Nowhere is tradition more evident than springtime in Kentucky.
From the foothills of Appalachia through the Bluegrass in the center. Past the corn and soy fields to the slopes and streams in the west. One annual tradition defines Kentucky the first Saturday in May — The Kentucky Derby.
For many Kentuckians, “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” and sipping Mint Juleps are like a religion. Just as frilly hats, bespoke suits, and betting on horses because of the jockey, the jersey or superstition are all the rage the first weekend in May.
As a Florida transplant to Kentucky in 2011, I got caught up in the excitement of watching the races easily enough. But sipping a Mint Julep was not something I wanted to pray about.
During the fall of 2011, my husband and I moved from the idyllic, historic community of Thornton Park in Orlando, Florida to Madisonville, his hometown in western Kentucky. I coined it Madville because I wasn’t sure how I’d adapt to a small rural town where camouflage, churches, corn fields, and tattoo parlors defined the landscape. I thought I might go mad!
Prior to our life-changing move, I chalked up the Derby as an afternoon with friends in air-conditioned lounges in Florida. We sipped red wine, admired the majestic thoroughbreds, the women’s frilly, oversized hats and the men’s bespoke suits and bow ties.
That first Saturday in May 2012 in the comfort of my Kentucky home, I mixed a Mint Julep – the drink of the Derby and as Southern a tradition as it gets. After the first sip, I realized I didn’t like the sweet, dusty flavors. But, I sipped for posterity, then stood and sang Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” the official state song of Kentucky.
“My Old Kentucky Home”
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home, ‘tis summer, the people are gay; The corn-top’s ripe and the meadows in the bloom, while the birds make music all the day.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor all merry, all happy and bright; By’n by hard times comes a knocking at the door then my old Kentucky home, Good night!
Weep no more my lady. Oh! Weep no more today! We will sing one song for my old Kentucky home for the old Kentucky home far away.
As much as I tried, I could not like or enjoy the tradition so many Kentuckians swoon over. No matter how I tried to alter the ratio of bourbon to mint, I didn’t care for the sugary, smoky, mint concoction. It seemed Mint Juleps and I would not be friends after all.
In the Spring of 2013, still hungry for a tradition I could call my own, I queried the largest group of Kentucky food and beverage people I could find, the Kentucky Food Bloggers on Facebook. KFB is the consummate cross section of the state in the food world- journalists, cookbook authors, foodies, dieticians, moms, chefs, restaurateurs, and farmers.
I posted my query: “What’s a great bourbon Derby drink other than a Mint Julep?”
Within a day, Jonathan Piercy, radio and podcast entrepreneur messaged back, “Double Wide.”
I was intrigued. Those two words flooded my mind with a range of imagery and emotions that took me straight back to my youth in Pennsylvania. Growing up, I learned a double wide was synonymous with “low rent.” Of course the politically correct term is “affordable living.” Little did I know, back then my childhood living conditions were only one-step above low rent. In fact, I’m certain if I’d grown up in a rural community as opposed to the inner city, I would have lived in a double wide.
Back to present day and my desire to find a traditional cocktail for the Derby. Piercy gave me the ingredients list: Ale-8-One, a ginger soda made in Kentucky, bourbon of my choice, ice, and a rocks glass.
Simple enough. In addition, I had enough of my own history to make me want to like this drink before I took the first sip. The ginger ale reminded me of my mom for whenever I had a stomachache, she’d offer me a glass of warm, fuzzy ginger ale. And Maker’s Mark was my husband’s favorite go-to bourbon. In fact, there was an unopened bottle in the liquor cabinet.
During the 2013 Kentucky Derby, I mixed a Double Wide, stood and sang “My Old Kentucky Home” in the comfort of my living room surrounded by family. I felt sure this would be my annual tradition whether at Churchill Downs, thousands of miles away on vacation, or in front of my flat screen TV. I was sure the way some feel about Mint Juleps.
By the time the 2014 Derby rolled around, I had my Derby down. Double Wide’s, Pimento Cheese sandwiches, and Sausage Balls became our stay-at-home Kentucky Derby tradition.
What do I like so much about a Double Wide?
Aside from the storytelling, the Double Wide’s dusty bourbon flavor paired with a sweet bite from the ginger and bright notes from the citrus hooked me.
If you want to shake up your bourbon mojo, don’t mind offending a few traditionalists, and you prefer a heady, smoky, tart, sweet drink with a kick, mix a Double Wide. You might score a few points with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates after all.
Cheers and may the best horse win. Um, I mean Carpe Diem.
Pour a small amount of Turbinado sugar on a plate. Slice an orange or lemon in half and run the cut side around the rim of a rocks glass. Dip the wet-rimmed glass in the sugar on the plate. Fill the glass with ice cubes. (Best bet is the oversized cubes for less melt factor.) Add the bourbon of your choice-glug, glug, glug. Pour in a little Ale-8-One. Not too much. Ale-8-One is uber sweet with a strong ginger kick. Let the fizz settle. Add an orange section or lemon twist. Stir, taste, and adjust if necessary. Toast to your favorite tradition. And don’t forget to stand when you sing “My Old Kentucky Home” during the Derby.
Serve a Double Wide with Pimento Cheese and Bacon Biscuits and Sausage Balls, or your own favorite traditional foods.
Sip responsibly. Frilly hat and bow tie optional.