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    Check Into This Superlative Stay for Whiskey Lovers

    By Brad Japhe,

    A renowned stay with a bottle collection to match The Inn at Little Washington/Olivia Sheehy

    The Inn at Little Washington is probably the most esteemed hospitality destination in the entire country. Located at the quaint crossroads of a tiny village 70 miles west of downtown D.C., it regularly hosts heads of state, Supreme Court justices, even Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds. It’s the only establishment in the capital region to brandish three Michelin Stars. It holds five separate James Beard Awards for culinary excellence and has been a Relais & Châteaux property since 1987. Quite the journey for a restaurant that began its life 45 years ago in the garage of a converted gas station. Where is left to go from here? The answer is in the glass: a world class whiskey program befitting of its existing bonafides.

    Jeff LaBelle has been instrumental in this mission. Shortly after joining the team as a server in 2020, he made his existing devotion to Scotch, bourbon and rye abundantly apparent to anyone who would listen. Wine and beverage director Lindsey Fern heard him loud and clear. She gave him the blessing to build out a more expansive list of ultra-allocated liquids. To professionally bolster this passion project, he amassed relevant certifications and is now endorsed by the Council of Whiskey Masters as a Scotch professional. He’s recognized as a Scotch and Irish whisky expert by the Edinburgh Whisky Academy and a bourbon steward by the Stave and Thief Society.
    The property boasts a world-class whiskey program befitting of its existing bonafides. The Inn at Little Washington

    “The Inn is unique because there is no limit to the creativity we are allowed to explore,” LaBelle says. “The quote ‘Onward and Upward’ not only applies to the mindset of the property and the team but can be used on a personal level in how we continually expand our knowledge and hone our crafts.”

    As it applies to the whiskey list, specifically, this expansion tends to go deeper rather than wider. If you’re a seasoned connoisseur, LaBelle likely won’t be presenting you with the most exhaustive bottle collection you’ve ever seen. But you will encounter meticulous curation with ample examples suiting your respective palate that become increasingly compelling based upon how far down the rabbit hole of flavor you care to plunge — or how much you’re willing to invest in the experience.

    At any rate, the goal is to make it all feel accessible and not intimidating. So, prior to the seated dinner, aperitifs are prepared in a cozy parlor where LaBelle will strike up a casual conversation and make note of key tasting preferences. It never takes long for fellow whiskey geeks to sniff out their own. And for them he’s ready to break out the heavy hitters, perhaps before they’ve perused the menu or even spied a single bottle on the shelf. The room is elegantly-appointed in decor but altogether low-key in its appearance as an actual bar.
    The whiskey list, specifically, this expansion tends to go deeper rather than wider The Inn at Little Washington
    The whiskey list, specifically, this expansion tends to go deeper rather than wider The Inn at Little Washington

    For fans of full-strength bourbon, he’ll skip over something expected like Booker’s or Stagg and approach you with a one-off, 15-year-old expression from Barrell Craft Spirits. If you profess a love of Buffalo Trace, he won’t simply pour you the flagship offering, but instead bring you liquid from a bespoke cask he procured from the legendary Kentucky distillery. And if you start up on single malt, his eyes will light up.

    “I’m a huge fan of Scotch whisky — I have a deep love for any and all of them,” he says. “But I’m most passionate about several of our older offerings from Balvenie and Macallan.”

    A 30-year-old expression from the former and the coveted M from the latter are in painfully scant dispersement these days. But LaBelle is able to leverage the prestige of the property to help convince suppliers of the urgency of keeping these special edition bottlings on-hand. After all, you’d hardly want to disappoint a congressperson.

    LaBelle won’t go into the labyrinthine details of procurement, but he does promise this much: “The beverage team works tirelessly to acquire an extensive list of rare, coveted bottles and display them for our guests. It will always be our goal to constantly have offerings of this caliber to anyone who makes the journey to Little Washington.”

    And if they happen to be overnighting at the inn, whiskey lovers can expect even more amenities, uniquely tailored to their personalized beverage preferences. This could amount to a dram waiting for you upon arrival at one of the 23 guest rooms scattered across the town. Or, if you’re staying in any of the stately cottages here, LaBelle and the team might present you with entire bottles to explore at your own leisure.

    A recent stay at the Craig Claiborne House, for example, included two expressions of Scotch and two more of bourbon awaiting discovery in the library of the 3,600-square-foot manor. Until recently, the two-bedroom, two-story living space belonged to the Inn at Little Washington’s chef and proprietor, Patrick O’Connell. Today, it accommodates up to five guests, starting at $3,600 per night.
    Just one of the 23 guest rooms scattered across the town The Inn at Little Washington

    And when that’s the kind of cash you’re laying down, you’re encouraged to communicate key preferences with staff long before your arrival. If those preferences include, say, peated Islay Scotch, rest assured that LaBelle will have bottles of it prearranged — alongside crystal tumblers on a hand-crafted wooden tray — in your guest quarters. And if there’s a predictable producer like Caol Ila in the mix, it certainly won’t be a predictable expression. Think a 35-year-old limited release as opposed to its colloquial 12 year counterpart.

    LaBelle has gone through great lengths to ensure whiskey is regarded with at least the same reverence that Fern maintains for her iconic wine cellar. And the Advanced Sommelier is doing her part to promote that evolution. The tri-monthly educational seminars she hosts for front-of-house staff now often include reference points for aged spirits.

    But despite the robust nature of this beverage program, perhaps its greatest asset is that it all feels effortless as opposed to pretentious. That’s because although hospitality is serious business here, no one is taking themselves too seriously. This is a place that rolls out its cheese service through the dining room atop a ceramic cow. When the restaurant first opened in 1978, it held no liquor license and found itself operating within a dry county. Guests were known to have sat in the parking lot, sipping on cocktails in dixie cups before entering the dining room.

    It was O’Connell himself who went door-to-door across the region, helping to reverse Prohibition Era legislation. Today, his team is happy to fix you a drink however it suits you — even in a paper cup, if that’s your thing. So long as they’re serving you an experience you won’t ever forget.

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