By Sara Havens, “The Bar Belle”

Master Distiller Brent Elliott and Sara Havens at Flower Hour in 2016.

Springtime (make that fall for this crazy year) in Kentucky is all about one thing and one thing only — the Kentucky Derby. Every native knows that along with the hats, the horses and the hometown pride, Derby time brings with it a rebirth of the Mint Julep cocktail.

I chatted with Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott recently to discuss cocktails, bartenders and, of course, Four Roses.

Right out of the gate, we posed the question: Old Fashioned or Mint Julep? It’s a tough decision for most Kentuckians, but Brent wasn’t fazed. He prefaced it with a little insight on what exactly he imbibes at home.

“I don’t like cocktails if they’re not bourbon-forward,” he admitted. “In fact, 95% of the time when I’m drinking bourbon, I’m drinking it neat, sometimes on the rocks.”

There’s a time and place for cocktails, Brent added, and he loves to try them when they’re being created by talented mixologists. But his preference leans toward the classic Old Fashioned.

“That’s my go-to,” he said.

That’s not to say Brent turns his nose up at the Mint Julep. It’s quite the opposite.

“Especially around Derby, I love a Mint Julep,” he explained. “Because it’s seasonal, I think that adds to the charm of it. Most of us only have it around Derby time, so it has a lot of memories associated with it — of Kentucky in the spring, the big race, the parties, the people. So, the Mint Julep carries more weight than just sugar, mint and bourbon.”

Of course, Four Roses makes a mean Mint Julep because of its high-rye recipe and higher proof, especially if you’re making it with Small Batch or Single Barrel. For cocktails, you want a bourbon that bounds out of gate, takes the lead over the ingredients, and commands that lead until the finish line.

“We get a lot of feedback from bartenders,” Brent said. “They love using Four Roses because it doesn’t fold under the influence of other ingredients. It can stand up and give the cocktail structure — a good bourbon character.”

Since Derby 2020 will now take place in September, let’s raise a toast — whether it’s an Old Fashioned or Mint Julep — to Four Roses.