The 135th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place today at 6pm EST. Billed as the fastest two minutes in sports, I prefer to think of it as the terrible and glorious spectacle immortalized by Hunter S. Thompson. (Note: if you’re not familiar with Hunter Thompson, this is a good place to start. However, if you don’t like teh cussing or disturbing literary brilliance, this may not be the essay for you.)
Of course, no Derby Day is complete without a silly hat and a delicious mint julep. I myself am a bourbon (and sometime scotch) man when it comes to whiskeys (-ies) and, if that’s your inclination, the great Walker Percy, though he states he’s no connoisseur, has a reflective essay on a life measured out in bourbon recollections and an accompanying recipe that can’t be beat. (See warning above, but Percy provides his own:
Not only should connoisseurs of Bourbon not read this article, neither
should persons preoccupied with the perils of alcoholism, cirrhosis,
esophageal hemorrhage, cancer of the palate, and so forth–all real dangers.
I, too, deplore these afflictions. But, as between these evils and the
aesthetic of Bourbon drinking, that is, the use of Bourbon to warm the
heart, to reduce the anomie of the late twentieth century, to cut the cold
phlegm of Wednesday afternoons, I choose the aesthetic. What, after all,
is the use of not having cancer, cirrhosis, and such, if a man comes home
from work every day at five-thirty to the exurbs of Montclair or Memphis
and there is the grass growing and the little family looking not quite at
him but just past the side of his head, and there’s Cronkite on the tube
and the smell of pot roast in the living room, and inside the house and
outside in the pretty exurb has settled the noxious particles and the
sadness of the old dying Western world, and him thinking: ‘Jesus, is this
it? Listening to Cronkite and the grass growing?’
If I should appear to be suggesting that such a man proceed as quickly as
possible to anesthetize his cerebral cortex by ingesting ethyl alcohol,
the point is being missed. Or part of the point. The joy of Bourbon
drinking is not the pharmacological effect of C(2)H(5)OH on the cortex but
rather the instant of the whiskey being knocked back and the little
explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine in the cavity of the nasopharynx and
the hot bosky bite of Tennessee summertime–aesthetic considerations to
which the effect of the alcohol is, if not dispensable, at least secondary.
If mint juleps are not your thing or you want to try something different, raise a glass of Homebrew. Congress declared the first National Homebrew Day on May 7, 1988, but the festive occasion is usually celebrated on the Saturday before. Of course if you live in Alabama and your brew was made with in the confines of the heart of Dixie and you don’t have a manufacturing license from the state ABC Board, you’re breaking the law—a messed up and misguided law, but still the law. I have enjoyed delicious homebrews in many parts of this great country, including Alabama, and I don’t hesitate to ignore absurd laws. Even Jimmy Carter recognized the justice in allowing Americans to make their own beer and wine at home.
If you live in ‘Bama, do yourself a favor and join Free the Hops to help bring an end finally to Prohibition here in the south.