At 7:00 the judges took their seats for the Manhattan mixing contest. I unfortunately didn’t catch all their names, as the roar of the crowd often drowned out the loudspeaker, but the five judges were: the Woodford Reserve master distiller, the Woodford entertainment director, the winner of last year’s Manhattan contest, Sara Havens (author of the Bar Belle column at LEO Weekly), and George Lindsay (102.3 The Max morning radio host).
Each contestant had devised their own Manhattan recipe. First up was Jason Burns, bartender at Asiatique. He presented the Perfect Pumpkin Manhattan. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a “Perfect Manhattan” uses dry vermouth as well as sweet vermouth.) This drink included homemade pumpkin syrup, ginger dry vermouth, and orange bitters, with a brandied cherry to garnish. He made one for the display, then poured tastes into little cups for the judges.
Next: Emily Hornback. (Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the names of the bars where any of the other contestants work due to the aforementioned noise issues.) Emily made the Big Apple Manhattan: mulled cider reduction, apple spice ginger liqueur, and orange bitters, garnished with a slice of orange rind studded with cloves (which she torched with a lighter; the scent filled the room).
James Ramm created the Wall Street Manhattan. This one actually struck me as quite interesting, because, while it is the most simple of the five as far as the ingredient list, it is a unique take on the Perfect Manhattan: ruby port (a sweet dessert wine) replaced the sweet vermouth, and the glass was rinsed with Lillet Blanc. (Lillet Blanc is a high-end dry vermouth; a rinse is when you pour a small amount in the glass, swirl it around to coat, and then discard the excess.) A brandied cherry garnishes.
Karla Ramsey displayed her Ramsey’s Manhattan, which uses apple brandy, sweet vermouth, Angostura Bitters, and is garnished with a red apple slice and a cinnamon stick (which she set on fire; I didn’t catch why, but fire is always a fun addition to anything).
Finally, Aaron Wood presented his take on the French Manhattan. He mixed the bourbon with Remy Martin VSOP Cognac, sweet vermouth, and Angostura Bitters, with an orange twist to garnish. Interestingly, he shook his Manhattan. Traditionally, Manhattans (and Martinis) are stirred so as not to cloud the drink. Nothing will be “bruised” by shaking, which is a common myth; it is all about display.
From left to right: Aaron Wood, Karla Ramsey, Jason Burns, Emily Hornback, James Ramm
After tasting each, the judges came to a decision: this year’s winner of the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience is Karla Ramsey with her Ramsey’s Manhattan. She will go on to compete in Manhattan.
After the competition, pictures were taken of the judges, the contestants, the Manhattan display, and, of course, Ramsey, and the party died down shortly after that. Of course, before leaving, Jon had to check out the Derby Racing game.
Go to the next page for recipes for all the Manhattans discussed.