Woodford Reserve’s Manhattan Competition – Kentucky Region

Yesterday I had the privilege of judging the first round of the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience in Lexington, KY held at Paulie’s Toasted Barrel. Over 30 Kentucky mixologists entered the competition.

My fellow judges were Adam Hayes (Brown-Forman Whiskey Brand Champion), Seth Thompson and Justin Thompson (both of The Bourbon Review magazine).

The competition was divided into two rounds. Each of the judges met with 7 to 8 of the mixologists individually and sampled their creations. Each judge then picked one winner to move on to round two. During round two, each of the four finalists made their cocktail for all four judges. So we all tasted each of the four finalists and discussed to pick the ultimate winner.

It was interesting to me that the four of us judging initially dismissed cocktails that were either (a) not really manhattans or (b) didn’t allow the flavor of the underlying spirit to come through. For (a), we all talked about it to make sure we were in line on where the line was between a manhattan and a bourbon cocktail in general. But (b), on the other hand, was completely reflexive. It wasn’t until I reviewed the process that I realized how important it was that the cocktail additions (mixers) showcase the spirit used and not cover it up. This is one of the fundamental principles of the moden craft cocktail. Oh, and it can’t be too sweet. Cloying cocktails upset me. 😉

Here’s a sampling of my favorites: Continue reading