There’s never really a bad time to have a bourbon. But the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby—on Saturday, May 2—seem like a particularly good time to sample a few of the Bluegrass State’s finest whiskeys. And just as horse racing is more interesting when a handicapper provides inside knowledge, bourbon sampling benefits from having a solid tipsheet.
When I’m in Louisville, I always stay at the wonderful 21c Museum Hotel. And its superb restaurant, Proof on Main, has one of the best whiskey selections I’ve ever come across. The man responsible for that—beverage manager Chea Beckley—is a true bourbon expert. “As a Louisville native, I’ve been fortunate to see (and taste) my lifetime’s unprecedented bourbon boom and its rightful rise in popularity,” says Beckley. “I find it tough to narrow down my favorites…so I usually don’t recommend any ‘finished’ or secondary-maturation bourbons, one-off experimental releases, private selections, or the ones we won’t see at least an annual release of—even though they may still be lingering in personal collections and some lucky back bars.”
So to prepare for Derby Day, Beckley curated a list of 15 winning bottles to have on hand for the most exciting two minutes in sports—and for the weeks and months after the Run for the Roses.
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