Vintage Ad Archive: Kentucky Derby Edition!

AlcProfDerbyHeader_1
AlcProfDerbyHeader_1

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most famous sporting events in the world, an event that's akin to a legal holiday in Kentucky and much of the American South.  And though it's often been referred to as "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports", there's much more to the Derby than what occurs between the rising of the gates and the crowning of the winner.  Much in the way that Mardi Gras in New Orleans isn't limited to Fat Tuesday, the annual running of the Derby gives rise to an entire season of celebration and pageantry – it's not just about the race itself, but the traditions and ceremony that surround it.

Of course, Derby Season is also a time of widespread exultant imbibing!  Kentucky Bourbon isn't just the key ingredient in the traditional Derby beverage, the Mint Julep, but the spirit has also helped spread the race's gospel around the world – numerous distilleries have run Derby-centric ad campaigns over the years, and for this installment of my Vintage Ad articles, I've dug deep into my files and selected some of the best for your perusal.

AlcProfDerbyCreamOfKY1941
AlcProfDerbyCreamOfKY1941

Each different company took a slightly different approach.

Some tried to pull rank and claim seniority.

AlcProfDerbyPaulJones1935 copy
AlcProfDerbyPaulJones1935 copy

And Kunz's steakhouse in downtown Louisville even used a race-themed label design for their house Bourbon.

AlcProfDerbyOldSportLABEL
AlcProfDerbyOldSportLABEL

But it hasn't just been the local companies that have used the race as fodder for their advertisements.  Maryland's Lord Calvert distillery noticed Bourbon getting all the attention, and wanting a piece of the action, released their own Derby-themed ad.

AlcProfDerbyLordCalvert1939
AlcProfDerbyLordCalvert1939

Seagram's, recognizing a good thing, tried a similar trick.

AlcProfDerbySeagrams1959
AlcProfDerbySeagrams1959

Similarly, Corby's (a Canadian-styled Illinois Whiskey) and Fleischmann's (based in New York), noted the promotional value of the Derby and used it as the basis for their own campaigns.

New York's PM found a novel way to cash in: they featured a Triple Crown winner in an advertisement, giving the Derby a passing mention while focusing on a meaningless exhibition race.

AlcProfDerbyPM1951
AlcProfDerbyPM1951

Not wanting to let the distilleries have all the fun, even beer companies got in on the Churchill Downs action!

But possibly the oddest twist was when Puerto Rico claimed their own piece of the horse-racing pie, and released an ad based around an invented Rum cocktail called "The Derby Daiquiri".

AlcProfDerbyRum1959
AlcProfDerbyRum1959

Realizing the visual impact, the Kentucky Derby itself incorporated a frosted Julep cup into their own promotions.

Kentucky Derby press book, 1969
Kentucky Derby press book, 1969

So this weekend, gather some friends, grab a bottle of your favorite Beer or Bourbon, and settle in to watch the race…  Only one colt will take home the Derby Trophy, but with the right cocktails at our disposal, we'll all be winners!

Burger Beer, date uncertain
Burger Beer, date uncertain
(Author's note: extra-special thanks goes out to Brian Yesowitch for his assistance researching this article.)