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Does McDonald's Burger Capture the 'Spirit of Kentucky?' (Depends on Who You Ask.)

It’s Derby Week, when the whole city of Louisville erupts in very “Kentucky” pastimes—drinking bourbon, eating pimento cheese and and singing “My Old Kentucky Home” before the big race.

And local McDonald’s franchisees of fast food behemoth McDonalds say they’ve incorporated the Derby-time spirit of the commonwealth into their new burger.

The Spirit of Kentucky Burger is a hamburger offered through the end of May at 99 McDonald's locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

First—in case you were wondering—the burger is 100 percent beef. It’s got bourbon-flavored sauce, bacon, white cheddar cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato.

“We got together in Louisville, and we though, a Derby Burger, a Bourbon Burger… What would that look like around Derby time?" said Steve Stratton, a local McDonalds owner.

For Susan Reigler, a Kentucky bourbon and cuisine expert, the answer isn’t the Spirit of Kentucky burger.

“I think it’s only marginally less blasphemous than veggie sliders from White Castle,” she said.

“If you’re going to be going to McDonald’s for a meal, you kind of know what you’re getting yourself in for anyway. But if you’re really looking for authentic flavors of Kentucky, that probably wouldn’t be at the top of the list.”

Instead, Reigler suggested incorporating Kentucky-grown beef, bourbon and a corn-based bun for another take on a Kentucky burger.

McDonald’s new Spirit of Kentucky burger comes along as the chain is trying to put a classier spin on its sandwiches nationwide. The company just introduced an “artisan” chicken sandwich, too.

Stratton said the McDonald's corporation is encouraging local franchises to experiment and develop their own products.

That, after all, is how some of the chain’s classics, including the Big Mac, got started. Though there’s innovation going on around the country, Stratton said he believes the Spirit of Kentucky Burger is unique.

“People have done just variations of our regular burger,” he said. “No one’s really developed a sauce like we have here. We taste-tested every single product.”


Grind Burger Kitchen co-owner and operator Liz Huot said she believes this McDonald’s foray into regional and higher-end specialties misses the mark. After all, she said the beauty of the company’s strategy is consistency: that you can get the same food anywhere in the country—or the world.

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