We recently took a trip to Table Three Ten in Lexington, where we met with kick-ass Kentuckian and epic bartender extraordinaire Ryan Filchak for a happy hour discussion of the opulent history of Kentucky cocktails. While Mr. Filchak deftly wielded his shaker, muddler, and jigger, we sat back, relaxed, and got ready to sample the rich stories and boozy splendor of a few more Kentucky claims to fame. Here are three bourbon cocktails—with Kentucky roots —that have equal parts class, sass, and kickass.
The Old Fashioned
Founded in 1881, the Pendennis Club in Louisville was a gentlemen’s club, which in those days didn’t involve strippers. We’re talkin’ old school. Think muttonchops; think Wellingtons; think “steampunk” wayyy before they called it that. Colonel James E. Pepper, third-generation bourbon distiller, was the sort of Kentucky aristocrat that had drinks invented in his honor. That’s just what happened at the Pendennis Club in the early 1880s. And what do you name a drink at a place like that—for a gent like that? The Old Fashioned.
Colonel Pepper took the recipe to the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan, where it achieved widespread fame and eventually became Don Draper’s drink of choice. There are about two bajillion different Old Fashioned recipes out there, but the best ones call for bourbon.
The Seelbach Cocktail
The Seelbach Hotel has been puttin’ on the glitz in downtown Louisville since 1905. Al Capone stayed there all the time. F. Scott Fitzgerald, on a bender, got kicked out one night. But Fitz was so wowed by the Seelbach’s style that the site of Tom and Daisy’s wedding reception in The Great Gatsby was modeled on the hotel. Hey, is your hotel written up in a classic novel? No?
The Seelbach cocktail was born in the hotel bar just before Prohibition. Legend has it that as someone popped open a bottle of champagne, a quick-thinking bartender used the Manhattan he was making to catch the gushing bubbly. The results: drunkenly delicious!
Prohibition (which was not invented in Kentucky) almost killed the cocktail in its infancy: the Seelbach’s bar was closed for thirteen years, and the drink was forgotten even after Prohibition’s repeal. The recipe was rediscovered at the Old Seelbach Bar in 1995. Since then, the cocktail has enjoyed quite a comeback, proving that you can lock a Kentuckian in a storage room for 75 years, but you still can’t keep him down!
The Mint Julep
Know as“the very dream of drinks,” the Mint Julep really got going when Henry Clay, exporting Kentucky awesomeness, brought the recipe to the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. But for many people, the Mint Julep means the Kentucky Derby. The Julep has been a staple at the Derby for a century, and it has been the Derby’s official cocktail since 1938.
There are two tiers of Julep on Derby Day at Churchill Downs: they offer the basic $15 model, or you can spend $1000 and get one made with Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon, imported Irish mint, ice cubes frozen from Alpine springwater, and Australian sugar. Either way, you get to keep the cup.
We hereby invite you to take one—or more—of these kickass concoctions out to the porch, watch the sun slide below the treeline, and reflect upon Kentucky greatness.
Words by Hap Houlihan and photos by Sarah Jane Sanders