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Meet the Finalists and Winner of the 2017 Manhattan Experience

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The Manhattan Experience just had its grand finale. Seven bartenders, all vying for the chance to become the 2017 Master of the Manhattan, arrived in New York for the finals. Get to know who they are and how they beat out hundreds of other bartenders before the winner is crowned.

Miguel Salehi

Miguel Salehi of Pacific Cocktail Haven | San Francisco, CA

Salehi won the 2017 Manhattan Experience. It’s all the more impressive when you realize that it was his first major competition. He showed poise and skill at every stage, due in large part to his familiarity with Woodford Reserve. It’s a spirit he uses frequently, and that experience is evident in each of his cocktails.

The trip to New York was a homecoming for Salehi. “It’s the city where I grew as a young professional, chose to become a U.S. citizen and discovered bartending in a new way,” he says. It’s safe to say he made the city proud by becoming the new Master of the Manhattan.

Dorothy Elizabeth of Standby

Dorothy Elizabeth of Standby | Detroit, MI.

Dorothy Elizabeth followed in the footsteps of her mentor, Jon Robinson, who won the Midwest regional a couple years back. But she made her own mark on this year’s Manhattan Experience. The Detroit regional was hosted around the corner from her home bar, so her regulars were there to cheer her to victory.

She’s connected with her fellow bartenders throughout the Manhattan Experience, saying “there’s something binding about the shared nerves in the competition.” Those nerves, however, didn’t get in the way of making standout cocktails—and winning a trip to New York.

Nicholas Hogan

Nicholas Hogan of Odd Birds | Jacksonville, FL

Hogan has only been a professional bartender for a year and a half. But he’s fully immersed himself in the scene, picking up skills and learning at a breakneck pace. His hard work paid off with a trip to New York for the finals. The competition itself gave him even more opportunities to learn.

The trip to the Woodford Reserve distillery showed all that goes into each bottle. “From the cooperage, through fermentation, distilling and barreling, there is an immense amount of hard work and passion put into every step,” he explained. Hogan brings that same passion to each of his cocktails.

Aaron Pollack

Aaron Pollack of The Dawson | Chicago, IL

Pollack didn’t need any extra motivation going into the finals. But seeing the production process at the Woodford Reserve distillery, with the painstaking care given to each step, made him want to raise his game. He said, “It pushes me as a bartender to do the liquid justice.” The Chicago bartender did exactly that.

Pollack brought competitiveness to the finals, but was quick to acknowledge there’s more to the competition than winning. “The most vital thing to take away from these things is the friendships and connections you create along the way.”

Brenda Terry

Brenda Terry of The Tampa Yacht and Country Club | Tampa, FL

Terry was uniquely positioned to thrive in the Manhattan Experience. The Manhattan is the first cocktail she ever tried—while living in Manhattan—and encouraged her to become a bartender. It came full circle with her returning to New York to compete for the title of Master of the Manhattan.

Terry’s style and personality has shined throughout the Manhattan Experience. And that’s exactly what she wanted out of the competition. She said, “In the end, being comfortable with who you are, what you stand for, and what you’ve created, is always a rewarding experience.”

Ryan Williams

Ryan Williams of Merchant | Milwaukee, WI

Williams is both a talented bartender and fierce competitor, who was drawn to the Manhattan Experience because it gave him a chance to measure himself against other bartenders and work with Woodford Reserve, one of his personal favorites.

He also summed up the competition in an incredibly succinct way: “Kentucky is beautiful. Bourbon is amazing directly out of the cask. Competition can connect people in ways unforeseen.”

Robbie Wilson

Robbie Wilson of Urban Farmer | Portland, OR

Wilson didn’t expect to reach the finals of the Manhattan Experience. But considering the talent and innovation he showed at the regionals and semifinals, it’s clear that he earned his ticket to New York.

He joined the competition to show his local bar community that Urban Farmer has a great cocktail program. That’s been accomplished, and given his strong showing in the finals, the rest of the country is beginning to take note too.

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