5 Best Bourbons Under $25 for Mixing Cocktails on Derby Day

By Noah Kaufman |

© Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.

Break out the seersucker and hats the size of dorm room refrigerators; the Run for the Roses is this Saturday. The Kentucky Derby is more than the horse race with the best-dressed crowd in sports; to us it also marks the beginning of the warm weather-drinking season. Calendars be damned, nothing says it’s almost summer like sucking down a few frosty mint juleps at your Derby party. But to make a good derby cocktail you need the right building blocks, and that means the right bourbon. So we talked with Jackie Zykan of Doc Crow’s Smokehouse and Raw Bar, the curator of one of the best bourbon lists in Louisville, about which bottles of brown mix best in cocktails.

 “You want to look for a ‘bottled in bond’ bourbon,” she says. That means the bourbon must all come from a single distillery, a single distilling season and get bottled at precisely 100 proof. “The proof is high enough to stand up in cocktails, and the price, ranging from $15 to $25, is always a steal for quality. Plus, they are easy to find in any liquor store.” High proof, high quality and low price tag—sounds good to us.

Here are Zykan's top five bottled-in-bond bourbons to pick up for this weekend. All of them will make a great traditional mint julep, but each one can play in plenty of other cocktails as well for those looking to branch out.

1. J.W. Dant

A sweet and smoky bourbon that plays particularly well with honey and citrus.
FWx recommended cocktail: Big Texan. 

2. Evan Williams Bottled In Bond

With hints of vanilla, caramel and baking spices, it goes great with nutty flavors and stone fruits like peaches.
FWx recommended cocktail: Bourbon Fizz 

3. Henry McKenna Single Barrel

Woody and spicy, this single barrel matches well with herbs.
FWx recommended cocktail: Po Po Punch 

4. Old Fitzgerald

Buttery and with sweet vanilla, Old Fitz makes an excellent partner to fresh berries.
FWx recommended cocktail: Blackberry-Mint Julep

5. J.T.S. Brown

With cinnamon and sweet caramel flavors, this Brown mixes well with ginger.
FWx recommended cocktail: Ginger Julep

Related: 3 Great Bourbons that Don't Come from Kentucky 
The 6 People You Will See at Your Derby Party 
Win, Place, Show: Here Are Your 3 Julep Recipes for Derby Week