12 Of The Best Ryes including Kentucky Owl To Enjoy While Watching The Virtual ‘Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown’

Kentucky is as beloved for its fine whiskeys as it is for its horse racing traditions. But the first Saturday in May is going to look vastly different this year: The 146th Run for the Roses has been postponed until September 5 due to necessary precautionary measures in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s the first time this milestone event hasn’t taken place as intended since 1945, during World War II.

But don’t despair: Churchill Downs will be “hosting” a first-of-its-kind virtual event to be broadcasted by NBC on May 2, from 3 to 6 p.m. EST. The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown will be a computer-simulated race, featuring all thirteen Triple Crown victors.

Beginning April 30, die-hard fans can “vote” for their favorite Triple Crown winner and make donations to raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts. In the running are: Sir Barton (1919); Gallant Fox (1930); Omaha (1935); War Admiral (1937); Whirl Away (1941); Count Fleet (1943); Assault (1946); Citation (1948); Secretariat (1973); Seattle Slew (1977); Affirmed (1978); American Pharoah (2015); and Justify (2018).

The virtual winners will be determined based on historical handicapping and modern algorithms that’ll help establish the probability on which horse will emerge as the greatest of all time. (For the record: Secretariat was the fastest among them and is a top contender.)

Beyond that, there will be an official at-home Derby party initiative (complete with a #KYDerbyAtHome hashtag) to help equine enthusiasts celebrate via a fashion contest, kids’ craftmaking sessions, and cocktail classes—among other celebratory extravaganzas.

And that’s as good a reason as any to raise a superb dram in its honor.

So I tapped DC-based whiskey influencer Eric Kim (of @scotchandtime and @bourbonandtime fame). The man is best known for his ultra-comprehensive spirits and cigar collection—plus his exclusive invite-only events, The Scotch and Time Series.

“I always had some whisky in my collection but I was actually more of a wine guy back in the day. I have a wine cellar in my basement and in 2008 the market for wine crashed—so I wanted to sell my rarer wines before the big drop,” Kim says. “I also had some vintages that were starting to peak or pass their peak. I needed something that wouldn’t perish. The higher proof in distilled spirits was perfect: Sealed bottles last indefinitely and open bottles are good for years. It was perfect to be able to go home and drink an ounce or so before bed. More than a thousand bottles later, I became somewhat of an expert.”

Over the years, Kim fell more and more in love with American liquor—specifically bourbon and rye. However, he’d be the first to admit that rye is his real jam, eventually acquiring a vast number of hard-to-find bottlings.

“One of the most common things I hear from Scotch drinkers is that American whiskeys can never reach the levels of complexity that an aged Scotch can. And as someone who drinks a lot of Scotch, I disagree,” Kim says. “There are limitations in bourbon because it needs to be made of 51% corn or higher and stored in a new oak vessel. Rye is the same—only in reverse. Rye needs to be 51% rye, in place of the corn. Traditional rye is a bit spicy and isn’t exactly for everyone. One of the best methods of making a better whiskey is low entry proof. Michter’s is probably the best known for this method. The law requires that bourbon and rye go into the barrel at no higher than 125-proof. Michter’s goes in at 103, which is far more expensive because water is added up front. (Most brands add water at the end—basically, just diluting it so more whiskey bottles can be filled.) By adding water up front, the water mixes with the whiskey, as well as the oak. It then gets absorbed by the wood in the summer and pushed back out in the winter. This allows the water to absorb flavor, along with the whiskey—creating some amazingly deep and complex expressions. I really get layers that I don’t get in a traditional rye. Anything 110-proof or less would be considered low entry proof in my opinion.”

So now let’s get to the nitty gritty. While bourbon is still the preferred spirit for a mint julep (the signature drink at Churchill Downs) a spectacular rye is a safe bet for what would have been Derby Day 2020—and its virtual incarnation. And yes, rye juleps are actually a thing, if you’re so inclined. Here are some of Eric’s top 12 ryes to put a little giddy-up on your step this year.


“Kentucky Owl as we know it is not an old brand. Indeed, it was established in 1879—then it went silent in 1919 due to prohibition,” Kim says. “Brought back in 2014 by Dixon Dedman, Kentucky Owl quickly shot to legend status. The rye has always been a favorite and it’s a true rye drinker’s rye. In 2017 the brand was acquired by Stoli, who wisely kept Dixon on as the master blender. This Batch 3 Rye is positive proof that amazing whiskey continues to be produced at Kentucky Owl.”

Read more on Forbes here.