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How Thompson Hospitality differentiates its beverage program

A group of Thompson Hospitality employees recently made the trip to Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail to pick single bottle barrels of bourbon and rye whiskey.

Earlier this month, a group of Thompson Hospitality employees made their way to Bourbon Country in Kentucky to ensure the company’s restaurants were able to provide a little extra something special for their guests next year.

Those employees embarked on a tour of the James B. Beam and Maker's Mark distilleries for the purpose of selecting bourbon barrels exclusive to the company, or single barrel selects. The group was able to choose their own single barrels by sampling from several barrels selected by the master distillers. Those barrels will then be bottled and shipped to the company – with an estimated delivery in the spring – where they will be used to create unique cocktails only available at Thompson’s restaurants; no two barrels are ever the same. This uniqueness is what has drawn the Thompson team to Kentucky a second year in a row for this process.

“Until you’re sitting there at a table with different staves and versions of cask strengths, you don’t realize how special the (Maker's Mark) private selection process is,” said Jennifer Jackson, enterprise beverage manager at Thompson Hospitality.


A group of Thompson Hospitality employees from across the company’s portfolio recently toured Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries to hand pick single barrel selects.

That special experience translates to the restaurants, she adds.

“It does very well because we make sure our customers know this is a once-in-a-lifetime bourbon or rye private selection that they won’t be able to get anywhere else,” she said. “This is rare air we’re breathing, as there are less than 100 groups that get to do this and choose their own barrels going into their restaurants.”

In addition to Jackson, the group of Thompson employees who made the trip this year included Chef Chad Roberts (Milk + Honey), Dominique Trader, general manager (Milk + Honey), Nicole White, director of training and development, Aly Stevenson, GM (Makers Union), Samira Lawrence, beverage manager (Makers Union), Mitchell McIntyre, GM (Big Buns), Melissa Sierra, banquets and special events coordinator, and Hannah Manning, beverage manager (Matchbox).

Jackson said having a diverse group was important so they could bring their education back to their own teams, whether they work for Milk + Honey, Big Buns, Makers Union, Matchbox or another Thompson concept. The company incentivizes the trip with things like sales competitions, and then assigns a report on the experience so that they’re able to be a strong steward of their company’s special product.

“We lay it on them heavy and try to keep it fresh for them so that they can then share that experience,” Jackson said. “When we’ve got operators that can understand and then talk about the nuances of what a single bottle barrel means, you just can’t get that anywhere else.”

For Thompson, this year’s trip yielded two barrels of private Maker’s Mark, four bottles of Knob Creek Bourbon Whiskey, and two barrels of Knob Creek Rye Whiskey. Once those are shipped, the restaurants will then create special drinks and promote them. Jackson said sometimes the company’s representative at Knob Creek/Maker’s Mark parent company Beam Suntory, Katherine Sparrow, will enlist her team to help with menu suggestions as well, and credits that team with creating an experience Thompson is now invested in.

“We’re trying to find the right companies that want to help our company as we grow, especially on the beverage side. You could learn 10 new things every day about bourbon and still not be a true expert, so we really value our partnership with (Beam Suntory) and their willingness to give us an immersive experience,” Jackson said. “To get to learn hands on and in the moment from those who know and make the product, that leaves an indelible mark.”

Thompson_Hospitality_signed_barrel.jpegPhoto: A private selection barrel signed by Thompson Hospitality employees.

Jackson said she is most looking forward to the spring when these employees’ experiences have been shared with their colleagues and implemented into the menu to create a unique experience across the Thompson Hospitality portfolio.

“I can’t wait for each of these people to hold that bottle in their hand and show it to a customer and say, ‘I helped pick this,’” she said. “This is a special thing to be able to do.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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