It has been a decade since craft cocktails first infiltrated Louisville, and Kentucky’s largest city is now showing the world that it’s more than just about bourbon. Local bartenders are thinking outside the Mint Julep box, creating cocktails that elevate not only whiskey but other spirits as well. These are the ones to drink in Louisville bars right now.
Thanks to recent changes in state legislation that legalized serving cocktails at distilleries, local distillery Copper & Kings plans to open a craft cocktail bar in its third-floor space in 2017. Until then, visitors can buy the fixings for this brandy Mule at its on-premises store. The Riding the Mule cocktail is Louisville in a glass with Copper & Kings immature brandy and Butchertown Soda ginger beer.
8UP’s Old Fashioned is layered with all manner of Maker’s Mark. The Maker’s Mark Private Select bourbon is sweetened by demerara syrup aged with staves from the bar’s Private Select barrel. Even the house-made bitters originate from the special bourbon. The result is an Old Fashioned with the creamy richness of Maker’s, as well as smoked spiciness and cocoa nuttiness.
Basil is picked right from the herb boxes outside the restaurant, adding to this popular patio pounder’s fresh flavors. The aromatic herb elevates the gin classic, making it the ideal refreshment for outside drinking, day or night.
If you’re only going to have one Mint Julep when visiting Louisville, this is the one. The method and attention to detail make this classic a standout in Derby City. But the bar also makes a point to use 100-proof Four Roses single-barrel bourbon, which can fight through the dilution from the crushed ice. And fresh mint is “gently bruised,” as opposed to muddled, to ensure against it emitting bitter, vegetal notes.
The bar tucked upstairs from this Butchertown eatery is known for its adventurous cocktails featuring unique ingredients. But one standout is the quaffable Peeping Tom of Butchertown, a brandy cooler made up of Copper & Kings Immature brandy, Bonal, lemon, honey and Butchertown tonic.
Rye restaurant constantly updates its cocktail menu with seasonal offerings. But like most great cocktail bars, there are also standards that will forever be in demand. Beverage director and partner Doug Petry attributes Bite the Bulleit’s staying power to not only a “when in Bourbon Country” attitude of those who order it but how refreshing and easy drinking the concoction of Bulleit bourbon, honey, ginger and lemon is.
By the folks behind The Silver Dollar and El Camino, The Pearl of Germantown is more Germantown neighborhood bar than schmancy cocktail den. So, of course, its most popular drink is a Michelada served up in a repurposed PBR can. Bonus that this day-drinking must—Lunazul blanco tequila, salt, hot sauce and lime juice—is only $5.
Smoke is more than just a gimmick in Down One’s award-winning cocktail. Bourbon barrel shavings are set on fire, making for a sweeter smoke that’s captured in the cocktail glass. The elusive ingredient imbues the drink with a charred marshmallow aroma, complementing the Angel’s Envy bourbon, which is sweetened by the mixed berry syrup.