Love of Kentucky’s finest inspires trip that brings barrel of prized whiskey to Port Washington restaurant
It was an offer that John Weinrich simply couldn’t refuse.
The owner of NewPort Shores Restaurant in Port Washington was approached last summer by three local men who asked if they could pick
out a barrel of Kentucky’s finest bourbon for Weinrich and have it shipped back to Wisconsin.
“It was the middle of the summer, we had the money and I didn’t have to go with, so I thought why not?” Weinrich said. “It was a win-win
situation for us.”
The three men — Paul Bretl of Port Washington, Michael Hecker of Fredonia and Paul Livingston of Grafton — set out on the Kentucky
Bourbon Trail to find a barrel that would fit Weinrich’s palate.
“We went down for three days in September and went to a bunch of different distilleries,” Bretl said. “We had been to Heaven Hill
(Distilleries) before and we met a rep who made this all possible. Getting to try all these bourbons was kind of surreal.”
The group sampled six different types of bourbon from the Bardstown, Ky.-based Heaven Hill — which also makes brands like Evan
Williams bourbon and Christian Brothers brandy — and settled on an Elijah Craig 12-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
The bourbon has earned a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and has been twice awarded “Best of the
Best” by Whisky Magazine.
“We all sort of had a mutual interest in going to these distilleries and saw a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and what exactly goes into
making a barrel of bourbon,” Bretl said. “The three of us each have a fairly different palate and have different things we look for in a
The three friends couldn’t bring the barrel back to Wisconsin right away. It has to go through a process of lowering the alcohol content
before it can be shipped out of the state.
The 50-gallon barrel — the equivalent of about three half-barrels — arrived in December, Weinrich said, and has been on sale at the
restaurant since then.
The barrel cost between $2,400-$2,500, he said.
“It was 105 proof when they were down there and it’s about 94 proof now,” Weinrich said. “We were able to get 96 bottles from the barrel
and we’ve already sold more than 20 bottles in less than two months.”
A typical barrel will yield about 130 bottles, but the lower amount is a good thing for those tasting it.
“I was told that you usually get a lot more out of it. I’m glad we didn’t because that means this one has a lot more going on,” Weinrich
A Feb. 27 bourbon tasting is planned at the Boerner Mercantile building in Port Washington.
But that’s not all the barrel will be used for. Weinrich sent the empty cask to 3 Sheeps Brewery in Sheboygan to make a bourbon beer that
he hopes to have at the restaurant in June.
“I didn’t realize how long it takes for the beer to be made,” Weinrich said. “There’s about a gallon of bourbon in the wood and the beer will
mix in and taste awesome. So we’ll plan a bourbon beer tasting when that is ready.”
Weinrich said some craft breweries like Sprecher and Goose Island make bourbon beer, but he believes it will be a unique taste and draw
bourbon and beer aficionados from around the area to the restaurant.
Bretl, Hecker and Livingston plan to go to Kentucky again next year to pick out another barrel to bring home. This year the trip coincided
with the Kentucky State BBQ Festival in Danville, Ky., which they hope to attend again.
“We definitely want to go back if it can work with our schedules,” Bretl said.
Weinrich hopes to join them.
“I told them ‘I’d love to go with you guys next year.’ Maybe I’ll be able to sneak away,” Weinrich said. “These young guys know a lot
about this stuff and they get so into it that it’s cool to see.”
Image Information: NEWPORT SHORES OWNER John Weinrich pours a drink for Paul Bretl (right), who traveled to Kentucky with two friends in September to pick out a barrel of bourbon to send back to Wisconsin. A 12-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon was selected and is available at the restaurant. The empty barrel is being used to make a bourbon beer at 3 Sheeps Brewery in Sheboygan. Photo by Sam Arendt