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Sunday, March 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Running Tab: Whiskey Barrel Weekend at Coeur d’Alene Resort a celebration of Inland Northwest

Since returning to the Inland Northwest in April, I’ve written about Coeur d’Alene, but I hadn’t actually set foot in the North Idaho paradise.

The oversight was rectified at the beginning of this month when the Coeur d’Alene Resort hosted its first Whiskey Barrel Weekend sponsored by Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark shared the spotlight because a team from the resort – including Jake Hill, Whispers general manager and WBW event leader, and Justin Schorzman, the resort’s beverage director – traveled to the Kentucky distillery in May to create a whiskey barrel for the resort.

Whiskey Barrel Weekend was born about five months later to celebrate the resort’s Barrel 1, not that there ever needs to be a justification to gather for fine whiskey, bourbon and Old Fashioned cocktails. The first-night Whiskey Tasting Event at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Convention Center featured more than 50 whiskeys intermingled with hot food stations, charcuterie – fresh trout and salmon are never bad choices for events – desserts and social media photo opportunities.

Day 2 was an ambitious 12-hour itinerary that kicked off with a Maker’s Mark Open Golf Event at 10 a.m. Three afternoon whiskey seminars were anything but boring: Local Craft Distilleries Tasting Workshop, the creatively named Coeur d’Cocktails and Maker’s Mark Inside the Barrel Experience.

Each craft distillery panelist offered fascinating histories and points-of-view of their businesses, with one getting into the science and technology of distilling – and enthralling the audience. Schorzman was a fun and energetic master mixologist during his cocktail demonstrations, and the inside look at Maker’s Mark piqued my interest for a visit to Loretto in Kentucky’s Marion County.

The inaugural weekend ended with a Grand Whiskey Dinner and after party at the resort’s Hagadone Event Center featuring a gorgeous Saturday evening sunset; fine whiskeys, of course; food stations featuring seafood, fried oyster and lobster po’ boy sandwiches, prime rib eye and more; and a cigar lounge and live jazz.

It was clear during the two-day event at the resort that all parties involved were excited to showcase whiskey, the resort, Coeur d’Alene and the Inland Northwest – from the organizers and vendors to the chefs and mixologists, as well as the, ahem, spirited attendees.

Hill, who chatted before the event for a Spokesman-Review story, said the first-night Whiskey Tasting Event went smoothly, “But I am already looking ahead to next year and making it bigger and better for everyone.” Hill, sporting a bow tie during the Grand Whiskey Dinner, was at every WBW event to ensure everything ran on track.

Schorzman, a natural and seamless entertainer, answered audience questions while making cocktails like the Kentucky Old Fashioned, Boulevardier (a bourbon, vermouth and Aperol concoction that was fairly new to Schorzman) and the Strawberry Bourbon Shrub, a favorite of his wife’s despite her aversion to bourbon. “This group and seminar were the perfect venue for making cocktails,” Schorzman said.

The whiskey vendors at WBW included Brown Sugar Bourbon (my personal favorite of the weekend because of the sweetness, which can be softened by adding citrus … you’re welcome); Spokane’s Dry Fly; Four Roses out of Kentucky; and Koenig Distillery’s Seven Devils, whose representative resembled Bradley Cooper.

It also was my first time at the Coeur d’Alene Resort – despite graduating from Gonzaga in 1996 and visiting Spokane nearly every year since graduation – and it was a wonderful experience, from the room with a fireplace and a beautiful view of the lake and the cocktails at Whispers (including an Old Fashioned made with the resort’s new Maker’s Mark) to a lakeside lunch at Dockside Restaurant on Saturday and the overall, jam-packed Whiskey Barrel Weekend itself.

The next Whiskey Barrel Weekend at the resort is slated for Oct. 2-3, 2020. Let’s hope that I’ll be back in Coeur d’Alene many more times before that weekend, and I’ll be ready for the resort’s second Maker’s Mark barrel.

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