Brown Water

NEAT: Woodford Reserve

Brown Water
Images By: Graham Yelton Words By: Rosalind Fournier

A year like 2024—which marks the twentieth anniversary of Alys Beach—calls for a toast, and not just any beverage will do. In honor of this milestone, a team from Alys Beach led by Director of Events Alexis Miller and Director of Beverage Austin Doiron traveled to Versailles, Kentucky last December to hand select a one-of-a-kind, single-barrel bourbon from Woodford Reserve to present on the occasion of this year’s annual Alys Beach Derby Party. It’s the perfect link between Alys Beach and Woodford Reserve, which is also the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby. 

“In honor of our twentieth anniversary, we’re doing a lot of special things for our owners and employees, and we thought an exclusive barrel pick would be a great tie-in with this year’s Derby,” Alexis says. 

Woodford Reserve was a natural selection, Austin says. The brand has shown a notably consistent presence with Alys Beach’s signature festivals and events, including Woodford’s participation in the annual 30A Wine Festival’s Bourbon, Beer, and Butts events. Woodford contributed to the inaugural Alys Beach Crafted festival in 2022 as a contributing sponsor, additionally hosting highly curated experiences for guests including an innovative sensory dining experience and a pairing dinner featuring Woodford bourbons and a hand-crafted specialty cocktail.

Expanding upon this relationship, Austin and Alexis connected with the famed distillery to arrange a Woodford “personal selection,” which invites clients to visit the historic distillery and taste their craft, small-batch bourbons for a customized barrel selection. “Woodford only releases so many single-barrel bourbons a year,” Austin explains. “It’s limited. Being able to personally select the barrel gives you an even better appreciation of the product.”

Their pilgrimage to Kentucky included not only Woodford Reserve but another storied distillery, Old Forester in Louisville. Both are owned by Brown-Forman Corporation, with which Alys Beach works closely to bring several of the company’s labels to Alys Beach for special events and experiences, and as part of the carefully culled selections offered for purchase at NEAT Bottle Shop and on the menus at NEAT Tasting Room and the Beach Club. According to Alexis, having the opportunity to visit both distilleries provided distinctly unique experiences, each growing her appreciation for the different products and brands.

These distilleries each boast rich and engaging histories, their properties and processes steeped in legends and stories. Old Forester describes itself as the “only bourbon continually sold by the same company before, during and after Prohibition,” and Austin points to its original structures, still standing, with some dating back dating back 100 years or more. Woodford Reserve Distillery is itself a National Historic Landmark, with operations dating back to 1912.

“At Old Forester, we got to see more of the cooperage, which is how they char and store the barrels, so that was really enlightening,” Alexis says. “At Woodford we got to see more of the blending process, their mashes, how the different mashes sit for different times and how the carbon dioxide affects it. We also saw the railroad tracks where they roll these heavy barrels down from the distillery portion to the rick house where they store them. So we really got to see it from start to finish.”

Also along on the trip were Alys Beach Event Manager Kelly Thompson and Marketing and Communications Manager Ann Delaney. The team was presented with three different picks and identified the characteristics they liked about each one, followed by a blind taste test. “It was interesting to see which ones we all picked,” Alexis says. “It was fun to talk it through … this one has more spiciness, this one is more vanilla, this one has more heat to it. We went though that process and then did it again a second time.” Austin describes the final selection as a bourbon that embodies notes of soft-cherry and vanilla, complemented by a hint of sweet,
toasted oak. 

When it’s ready this spring—just ahead of the Derby on May 4—the Alys Beach twentieth anniversary single-barrel pick will be put into bottles etched with the twentieth anniversary logo. “It’s a perfect confluence,” Alexis says, “of Alys Beach’s twentieth anniversary, the Kentucky Derby’s own 150th-year anniversary, and the popular Derby party hosted at Alys Beach, where the community gathers in full Derby spirit and style.” 

“It’s a great turnout,” Alexis says. “We do mint juleps and hot browns, and we have rose petals everywhere. Everyone dresses up in their best Derby gear. It’s an event to remember—even more so this year, as Alys Beach will be introducing their special edition twentieth anniversary single-barrel pick.”

“This won’t be available for sale anywhere,” Alexis continues. “It will be an exclusive release for the Derby party, which makes it so special. That’s fitting, because everyone is so excited this is the twentieth anniversary of Alys Beach. I personally have been here for ten years, and it’s exciting to see it grow and get to have these experience with our owners. Being able to do something like a specialized barrel just for them makes our job fun and unique and different.”