View Full Version : Kentucky Derby & Bourbon
I'll be watching the Kentucky Derby on Saturday -- not so much for the sport, more to see if the network dooes any sidebars on bourbon and Mint Juleps. This is the 127th Derby, which makes me wonder if any of you history buffs know how long bourbon has been associated with the race and the social occasions it spawns.
MSNBC columnist Mark Starr cracked me up yesterday when, reflecting on the '73 Derby, he said:
..."And I was mystified by why anyone would clog up a perfectly good glass of bourbon with sugar and leaves."
For all of their overwhelming popularity during the week or so leading up to the first Saturday in May, just you try to get a Kentuckian to drink one any other time of the year http://www.straightbourbon.com/wwwthreads/images/smile.gif
Whiskey-making in Kentucky is older than the Derby and so are juleps (the mint julep being only one variety). The connection is organic, i.e., a horse race being a recreational activity, drinking would naturally be a part of it, and what people in Kentucky drink is bourbon whiskey. Juleps were always "party" drinks (i.e., not everyday drinks) and mint juleps were popular in the Spring because that is when mint is in season.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
I could be wrong about this, but I think it may also have been socially acceptable for a woman to drink one. At least on very special occasions such as Derby Day.
I guess I am one of the "History Buffs" that you are asking for information so here is my take on the subject. I am going to expand it to horse racing in general and not just the Derby.
In the 19th century there was a big connection between the two industries of distilling and racing. The industry claimed that the limestone water that makes bourbon from Kentucky so good also made for strong bones in the horses and the four pillars of Kentucky society were bourbon, horses, tobacco and pretty women (any order you wish to place them). The distilling industry used horses and racing in there advertising and there were even labels called Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. The Chapeze brothers made it a point of advertisement that they introduced Old Charter the same year as the first Derby. James E. Pepper was a horse breeder who had horses in the Kentucky Derby (5th place was the best he ever did in the Derby) and he won the Kentucky Oaks with "Miss Dixie" in 1892. Paul Jones was one of the founders of the Douglass Park Harness racing track just down the road from Churchill Downs. The Harper of I.W. Harper fame was a horse breeder who owned Ten Broek, the greatest horse of the 19th century setting records for the 1 mile, 2 mile, 3 mile and 4 mile races, a deed that is unheard of in this day of racing. The horse shoe was a major part of the Green River trademark and that bourbon from Owensboro was the most advertised whiskey in the U.S. before prohibition (If you don't believe me check out ebay and see how many tokens for Green River are for sale there).
In the madern era there is still a tie between the two industries. Brown-Forman sponsors several race events and of course Maker's Mark has there big race at Keenland every year. Up until a few years ago there was the Jim Beam Classic but they dropped the sponsorship of this race. Sales still use the racing industry and its imagery. Weller was advertised as "The Thoroughbred of bourbons" while I was at U.D. What would Blanton's be without that horse on the stopper. And of course anytime the KDA brings foriegn reporters to Kentucky you can guarantee that there will be a stop at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Horse Park on the agenda.
I hope that this answers your question. If you want more I will have to do some work and actually look up further examples which I can tell you exist, but do not come to mind right now.
I almost forgot - the Tennessee whisky industry has tried to do the same with the Tennessee Walking Horse, but if you have ever seen what they do to train these horses in this un-natural gait you will understand why it just isn't the same.
Thanks for the history on the bourbon-horse connection.
Horses must be good for alcohol sales and marketing. Anheuser Busch has been using Clydesdales since 1933. That same year their horses delivered a case of Bud to the Governor of New York -- for his efforts to repeal Prohibition.
Got to hand it to the Anheuser Busch people -- they know when to celebrate. Even today, their employees get two free cases of beer a month, I believe.
Which makes me wonder if the whiskey makers also give their employees a monthly allowance. I hope so.
I don't know if any of the distilleries treat their employees with free product. If they don't, one reason would be taxes. Federal Excise Taxes have to be paid even if the product is not sold. Therefore, "free" product is a more expensive proposition for a liquor company than it would be for, say, a potato chip company.
This question did remind me of a funny story. In Louisville there is a place called Distillery Commons. It is the site of an old National Distillers warehousing and bottling plant. The guy who redeveloped it as a business park told me that when they started to move out some of the old fixtures, they found hundreds of empty Old Grand-Dad pint bottles stuck everywhere they could be hidden. Apparently, the workers would filch a bottle off the line, consume the contents, then tuck the bottle under the nearest machine or shelving unit.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
They don't give us bourbon. One particular job called "Head Case Sealer" is the person who takes care of all the numbers for Heaven Hill. I did this job for awhile. Every case has a number and has to be accounted for. We have a "cage" that is locked with every product Heaven Hill makes. If a bottle is broken during palitizer malfunction it has to be replaced. You take a bottle from the "cage", record what the serial # is and how many bottles are left sign your name and date. For theft, there is a seperate sheet ya do the same process. For samples (Only Supervisors can sign for samples) they have to date and sign their name with whatever they take. On single barrel products it is locked up in a seperate place. The only way anyone can get it is through WLD supervisor. Ya never see too many of those going out as free samples.
When I first started at United Distillers we received a "liquor allowance" of 3 bottles every three months. This was done every three months to make it easier on the people in charge of the distribution since they had to go to the liquor store and purchase the bottles. This was done because government regulation - made to make sure every penny of tax was paid on the liquor was paid - and was a real pain to all concerned because the employees had very little choice in what they received. This changed while I was there to where U.D. worked out a system with the local Liquor Outlet to give the employees a voucher for 3 bottles and they could go to the store and pick what they wanted. This is why my liquor cabinet has such things as Gordon's Orange Vodka - from before the vouchers - in it. Needless to say after the vouchers I stocked up on things such as Old Fitzgerald 1849 and Weller Antique.
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