The bourbon boom that exploded onto the spirits scene earlier this decade continues unabated. Seen as recently as the late-2000s as something only your father — or your grandfather — drank, the corn-based, oak-barrel-aged American whiskey is now the darling of millennials. As a result, bourbon production is the highest it’s been in more than 50 years and bourbon bars, featuring new and classic cocktails, can be found throughout the United States.
Here on Grand Cayman, Seven Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman created a happy hour several years ago featuring a list of craft bourbon cocktails for CI$7 each and the daily event is still going strong.
To recognise bourbon’s renaissance, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman recently bought a whole barrel of unblended Woodford Reserve bourbon and had it bottled with customised branding.
Amba Lamb, the beverage manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said she got the idea when she saw similar branding on a bottle of Patrón tequila and had the distributor reach out to some producers to see if similar customised branding was available with top bourbons. Woodford Reserve said yes.
The bourbons provided for Woodford’s Private Selection programme are unique, so the first step was to choose one.
“They sent us a tasting kit with samples from three barrels,” said Lamb, noting that the samples were all undiluted, so they had higher levels of alcohol — above 61 per cent — than the normal Woodford Reserve. The tasting panel consisted of members of The Ritz-Carlton management, bartenders and servers.
“First we did a blind tasting of the three bourbons; then we tasted them in a cocktail,” Lamb said.
All three samples were different from each other; sample A was spicy with a dark fruit character and hints of caramel and vanilla; sample B had sweet wood aromatics with hints of dark chocolate and smoke; and sample C was sweet, nutty and malty with a hint of toasted coconut.
“I thought sample C, with the hints of toasted coconut, would be the winner, but in the end, we chose sample B,” said Lamb.
The custom branding was limited in the number of characters allowed, so instead of saying, “The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman,” the label reads “Seven at The Ritz-Carlton.”
“We chose Seven because it’s the bourbon-centric restaurant,” Lamb said, noting however, that the bourbon is available throughout the hotel’s bars and restaurants.
In April, the Ritz-Carlton received its shipment of 180 custom-label bottles of bourbon, which, as Woodford explains in its tasting kit, “Never can be replicated. This is the point; Woodford Reserve Personal Selection is personal.”
Tasted side by side, the Ritz-Carlton’s private label bourbon is softer and a little sweeter than regular Woodford Reserve bourbon.
“It really is quite different,” Lamb said, adding that the private label bourbon really shines in Old Fashioned and Manhattan cocktails. The bourbon was also featured in the welcome cocktail at the Father’s Day brunch in June.