History was made in Hempstead last Saturday, as American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winning thoroughbred in 37 years. Of course, it’s hard to separate horse racing from that other American pastime so intricately bonded to it: bourbon drinking. To commemorate the event’s 147th rendition, Knob Creek — the official whiskey brand of the Belmont Stakes — released a limited edition bottle in several markets across the country, including New York.
Given the momentous outcome of the race, these specially-labeled bottles have become history themselves, flying off the shelves of local liquor stores. If you come across the blue-checkered package, don’t be so speedy to crack it open; it will likely be worth more on the mantle than it will in the snifter.
To be sure, apart from that colorful label, there’s nary a difference between the special release and traditional Knob Creek bourbon. Both are respectable, 100 proof whiskies aged in Jim Beam’s Kentucky barrelhouses for no less than 9 years. Until last weekend, both were priced in the neighborhood of $35 per 750ml. Expect that price to go up in the case of the Belmont bottle, as supply becomes increasingly scant.
Remember that in the world of bourbon, how a bottle is perceived drives the pricepoint far more than the actual juice itself. Look no further than ‘Pappy Van Winkle‘ as proof positive. The world’s most sought after American spirit commands prices north of $2000, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “Pappy Mania.” Yet it’s produced at Buffalo Trace Distillery, where the exact same whiskey (save 2-3 years of barrel-aging) can be purchased for well under $100 when it comes in a bottle dressed in a less-hallowed label.
Will the 2015 Belmont edition Knob Creek ever ascend to the rare stratosphere occupied by the whiskies Van Winkle? Hell no. But people always want what they can’t have, particularly when it comes to good bourbon. And given its now-historic subtext, the special release Knob Creek might soon be as uncommon as a Triple Crown winning racehorse.
In any case, Knob Creek bourbon is an excellent Kentucky export and can be enjoyed neat, to highlight it’s bold flashes of oak and vanilla, or in a mixed drink, such as the Belmont Jewel, the race’s official cocktail. The painless combination of 1 1/2 parts bourbon, two parts lemonade and one part pomegranate juice is a sweet way to celebrate American Pharoah’s crowning achievement in our own backyard.