Top 5 Bourbon Picks for the Kentucky Derby

If your weekend plans include watching the world's top 3-year-olds make "The Run for the Roses" in the 137th Kentucky Derby, you'll need to stock up on essential supplies, including a world-class bourbon. A bourbon enthusiast recommends these five brands.

If your weekend plans include watching the world’s top 3-year olds make “The Run for the Roses” at Louisville Downs in the 137th Kentucky Derby, you’ll want to stock up on essential supplies -- not the least of is a world-class bourbon. Bourbon and the Kentucky Derby go hand-in-hand, after all; it’s at the heart of the Derby’s signature drink, the mint julep.

Whether you like your bourbon in a mixed drink, neat, or in a sweet little treat called “bourbon balls”, you’ll find dozens of brands from which to choose. The most-popular U.S. brands have long been Jim Beam and Wild Turkey, but hundreds of newer brands and variations of old favorites now compete to win over bourbon aficionados. One of them, writer and bourbon enthusiast Tony Sachs, narrowed down his favorites in an article for the Huffington Post. Here are his Top 5 picks.

1. Four Roses Yellow ($18 to $20, 750ml).

The Four Roses brand was purchased by The Seagram Co. in the 1940s. Since then, the company’s introduced a number of variations on the brand, but as Sachs says, “the standard Four Roses Yellow label is the closest thing to what your gran'pappy might have drunk decades ago.” Four Roses Yellow has notes of vanilla and honey when taken neat. “It's neither overpowering nor too delicate, which makes it nice for sipping or for mixing in cocktails,” he said.

2. Maker’s Mark ($19 to $22, 750ml).

Sachs says his vote for the best bourbon to use for mint juleps is Maker's Mark by Fortune Brands. Though it’s one of the top-selling bourbons in the world, Sachs says buyers should stick with Maker’s Mark only if they intend to make juleps. “Sipped neat or on the rocks, it's got a kind of harshness that imparts a general lack of balance,” he said.

3. Buffalo Trace ($20 to $30, 750ml).

Buffalo Trace is one of the newer brands to enter the market, despite the fact that the Buffalo Trace Distillery has been in operation since its 1857. (There had even been a working distillery on the property distillery 100 years prior!) “Buffalo Trace bourbon seems very sweet to the nose, full of caramel and toffee, which makes its dry, elegant flavor a surprise,” Sachs says. “Add ice and its spicy undertones are unleashed. “ He calls Buffalo Trace “a great everyday bourbon.”

4. Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel ($30 to $40, 750ml).

Sachs’ fourth pick is a pricier brand that is also produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery: Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel. Unlike Maker’s Mark, he recommends savoring the bourbon neat rather than for making mixed drinks. “It's got a delicate, almost floral aroma. Take a sip and you'll get citrus and honey notes, with traces of candied orange peel. It's very smooth, with a rich mouth feel,” he said.

5. Knob Creek ($30 to $40, 750ml).

If Manhattans are your preferred bourbon drink of choice, Knob Creek is the way to go, Sachs said. The 100-proof spirit -- most bourbons are 80- to 90-proof, Sachs says — has tons of flavor without the alcoholic "burn" of other high-proof spirits. “Knob Creek unfolds with each successive sip, revealing notes of caramel, nuts, vanilla, sugar, wood, and even traces of raisins and other fruits,” Sachs said. “It's got a remarkably long finish -- almost an afterglow -- and in a Manhattan it's nothing short of sublime.

See the complete list of Sachs bourbon picks at the Huffington Post.