles mint, lime and a splash of soda and then adds Old Grandad bourbon, house-made sour mix and Gosling ginger beer.
Forester Side CarBourbon replaces cognac in this take on the classic cocktail at Jack Fry’s, Louisville’s original fine dining establishment. Beverage Director JR Schiavi makes it with Old Forester, lemon juice, Cointreau and Peychaud bitters.
Boulevardier Balance and proportion are key to making any cocktail, but particularly the classics. The Boulevardier combines bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth. St. Charles Exchange’s Colin Shearn adds his own touch—a grapefruit garnish.
Paper TrailShearn keeps things simple and elegant. He makes this razor-sharp drink with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Aperol (“I call it Campari’s little brother”) and Salers. It’s citrusy yet smooth.
Death's Grip Proof on Main’s Christopher Wilkins created this spiced, chocolate-y drink. He first makes a simple syrup from Bluegrass Brewing Company’s dark star porter and baking spices. Add Old Grandad Bib “bottled in bond” bourbon and Wilkins’s own hazelnut aromatic bitters. Garnish with blackberry and lemon peel.
Mint JulepIt’s not on the menu, but Proof on Main’s January Miller will make you this refreshing classic on request. She recommends simple syrup (two parts sugar to one part water), muddled mint and Old Forrester. Pour over crushed ice.
The Derby PieThis creamy confection starts with toasted pecan, brown sugar washed bourbon—Harvest’s latest flavor infused bourbon. Add Tres Leches triple cream liquer plus chili cocoa bitters and shake. Top it off with some house-made chocolate shavings.
Kentucky Champagne If you’ve never had Ale 8, Kentucky’s local ginger ale, Harvest’s Jason Cobbler explains: “It’s like a Mountain Dew and a ginger ale mixed together.” His Kentucky Champagne is built with Tuaca, Old Forester bourbon (kept chilled), Ale 8 and a lemon peel.
Sri Lanka Iced TeaBourbon and iced tea should be a thing, right? This easy drinking combination gets an Eastern twist at Ramsi’s Café on the World. They use iced green tea, Heaven Hill black label bourbon and a simple syrup with cinnamon.
Standard Issue Pea CoatFor this concoction, RYE’s Petry combines Bulleit bourbon, fresh grapefruit juice, black peppercorn syrup, orange bitters with a float of prosecco and an orange zest. It’s bittersweet, delicious and smooth.
Bacon-Maple Old FashionedThis is a savory cocktail and yes, it has a distinct bacon finish. Bourbons Bistro’s Shaw pours one cup of bacon grease into a three-quarters-full bottle of bourbon. Lets it set for three or four days. Strains thoroughly. He then adds muddled orange and cherry, black walnut bitters and maple syrup. Daaamn.