The rise of bourbon: hotels are jumping in full barrel

Bourbon sales are on the upswing across the U.S. with revenue from whiskey sales up 7.8 percent from 2014 to 2015 and showing significant growth over the last decade, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. While the popularity of bourbon has increased among all age groups, “millennials especially are taking to bourbon and it’s a greater percentage of women than one might think,” says Eric Loring, beverage director at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center in Boston. The growth is also driven by small batch and single barrel brands, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

“People are enjoying bourbon because they are drawn to its authenticity as a distinctly American product,” says Susan Reigler, author of “Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide” and president of the Bourbon Women Association. “If you go to France, you want to try good French wines and [when] traveling to Germany, excellent beers. So good hotel bars should have a good selection of America’s signature spirit on hand. It’s very satisfying to sip an excellent Manhattan in Manhattan,” she says.

[See: 10 Top Historic Hotels Across the U.S.]

Here’s a look at how hotels around the nation are toasting the rise of bourbon and catering to the spirit connoisseur:

Customized bourbon blends

Many properties are developing their own special blends to provide guests with an experience they can only have at a select hotel. In Las Vegas, for example, The Mirage serves a Single Barrel Mirage Personal Selection blend featuring Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey. Meanwhile, the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino offers an exclusive Knob Creek bourbon concoction, and the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, in partnership with Woodford Reserve, offers a batch of Double Oaked Single Barrel by the Barrel.

Meanwhile, guests of the InterContinental Los Angeles Century City can try a special blend of Angel’s Envy bourbon in the hotel lobby or purchase a bottle to take home, and at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston, visitors can sample the seven-to-eight-year-old 1792 blend at the hotel restaurant, Quattro. At Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa in Lexington, Kentucky, guests can enjoy an exclusive Maker’s Mark Private Select Bourbon pour after a visit to the distillery.

The Seaport Boston Hotel also offers several unique blends at its TAMO Bistro & Bar that incorporate honey harvested from the more than one million bees housed in hives on the roof of the hotel. “We are now on our second customized blend. Each has been very distinctive and our guests continue to request and enjoy it,” Loring says.

Personalized barrels

At some hotel restaurants, guests are invited to create their own barrel of bourbon, which they can enjoy whenever they come in to dine at the property. For example, Bourbon fans can keep their favorite spirit on tap at Bank & Bourbon Bar at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. Meanwhile, at Conrad Chicago’s Baptiste & Bottle restaurant, guests can keep a log of the whiskeys they have tried and rent a locker to store the bottles they have purchased.

For weddings and other large events at Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid, the hotel will craft a special barrel of bourbon with the couple’s name or company name imprinted on the barrel, making a memorable keepsake for visitors.

[See: 10 Top Wellness Retreats Around the Globe.]

Spirited packages

Some vacation destinations across the country offer bourbon-inspired packages at premier hotels, including Kentucky, home of the Bourbon Trail and where 95 percent of all bourbon is made. The 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, offers a “Just Add Bourbon” promotion with tickets to the Evan Williams Bourbon experience and the Urban Bourbon Trail, along with breakfast for two at the hotel’s restaurant Proof on Main. Their “Brandy, Beer + Bourbon” package celebrates the best of Louisville’s spirit scene with a brandy tasting, a set of whiskey stones and breakfast for two. Even the Louisville International Airport is getting into the bourbon mindset with two bourbon tasting areas opening in 2016.

Meanwhile, at the Bourbon Manor Bed & Breakfast Inn in Bardstown, Kentucky, which is close to world-famous bourbon distilleries and other attractions like My Old Kentucky Home State Park, guests can choose from VIP bourbon tour and tasting packages. Plus, guests can sample bourbon and bourbon-themed foods in the inn’s Bourbon, Tapas and Dessert Bar & Lounge.

And in Las Vegas, men can lather up with a bourbon in hand as part of the Bourbon and a Shave experience at The Mirage. Choose from four bourbons on tap at the salon bar before enjoying a traditional hot lather shave with warm towel, aftershave and moisturizer. At Cape May, New Jersey’s Congress Hall, the oldest U.S. seaside resort, which has hosted five sitting U.S. presidents, you can even drink bourbon like a president by ordering off the presidential cocktail menu. Try “Whiskey Smash,” a concoction inspired by James Buchanan featuring Woodford bourbon.

New brandwide initiatives

Marriott Hotels has implemented a focus on bourbon across all of many of its properties with its Marriott Hotels Bourbon Program, which offers craft cocktails, signature drinks and bourbon flights. The brand has even hosted “Bourbon Battles” around the U.S. to test the skills of its bartenders against local mixologists in destinations like Boston and Lexington, Kentucky.

At the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Florida, the Korals Lounge is centered entirely around bourbon, whiskey and scotch varieties. Guests can learn about whiskey with bourbon flights filled with top-notch spirits. Other Marriott outposts, including Louisville Marriott East in Louisville, Kentucky, offer a stop on the city’s Urban Bourbon Trail and feature similar offerings at their on-site restaurants.

Mixology classes and events

Guests of the Hyatt Regency Lexington can learn how to mix their own bourbon drinks as part of the Hyatt’s “Bourbon Mixology Magic” program offered to groups at the hotel. Groups are divided into teams and then educated in the history of bourbon, as well as how to mix a drink. Each team then creates their own signature cocktail using bourbon and a hotel staff member determines a winner.

Similarly, The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort offers a fun monthly event combining spirits with fashion. At Bourbon & Bow Ties, held the second Thursday of each month, guests and locals can sample a different bourbon varieties while shopping the latest designer bow ties from Saks Fifth Avenue.

[See: The 50 Best Hotels in the USA 2016.]

From bow ties to flights and specialty blends, bourbon doesn’t look like it’s going to lose popularity anytime soon. “The bourbon market continues to expand and quality is high, so I think we are in for a good, long run,” Reigler says.

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