Drinks with Pat: Women and Whiskey

Pat Evans

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 nice 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 regularly scheduled programming.

There’s a really cool whiskey event in Grand Rapids this weekend.

At Margaux in the JW Marriott (one of GR Mag’s Five that Thrive earlier this year in our Best Restaurants issue) there is the Jdek Whiskey Barrel Party at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The party is a release of the restaurant’s private barrel. It’s an extension of Margaux’s regular Women and Whiskey events, which feature Marker’s Mark National Accounts Manager Greta Harper.

I caught up with Margaux General Manager Caitlin Hoop to see what the barrel program is all about.

Pat: Where did the idea come from for the private barrel?

Caitlin Hoop: Margaux had an event pre-COVID, Women and Whiskey, but we wanted to regroup and reconfigure (it). Last November, we partnered with Greta Harper from Maker’s Mark. She’s super (knowledgeable), super badass. We did a whole dinner and then we cultivated this relationship and did a series of classes and presented this idea of creating our private selection barrel.

So we had a group of us, myself included, go down to Maker’s Mark in January, and went through the process, got a tour of breathtaking campus, and saw how their process goes and how they create the product that is ubiquitous. For it being so recognizable with that red wax cap, so much they still do (is) by hand.

Every single bottle is hand-dipped. Every label is cut by hand. There is so much care and thought that goes into the product. Even with the property itself, I didn’t know it was a National Historic Landmark, considered a Natural Water Sanctuary. It was breathtaking and amazing.

All their cellars are limestone. All the water is limestone filtered, and decades ago, they hand cut into the limestone, so that’s where their cellar and barrels all are, and that’s where the room was (where) we get to go and build our own blend. Each barrel contains cask strength Maker’s Mark.

Then, we got to select a custom selection of 10 wood finishing staves to hang out in the barrel. (It hung) out for nine weeks, and then it was delivered. We got to keep the barrel and all 250 of the bottles. Some say Margaux, and some say JW Marriott.

Pat: So what staves did you select, what’s the taste profile of the Margaux whiskey?

CH: You get 10, and there are five to choose from. There was a formula we picked. It was our combination, and we got to blend it right there. It was very much a black cherry cola taste to it, and it stood out against the rest. We wanted something wonderful on its own and great in a cocktail. Myself and our assistant GM, who was there, immediately thought it would be great in a Manhattan.

They taught us about the wood and that every time they make a bourbon, crafting a new bourbon is part science and art, but it’s all passion. If you do the math, there’s thousands of various combinations for their private selection barrel program, so there’s nothing else like this.

We have it behind our bar and (are) throwing the party on Saturday to let them know we have a barrel and have this fun experience. We also are going to have it available in the hotel, so if there’s a private event or wedding, this could be something that is added on that is unlike anything else.

Pat: So what’s next with the Women and Whiskey events?

CH: This is a one-off event because the barrel arrived. We’re just so excited and want everyone to try it.

After the event in November, we continued on, but instead of the dinner, every other month, Greta would come, and there was a happy hour to start off and then a cocktail class (where) she (walked us) through the process.

They are themed. The one we kicked off in January, we did Valentine’s cocktails, then in March, the first taste of spring. Then we just did one in May and have this barrel launch this month. Then, we’ll start those classes back up in July. As soon as this barrel launch happens, we’ll bring out new classes. It’s the third Thursday of every other month.

What’s Pat drinking?

Ahead of The “Water of Life” documentary debut on PBS, I’ve been sipping on the Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Single Malt Scotch. It’s delicious. (The movie should be available on PBS streaming until July 6 and soon on other platforms.)

The documentary focuses on the “craftsmen, chemists and renegades at the heart of the whisky revolution that turned the stagnant scotch whisky industry of the 1980s into the titan it is today.”

If you like whisky, or whiskey, I highly suggest giving it a watch.

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