7 Bourbons To Bet On At The Kentucky Derby

“The most exciting two minutes in sports” is the part of the Kentucky Derby when you pour a glass of bourbon and savor that first glorious gulp. Here, seven thoroughbreds you can put your money on.

Millbrook Distillery Dutchess Private Reserve

45% ABV, $38

Kentuckians, look away. The staff fave didn’t come from the Bluegrass State but from a town 90 miles north of N.Y.C. Made with fresh spring water and local ingredients, it has complex oak and caramel notes and a crisp finish. The distillery may be a two-hour train ride from Grand Central, but this elixir feels as Kentucky as Colonel Sanders. 

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Tester’s take: “Like being kissed by a sunny field. Tongues and everything.” 

Old Forester 86 Proof

43% ABV, $20 

The first bottled bourbon, dating to 1870, O.F. is the O.G. of American whiskey. The recipe and pro­cess haven’t changed much in 140-odd years, resulting in a spicy, rye-heavy firewater that could transport your great-grandpappy back to the days of Prohibition. For added effect, serve it out of a bathtub. 

Tester’s take: “It’s like napalm in my nose. If I got bit by a squirrel, I’d use it to disinfect the wound.” 

Basil Hayden’s

40% ABV, $37

Using a family recipe that’s been passed down since 1796, BH uses twice as much rye as traditional bourbon, giving it a peppery kick that’s tempered by corn. After eight years in charred white-oak barrels, it’s charcoal-filtered for an approachable, mild whiskey that you can drink neat without growing hair on your chest.

Tester’s take: “Smooth, easy drinking. A good beginner’s bourbon.” 

Michter’s US*1 Small Batch

45.7% ABV, $45

Michter’s ages its bourbon in a heat-cycled warehouse, which causes the whiskey and wood (toasted and fire-charred American oak) to mingle like two perverts in a sauna. This brings out long-lingering flavors of caramel, vanilla, and spiced nuts. Bask in the aftertaste and never brush your teeth again.

Tester’s take: “Rich and complex. This is a drinking man’s bourbon.”

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select

45.2% ABV, $35

As the only Kentucky distillery to use copper pot stills and age its bourbon in a limestone warehouse, Woodford is like no other. The nose hits you hard with vanilla and pepper, then the taste brings home a mix of fruit, mint, and leather. It’s strong and has bite, like Mike Tyson.

Tester’s take: “Tastes like something a hardened sailor would drink.”

Maker’s 46

47% ABV, $35

This is the grown-up version of the original: Fully matured Maker’s Mark is aged further with seared French oak staves to enhance it with creamy flavors and a spicy finish. If Maker’s Mark is your dorky childhood gal pal, 46 is her after puberty, when she grew boobs, lost her braces, and became totally out of your league.

Tester’s take: “Peppery, complex flavors. I like.”

Belle Meade

45.2% ABV, $35

Charles Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery closed its doors during Prohibition, but a century later his great-great-great-grandsons reopened shop and, following Peepaw’s traditions of using 30 percent rye, resurrected his sweet, bold bourbon from the dead. It’s zombie whiskey!

Tester’s take: “Strong in a good way. The maple syrup notes remind me of breakfast.”

More on Maxim.com:

The Beginner’s Guide to Betting on the Kentucky Derby

The Maxim Bourbon Awards