City in A Glass: Louisville

Travel Features Louisville
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Thirsty? You’re in luck. In Paste’s drinking-and-traveling series, City in a Glass, we mix up a city’s signature swills and slide them down the bar to readers. Grab a stool. This round is on us.


Going to Louisville

and not sipping bourbon is like going to Russia and not getting sloshed on vodka. Why did you go at all? Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon, so when you’re there, you’re expected to drink it. For the uninitiated, bourbon is a particular type of whiskey that, by law, must be distilled in the U.S. from a grain mixture that is mostly corn. It is then aged in new, charred oak barrels and bottled at at least 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume). “Straight” bourbon is aged for at least two years and does not contain any additives like coloring or flavorings.

Since Kentucky is bourbon country, Louisville is its honorary capital. (Frankfort is the real state capital of Kentucky, but just go with us on this.) And while some cool bars have opened in Louisville recently to suggest the merits of other spirits, like El Camino’s focus on tequila, bourbon is still king. On this city drinks tour, we’re going to show you where to get a few modern and one classic—nay, ancient!—bourbon cocktails. Here are three drinks indicative of Louisville and where to get them.

1. Proof Positive

Where to order: Proof on Main

Art isn’t the only rare good found at the hip 21c Museum Hotel. Its bar, Proof on Main, stocks more than 75 artisanal bourbons, many coming from small-batch distillers and some even bottled exclusively for the hotel. The cocktail list is also a thing of wonder. Many of the bourbon-filled drinks are inspired by current museum exhibits. As a bonus, you are welcome to take your drink into the museum to sip on your cocktail while admiring the art.

One of Proof on Main’s signature drinks is the Proof Positive (pictured above), which is composed of bourbon, Italian aromatized wine, bitters and Kentucky sorghum syrup. (Sorghum syrup is a Southern staple, a molasses-like sweetener made from the sorghum plant.) “The Proof Positive is a variation that straddles the line between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan,” beverage director Chea Beckley says. “It has rich herbal and earthy tones.” Beckley uses Old Forester Signature bourbon due to its strength (100 proof) and balance of wood and spices. He adds an herbaceous and floral quality to the cocktail with the aromatized wine and an earthy sweetness to the drink with Kentucky sorghum syrup. Orange bitters are used to brighten the whole thing up.

Proof Positive

2 oz. Old Forester Signature
½ oz. Cocchi Americano Rosa
¼ oz. diluted sorghum syrup (1 part syrup to 1 part hot water)
2 dashes house aromatic bitters (or another aromatic bitter such as Angostura)
2 dashes Fee Brothers West Indies Orange Bitters

Dilute the sorghum syrup, 1 part syrup to 1 part hot water. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir. Strain into a rocks glass with one large cube. Garnish with an orange twist and Luxardo cherry. 


2. Garage Bar Ginger Shandy

Where to order: Garage Bar

Drinks are a little more casual at Garage Bar, a popular watering hole located in a former auto service center. Here, you can drink your Kentucky bourbon while playing ping pong outside or warming up in front of the wood-fired pizza oven. One of the bar’s most requested drinks is its Ginger Shandy, a low-brow “beertail” made of bourbon, draft Pabst Blue Ribbon and ginger syrup. General manager Maggie Smith says it tastes “slightly sweet and bubbly. Like a ginger ale with a kick.” And it’s simple to replicate at home.

Ginger Shandy.jpeg
Photo courtesy Garage Bar

Garage Bar Ginger Shandy

½ pint Pabst Blue Ribbon
½ oz. Kentucky Tavern bourbon
1 oz. ginger syrup (recipe below)

Make ginger syrup: Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and ¼ lb. ginger, peeled and sliced, in a saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain.

Make drink: Combine beer, bourbon and ginger syrup in a pint glass filled with ice. Top with Sprite. Garnish with a lemon wedge.


3. Mint Julep

Where to order: The Silver Dollar

Even though the Kentucky Derby isn’t until May, we weren’t going to let you escape Louisville without the fan-favorite mint julep. Every year during the epic race weekend known as Run for the Roses, bartenders mix up nearly 120,000 mint juleps for the Churchill Downs crowds. Yes, 120,000. Luckily, the drink only contains three ingredients—bourbon, mint and sugar. It is served over crushed ice in a silver cup, as it has been served in Louisville for nearly a century.

Mint Julep.jpeg
Photo courtesy The Silver Dollar/Yelp

The Silver Dollar bar, modeled after an old-school juke joint from the 1930s, is known for its stellar cocktails, including its classic mint julep. Many of its drinks incorporate Kentucky ingredients (in addition to bourbon) such as local peaches, Quills Coffee cold brew or even Ale-8-One cola. But the bar doesn’t complicate its mint julep, only slightly straying from the original recipe by using demerara (a.k.a. “raw” sugar) syrup in place of the white sugar. The demerara gives The Silver Dollar’s version a bit of a maple flavor.

Mint Julep

2 oz. Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon
6 fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp. demerara syrup (recipe below)

Make demerara syrup: Combine 1 cup demerara or turbinado sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Make drink: Combine bourbon, mint and syrup in a silver julep cup. Gently crush the mint with a barspoon. Fill the cup with crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint and straw.


City in a Glass columnist Alyson Sheppard writes about travel and hangovers for She currently resides in the great state of Texas.