by Terry Baxter, Member Since 2002
Woodford Reserve. It was the first. Your Ocean Reef beverage team chose Woodford Reserve as their first foray into a private bottling of Ocean Reef spirits. It was an inspired choice: the oldest distillery site in Kentucky, the only Bourbon producer that owns its own cooperage to ensure the proper char and American oak barrels essential to Bourbon production, and a premium whiskey flowing from authentic copper pot stills. It is hard to believe that it was five years ago that we first enjoyed a Woodward Reserve Ocean Reef private label blended by our own team of tasters, guided by Woodford’s Master Distiller.
Last week we arrived at the Ocean Reef Cooking School to find tables graced with four more vintages of Ocean Reef selections, each blended anew from a wide choice of barrels, each distinctive and memorable in its own way. Sean Carroll was again our knowledgeable Emcee. He had personally participated in each of the private label tasting sessions. “I know the brand intimately,” Sean said, “I drink Woodford every day – don’t tell my bosses.” It will be our secret, Sean.
As usual for the Cooking School Spirit Dinners, each Bourbon sample was paired with a matching menu served family style. But first, a welcome cocktail, crafted by our renowned mixologist from the Reef Lounge, Luke Jones. He reformulated the classic recipe for a Sidecar. The Paris Ritz claims to have invented the Sidecar during World War I, and it has been popular ever since. Traditionally a Sidecar is a mix of Cognac, Orange Liquor, and lemon juice. Luke substituted Woodward Reserve for the Cognac and sugared the glass’s rim. It was an instant crowd pleaser.
Dinner, under the steady hand of Executive Chef Andrea Van Willigan, was a perfect southern feast to accompany Kentucky’s best spirit. A warm bacon salad with braised pork belly, was followed by Bourbon Langoustines (Bourbon glazed lobster and shrimp) and stone ground grits. Then a turntable of southern favorites: Sweet Tea fried chicken, skillet cornbread, three-cheese mac & cheese, and braised collard greens. To finish it all off, a beautiful, lacey funnel cake with Bourbon caramel ice cream (yikes)!
My only complaint was the apparent high rate of evaporation in my Bourbon glass. The newest (the fifth!) Woodford Reserve Ocean Reef Club private Bourbon is available in Club outlets and Port O’Call. It is labeled “Double Oak,” because it has been aged a second time in a new barrel. I am proud to have a collection of all five bottles, some of it not even yet “evaporated.”