When they start playing "My Old Kentucky Home" at the Kentucky Derby, here are the top five bourbons that Herald-Leader readers recommend having in hand, in reverse order:
No. 5: Buffalo Trace and Blanton's (tied with 13 votes each)
Both of these are made by Sazerac, at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort. But Buffalo Trace is about $25 a bottle while Blanton's is about double that. Why? Blanton's is the original single-barrel bourbon, while Buffalo Trace is a blend of barrels to fit a taste profile. Bonus: Each Blanton's bottle has a stopper with a jockey and horse on it, in different points in its stride. People love to collect them.
No. 4: Weller (14 votes)
Also made by at the Buffalo Trace distillery, Weller is known to insiders as the bargain-priced whiskey that sometimes ages into Pappy Van Winkle, which is much, much more expensive. But Weller's pretty darn good, when you can find it. It's becoming almost impossible to find on your average liquor store shelf these days. There are actually three Wellers — W.L. Weller Special Reserve (which is usually under $20), W.L. Weller 12 Year and Old Weller Antique. And then there's William Larue Weller, which is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection that people stand in line just for a chance to buy. If you get a chance at that, take it. But for the love of limestone don't pollute it with mint.
No. 3: Maker's Mark (16 votes)
Maker's Mark is the classic premium bourbon, known as much for its red wax and witty ads as its smooth wheated whiskey. And it has the added benefit of being widely available. A good choice for drinking and for making May Day pies. Maker's also makes (at least in Kentucky) a green-waxed "mint julep" version that is ready to pour over ice. I say, go for the plain bourbon and make your own julep.
No. 2: Woodford Reserve (22 votes)
Woodford Reserve is now the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby so it makes sense to raise a glass during the race. You can make a mean mint julep with Woodford Reserve or try your hand at the new Churchill Downs drink: The Spire, which is Woodford Reserve, cranberry juice and lemonade over ice. And you can get a lovely souvenir Derby bottle, too.
And the No. 1 bourbon? "Other" (134 votes)
Kentucky has so many wonderful bourbons that people in the Bluegrass State are truly spoiled for choice. Many small-batch and lesser known gems (such as Henry McKenna) have strong followings and who knows what the next major bourbon discovery will be. And we're dying to know: If you're drinking something else, what is it? We won't tell anyone ...