Interviews

Published on May 3rd, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz

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Old Forester’s Jackie Zykan On Bourbon, Louisville & This Year’s Kentucky Derby Cocktails

The Kentucky Derby is widely-known as “the greatest two minutes in sports,” and Old Forester is one of the brands that is synonymous with the world-famous horse race. The 2018 Kentucky Derby takes place this Saturday, May 5th at Louisville’s Churchill Downs, and there is a purse of $2 million at stake for those racing. Those on-site at Churchill Downs are likely to enjoy an adult beverage or two, and one of the more popular cocktails among locals and visitors alike is the Old Forester Mint Julep.

To learn more about the Old Forester Mint Julep, I had the pleasure of speaking with Old Forester master taster Jackie Zykan. More on Zykan’s brand can be found online at www.oldforester.com.

When in your life did you first become interested in the Kentucky Derby?

Jackie Zykan: Even prior to living in Louisville, I remember caravans of friends and bar regulars heading down to Kentucky to attend the Derby. It was always described to me as an experience like no other, and details of years’ past fully supported that. There were always infield stories which are quite… Colorful, to say the least.

Once I moved to Louisville, “Derby” became a season of booming business for the bar I was managing, and the week/weekend of Derby became one of no sleep and people watching. There is an energy in the city you can feel that starts about two weeks out. But I always worked! I had never actually been to the Derby until I began working with Old Forester.

What is it about the Derby that goes so well with bourbon? Or specifically Old Forester?

Jackie Zykan: You cannot separate the Derby from Kentucky, and you can’t separate Kentucky from bourbon. Both are so ingrained in the culture of our state. There is a common denominator of mineral rich water, which is credited for producing exceptional bourbon as well as fast horses. Looking at it from a historical perspective, Old Forester has been Louisville’s hometown bourbon since 1870, five years before the start of the Derby, and has been available the entire time. There is a reason Old Forester Mint Julep is the official julep that you sip at the track.

What is a day like for you at the Derby? Are you yourself doing entertaining on-site?

Jackie Zykan: Derby day is the culmination of a year’s worth of preparation, with the month prior being incredibly intense. As we are involved on the sponsorship side of the Derby, we have a large presence at the track and offsite throughout the country. The week of Derby is full of media appearances at the track and off site in studios, usually starting around 4:00 AM. By Derby day, we are all running on fumes of coffee and adrenaline, but as soon as they play “My Old Kentucky Home” you feel a sense of place. It’s a moment you don’t forget, to be there on-site, julep in hand, dressed in your finest, and hearing the pounding of the hooves. There really is nothing like it, and every ounce of work and every hour of lost sleep is well worth it to be present in that moment.

Derby aside, what is coming up for Old Forester?

Jackie Zykan: Old Forester is coming home! We are officially opening the Old Forester Distilling Co. on June 14, 2018, on Whiskey Row in the heart of downtown Louisville. This is unlike any other distillery in Kentucky, as it is a full production facility with a cooperage on site, which has never been done before. We are actually returning to the exact same building we were based in from 1881-1919 under the leadership of our founder, George Garvin Brown. Needless to say, this is truly an epic moment for us. I am particularly excited because the new distillery will feature a cocktail lab, which will essentially be my office. Come see us!

In bourbon news, we are bringing back an old tradition of Old Forester by offering President’s Choice, which is a bourbon hand-selected by Old Forester President Campbell Brown and myself. This will only be on sale at the distillery — even more of a reason to stop by!

Finally, Jackie, any last words for the kids?

Jackie Zykan: Celebrate accordingly this Derby season, but remember to do so responsibly. It’s a short race but a long day, make sure to include water, neat or on the rocks. And if you’re throwing a get together for Derby, keep in mind Juleps aren’t the only items on brand for the day. Louisville has a very defined food culture and classic offerings such as Benedictine and Hot Browns can also help keep you on pace.


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About the Author

is a New York resident (and Long Island native) with over 15 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. In the years following, he worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer.Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World, TheStreet.com, Format Magazine, Businessweek, The Improper, the L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. He has been a member of the SATW and the IFWTWA organizations as a food and travel writer.Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host the recently-launched "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" podcast, as co-produced with PureGrainAudio.


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