Drinks

Skip the julep! 5 Kentucky-inspired beers for Derby Day

May 3, 2013 at 1:10 PM ET

Jim Galligan
Jim Galligan
Sip on one of these craft beers and get in the Derby Day spirit.

You probably know that the mint julep is the official beverage of this week’s Kentucky Derby, but who wants to mess around with all that Bourbon, spearmint, sugar and water? Complicated! Instead, crack open a nice craft beer where all the hard work has already been done for you.

Here are five delicious brews that would be right at home in the clubhouse at Churchill Downs.

Bluegrass Brewing Company Dark Star Porter

Located in the heart of Louisville and just a few miles from where the Run for the Roses goes down, you’ll find The Bluegrass Brewing Company, whose website proudly welcomes Derby fans to the "Brewgrass" State.

Toast this year’s thoroughbred field with a BBC Dark Star Porter, named after the 25-to-1 long shot winner of the 1953 Kentucky Derby. The brewers at Bluegrass combine seven malts to imbue this 5.75 percent ABV peaty treat with roasty tastes of coffee, cocoa, vanilla and walnuts, with hints of dark fruits, apple and herbal hops.

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

Okay, so this 11.2 percent ABV imperial stout hails from Michigan, but after being brewed with mounds of chocolate and heaps of coffee, it has spent over a year in Kentucky finishing school, being cave-aged in Bourbon barrels from the Bluegrass State.

The result is a wildly satisfying brew that pours like motor oil, and smells like angels at play (if one angel is full of Bourbon and the other two are full of chocolate and coffee). A velvety sip reveals a lively interplay of espresso and whiskey that’s balanced by the smooth flavors of chocolate, caramel, vanilla and oak.

Uberbrew Frac Daddy Baltic Porter

What are the chances that a Billings, Montana, gastropub would own a stake in a Derby horse? Probably a bit longer than 50-to-1, which are the odds that their colt Frac Daddy has been given for taking the purse, but not by much.

These long odds haven’t stopped the folks at Uberbrew from being in a celebratory mood, and they’ve brewed a beer in honor of their mount, which is partially owned by one of the restaurant’s partners. It’s called Frac Daddy Baltic Porter, and if you’d like a taste, you’d better mount up and join them for a party at the pub on race day. And good news ladies, if you wear a fancy derby hat, you get your first pint for free (just don’t stand in front of the TV once the race starts).

Ken Schmidt/Iron Fist/Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout

There are very few beers that contain mint, the titular ingredient in a “mint” julep, and fewer that aren’t awful. There’s only one I’ve had that’s truly wonderful, and it’s Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout, a beer dreamed up by homebrewing wizard Ken Schmidt and brewed in collaboration between Stone and Iron Fist Brewing Company.

This 9.6 percent ABV ale is a sweet treat, with roasted notes of dark chocolate and espresso giving way to a kiss of peppermint candy, followed by a boozy thread of dark fruits. Just like a thoroughbred, this beauty is at its best once it’s warmed up, as the mint flavor shines brightest as the temperature rises.

Bison Organic Honey Basil Ale

Mint isn’t the only leafy green ingredient used to spice things up in the brew kettle — some brewers use basil, mint’s kissing taxonomic, cousin. While a beer made with basil might sound like an also-ran, Bison Organic’s 6.0 percent ABV Honey Basil Ale will beguile your taste buds with its unique blend of earthy sweetness and an herbal pop that’s all held together by a thread of honey and a hint of lemon zest.

More refreshing than a mint julep and 100 percent organic to boot, this easy drinking and slightly weird beer might be gone before the fastest two minutes in sports is through.

The Kentucky Derby is an event filled with many great traditions, from the garland of roses, to the wearing of fancy floppy hats, to the marching band striking up a rousing rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

While these old standby’s are wonderful, I say it’s time to give up the julep and party like you belong on the infield with a wonderful craft beer.

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