Editor’s Note: Before jumping into this week’s Drinks with Pat, I just want to let you know that Grand Rapids Magazine makes a great appearance in the new Paramount+ movie “Jerry and Marge Go Large” starring Bryan Cranston and Annette Benning. It’s a cute movie. Go watch it! Now, to your regular programming.
There’s a really cool whiskey event in Grand Rapids this weekend.
At Margaux in the JW Marriott (one of five from GR Mag that thrived earlier this year in our Best Restaurants issue), there’s the Jdek whiskey barrel party at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The party is an outing from the restaurant’s private barrel. It’s an expansion of Margaux’s regular Women and Whiskey events, which feature Marker’s National Account Manager Greta Harper.
I caught up with Margaux General Manager Caitlin Hoop to see what the barrel program is all about.
Tap: Where did the idea of the private barrel come from?
Caitlin Hoop: Margaux had a pre-COVID event, Women and Whiskey, but we wanted to regroup and reconfigure it. Last November, we teamed up with Greta Harper from Maker’s Mark. She’s super (knowledgeable), super badass. We had a whole dinner and then we cultivated that relationship and took a series of classes and presented this idea of creating our private selection barrel.
So we had a group of us, myself included, who went to Maker’s Mark in January, and went through the process, took a tour of a jaw-dropping campus, and saw how their process is and how they create the product that is ubiquitous. So that it is so recognizable with this red wax plug, so much they do (is) still by hand.
Each bottle is dipped by hand. Each label is cut by hand. There is so much care and thought put into the product. Even with the property itself, I had no idea it was a National Historic Landmark, considered a natural water sanctuary. It was breathtaking and amazing.
All their cellars are made of limestone. All the water is limestone filtered, and decades ago they cut the limestone by hand, so that’s where their cellar and barrels are, and that’s where the room was ( where) we can go and build our own mix. Each barrel contains the barrel strength maker’s mark.
Next, we had to select a custom selection of 10 wooden finishing staves to drag into the barrel. (It dragged) for nine weeks, then it was delivered. We have to keep the barrel and the 250 bottles. Some say Margaux, others say JW Marriott.
Tap: So which litters have you selected, what is the taste profile of Margaux whisky?
CH: You get 10, and there are five to choose from. There was a formula that we chose. It was our combination, and we had to mix it up here. It was definitely a black cherry cola flavor, and it stood out from the rest. We wanted something wonderful on its own and great in a cocktail. Myself and our Assistant General Manager, who was there, immediately thought it would be great in a Manhattan.
They taught us about wood and every time they make a bourbon, making a new bourbon is science and art, but it’s passion. If you do the math, there are thousands of different combinations for their private selection barrel program, so there’s nothing else like it.
We have it behind our bar and are having the party on Saturday to let them know we have a barrel and have this fun experience. We will also be making it available in the hotel, so if there is a private event or wedding it could be something unlike anything else.
Tap: So what’s next with the Women and Whiskey events?
CH: This is a one-time event because the barrel has arrived. We are so excited and want everyone to try it.
After the November event, we continued, but instead of dinner, every two months Greta would come, and there was a happy hour to start, then a cocktail class (where) she (guided) everything throughout the process.
They are thematic. The one we launched in January, we made the cocktails for Valentine’s Day, then in March, the first taste of spring. Then we just did one in May and we launched this barrel this month. Then we will resume these classes in July. As soon as this barrel launch takes place, we will be releasing new classes. It’s the third Thursday of every other month.
What is Pat drinking?
Before the PBS documentary “Water of Life” debuted, I sipped the Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Single Malt Scotch. This is delicious. (The film is expected to be available on PBS for streaming until July 6 and soon on other platforms.)
The documentary focuses on the “artisans, chemists and renegades at the heart of the whiskey revolution that transformed the stagnant Scotch whiskey industry of the 1980s into the titan it is today”.
If you like whiskey or whiskey, I strongly suggest you get him a watch.