The next time you’re in Bloomingdale’s Boundary Stone, look up. Stacked on top of the backshelf are 30 cases of bourbon whiskey, or 180 bottles, made exclusively for the bar by Woodford Reserve. Each bottle is labeled “Boundary Stone Select” and is a mixture of whiskeys, handpicked by owners Matt and Gareth Croke.
Because this is a specialty blend, the Croke brothers say it’s best to order the whiskey neat. The drink tastes sweet with subtle notes of spice.
And if you’re looking to get a sample of a few other one-of-a-kind whiskeys, you won’t have to go very far. Three other restaurants in D.C.—The Dubliner, Sixth Engine, and Town Hall (all from the same group of owners, who are friends of the Croke brothers)—also have their own blends of Woodford Reserve behind the bar.
The Town Hall label is the most approachable in flavor with a slight hint of vanilla and caramel, while The Dubliner version is smooth and drinks like an Irish whiskey.
It’s really not that common for a bar to get its own blend of whiskey, says Sixth Engine owner Jeremy Carman. (Although the restaurant group behind Founding Farmers and Farmers Fishers Bakers also has its own whiskey, as well as a soon-to-be released gin.) Thanks in part to a connection through one of Carman’s friends, the owners of the four restaurants were able to take part in the barrel selection program at Woodford Reserve distillery in Versailles, Ky. In mid-August, they took a 24-hour trip from D.C. to the distillery to sample cask whiskeys straight from the barrel and get a behind-the-scenes tour with plant manager, Todd Rowe. Woodford Reserve is the oldest and smallest distillery in Kentucky currently in operation, and their claim to fame is water from a limestone creek, which is used in the distilling process.
The guys sat down to a selection process that started with 24 barrels, taken from the same rick house where barrels are stacked to the ceiling. Each barrel takes on different characteristics depending on where it was stored and move and temperature differences, Carman says. In the final selection, the guys selected their top six favorites, which were then whittled down to a few finalists.
While many think of Woodford as a global brand, largely because it is owned by American spirits-giant Brown-Forman, the production volume is actually quite small. Woodford produces about 120 barrels a week, which is hundreds less than Brown-Forman’s other brand, Jack Daniels.
“The most amazing thing about the tour is you can feel the history. The whole time we were geeking out. What we really want to do is make this an annual thing,” Carman says.
Last week, the 180 bottle shipment came into each restaurant along with an original barrel. Boundary Stone’s owners say they plan to give their empty cask to DC Brau for brewing, and Sixth Engine is donating its barrel to 3 Stars Brewing Company to make another aged-porter beer.
The Sixth Engine whiskey is being used mainly in the bar’s cocktail recipes, like the one called The Buck Hunter, a take on a whiskey buck. The drink mixes the whiskey with lime juice, fizz, ginger syrup, cider molasses, and black walnut bitters.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, Sixth Engine chef Paul Madrid said he’s working on a menu that will pair nicely with Sixth Engine’s whiskey. They’re hoping by November, all four of the restaurants can come together to showcase their bottles at a tasting dinner.
Photo of Woodford Reserve distillery courtesy Sixth Engine