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How much bourbon does it take to make a winning Derby burger?

Williams, who works for El Toro, an internet targeting company, is now the two-time winner of the Derby Burger Champion competition, the only cooking competition associated with the Derby and now in its sixth year. The competition is sponsored by the Kentucky Beef Council and coordinated by the Kentucky Derby Festival. The March 20 cook-off was held at the Kroger in Middletown, just east of Louisville. Williams' winning recipe will be available to try at Kroger's Fest-a-Ville during its nine-day run April 27 through May 5, at BeerFest on May 3 in Louisville, and as a featured menu item at Louisville's Napa River Grill.

Scott Wisdom of Blendex Company didn't place in last year's Kentucky Derby Festival competition, but he took third place this year with his Mint Julep Bacon Cheeseburger, featuring candied bacon made with bourbon syrup. The Mint Julep Bacon Cheeseburger was the second effort for Scott Wisdom, quality control manager at Blendex in Jeffersontown. Blendex specializes in custom batters, breadings, marinades, sauces and rubs.

Wisdom prefers Lexington's Town Branch bourbon for his recipe, in which bacon is glazed with a bourbon syrup to give a sweet and salty flavor to the top of the burger.

Technically, Wisdom said, it's his second year entering the burger. Last year it did not place: "I didn't even get a call saying they liked this." Wisdom picked up cooking after a childhood when "I really thought I was related to someone named Gatti's or Papa John," he said. Eventually, Wisdom said, "I started experimenting, and here we are with a third-place burger." Next year, he plans to enter again. But for now, Wisdom said, his colleagues at Blendex may have another plan for him: Cater the company picnic.


1 cup warm water

1 ounce bourbon (Wisdom comments: "You can make it 2, just sample remaining 1 ounce for quality assurance purposes.")

2 ½ cups sugar

1 bunch of mint, separated

½ lb. thick-cut center-cut bacon

1 lb. 80/20 ground beef

2 slices Swiss cheese

"Handful" torn basil

½ cup mayonnaise/aioli

Juice of ½ lemon

2 ciabatta rolls

¼ cup mixed greens

Salt and pepper to taste

Add water, bourbon and sugar to a small pot over low heat, creating a simple syrup. Roll ¾ of the bunch of mint into a tight ball, bruising the leaves and releasing the mint oils. Add to the syrup and allow to steep. Cook syrup until it coats the back of a spoon, and allow it to cool slightly. Separate bacon slices and pat dry. Dredge each strip in the simple syrup, coating thoroughly, and cook bacon as normal. During cooking process, baste each strip with more syrup until a nice crust forms. Just before service, add a final coat of syrup. Take remaining mint leaves and chiffonade into very thin ribbons and add about a tablespoon to ground beef. Separate ground beef into two patties and season liberally with salt and pepper. After letting the patties rest for 20 minutes, cook on an open fire/charcoal grill until medium rare. When patties are turned, add the sliced cheese and allow to melt. While burgers are grilling, finely chop 2 large basil leaves and mix into mayonnaise along with lemon juice (add juice slowly to your taste) Toast ciabatta rolls and slather mayonnaise on the bottom half of the roll. Top this with remaining basil and mixed greens. Add patties and top with the bacon and more mayonnaise. If you are feeling fancy, spear the top of the roll with a mint sprig.

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