As the first Saturday in May nears it can only mean one thing – It’s Kentucky Derby time! The Bluegrass State’s rolling fields have returned to green, the red buds are in bloom, the tulips are up, foals are being born, the sound of galloping thoroughbred hoofs can be heard at the Churchill Downs spring meet, big hats are blowing in the breeze and the bourbon bottles are popping to make that Kentucky favorite drink that so many have a love-hate relationship with, the Mint Julep. The Mint Julep lovers love them (or at least they love to get the annual Kentucky Derby glass) and the haters wonder why you would ruin good bourbon with anything other than ice.
2019 mark’s the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby – The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports. And for bourbon fans that also means it’s time to pour the best two ounces of distilled spirits in the world – Bourbon. The Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky bourbon industry have a long history in the state. They’ve both had their ups and downs but for the last 20 years they’ve both been on a steady ascent.
The Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby Since 1999
It was 20 years ago in 1999 that Woodford Reserve Bourbon became the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. That was the inaugural year of the annual Woodford Reserve collector’s bottle created just for horse racing fans. The first four years of the Derby bottle featured simple graphics that celebrated Derby. Beginning in 2003, Woodford Reserve started featuring original work of artists on the bottle.
Woodford Reserve Master Distiller shared some background on the long standing relationship. Morris said, “In 1999, the thoroughbred horse racing industry begins to recognize it needs to change itself. And the Go Baby Go theme begins. And Churchill Downs is reaching out to partners to help bring relevance to a new audience. And they choose Woodford Reserve because Woodford Reserve has a vibe, has a buzz, has an excitement about it. And they literally say you’re the brand we want to associate with the Kentucky Derby. In 125 years of running the Kentucky Derby this track had never endorsed a single bourbon brand. So, we become the first and only official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.”
“And we inaugurate a program to talk about the history of horse racing and how it relates to bourbon and the mint julep. We start making the mint julep not only on local television but we get on Saturday Night Live, the Today show, Ellen, etc. No one was talking mint juleps, no one was talking the Kentucky Derby two week prior to the Derby except the local press. Woodford Reserve gets the Kentucky Derby on national and international television, French television for example, the Weather Channel, and I’m fully convinced that it’s Woodford Reserve Bourbon that helps to bring the Derby back to global prominence.”
Two Decades of Artistry, Bourbon & Horse Racing on Display
To celebrate the 20th anniversary Woodford Reserve has partnered with the Frazier History Museum on Whiskey Row in Louisville, Kentucky and gathered together all 20 Derby bottles and the original artworks used to design the labels as well as other artifacts like many of the custom made $1,000 Mint Julep Cups. All of the bottles and artwork are on display in Woodford Reserve & the Kentucky Derby: Two Decades of Artistry, Bourbon and Horse Racing at the Museum. The exhibit is now open inside The Spirit of Kentucky, a large permanent exhibition about the history, craft, and culture of Kentucky bourbon.
Here’s a close up look at every bottle and every piece of original artwork that you can see at the museum. The exhibit will be on display for the next year. We highly recommend you visit the exhibit in person to get the full experience.
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23 Years of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby Bourbon Bottles
The matching artwork is included below. Click on any image to enlarge. Enjoy!
UPDATE: Now includes 23 years worth of Woodford Reserve bottles through 2022 for the 148th Running of the Kentucky Derby.
23 Years of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby Bourbon Bottle Original Artwork
Click any image to enlarge.
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