The idea to start a single-barrel spirits program originally came from a meeting with David Wondrich when we were finishing up our build-out. Bar director Dave Shenaut asked Wondrich how we could make the bar program more historically accurate. We were already planning on timeless leather-and-wood decor and a strong foundation of classic, historic, and/or forgotten cocktails. Wondrich advised us that in 1883 (the year the Ladd Carriage House was built), bars in Portland had absorbent sawdust on the floors in place of toilets, no bar stools at the bar, nearly all-male patronage, and gave change only in coins. In addition, it would have been standard for bars to buy entire barrels of spirits such as whiskey, brandy, tequila (known as “Mexican brandy”), and rum. The barrels were tapped and bottles were filled in-house.
Since we had already invested in flushing toilets and custom extra-comfy bar stools, and since owner Lisa Mygrant wasn’t super keen on the idea of only allowing male customers into the bar… we were left to focus on the idea of a single-barrel program. We also cleaned out the local bank of their dollar coins and fifty-cent pieces, much to our bartenders’ chagrin.
We decided to start with one barrel and see how it went. We focused on a quote from our favorite year, 1883, that Wondrich had tweeted:
Boston Herald, 1883: “I think [readers] will agree with me that a Manhattan Cocktail is about as good as anything that can be manufactured.”
Well, then… what better place to start than a Manhattan? We set out to select our first single barrel, Four Roses bourbon, to be the base spirit of our house Manhattan. Four Roses provided us with sample from 12 different single barrels and we gathered our staff to taste through them. We selected one with a high rye content for high spice and pepper, high alcohol content, and a long finish – perfect for our Ladd’s Manhattan. The entire barrel was bottled with our logo and our customers who enjoyed it in-house were also able to buy bottles of it at a local liquor store. It proved such a success that we soon expanded upon the program to include four other bourbons, plus a tequila, a rum, and an apple brandy.
Just like with that first barrel, we taste through samples of each barrel and select the flavor profiles we feel best fit a single, specific cocktail. The barrels are then bottled with our logo and made available to us and at local stores. We love that our customers are able to purchase bottles for their own home bars. It creates a strong connection and a lasting memory between our customers and our bar.