With the hope of finding the ultimate Manhattan, the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience draws competitors from across the country. After selecting the regional winners, all 33 bartenders arrived in Louisville for a two-day experience with Woodford Reserve. The national judges, Julie Reiner and Jacques Bezuidenhout, welcomed everyone at Rye on Market Street. Over Manhattans (of course), the bartenders and judges had a great time getting to know each other, and some even stayed out to explore a few of Louisville’s best bars.
Everyone was up early the next morning, and ready to head over to the Brown Forman Cooperage. First, the bartenders witnessed the art of crafting barrels. Given how rare and compelling it is to watch a master treat and toast barrels, the day was off to a strong start.
The next stop was the distillery. Chris Morris, Master Distiller of Woodford Reserve, hosted a curated tour of the distillery. This gave the bartenders a chance to see every step of Woodford Reserve’s triple distillation process: from processing the grain to storing the spirit to mature.
The bartenders were then treated to lunch and a variation of the mint julep (it was Kentucky, after all), made by Jacques Bezuidenhout. Afterwards, they charred a barrel the old fashioned way—using hay and open fire. However, this wasn’t just for old time’s sake. The group learned this process is how you release woods’ sugars.
But the day wasn’t finished. On the third floor of the main rickhouse, Chris Morris took the group through a barrel tasting and hands-on blending exercise. Together, it was meant to demonstrate the process Morris goes through when blending barrels to create Woodford Reserve.
The group also met Woodford Reserve’s Master Taster Elizabeth O’Neill, who gave an experiential sensory tasting to explore the variety of flavors in Woodford Rye, Distillers Select and Double-Aged Oak. To bring out these flavors, the bartenders were nosing and tasting orange peels, mint, honey and almonds—anything to help the bartenders open their minds and expand their palates.
The group met for a cocktail hour and dinner in the gallery at 21c Hotel. After an amazing meal, Jacques and Julie announced who will be heading to the Manhattan Experience finals in New York: Austin Carson from Mizuna in Denver, Andrew Olsen from Bluestem in Kansas City, Kimber Weissert from Wallace’s TapRoom in Pittsburgh, Ryan Pucket from Libertine Liquor Bar in Indianapolis, Jonathan Howard from Old Glory & Embers Ski Lodge in Nashville, and Jason Seele from Jack Rose Libation House in San Francisco.
While not everyone could advance to the finals, each attendee took something from the experience. Friendships and connections were made, and knowledge and skills were about to be brought back to the bartenders’ bars. Get the full experience by checking out the event’s photo gallery.