The 2017 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience was the first time Miguel Salehi participated in a major bartending competition. It’s hard to imagine his first foray into competitive bartending going much better—and not just because he won the whole thing.
The finals brought him back to New York, where he had lived and fallen in love with cocktails before moving to San Francisco. A coincidence on the calendar made his homecoming even sweeter.
“The morning after the finale, I woke up in my hotel room with a view of the Manhattan skyline and realized that on this very day three years ago I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.”
His journey to becoming an American citizen informs who he is a bartender, from the concepts behind his cocktails to his relentless work ethic in perfecting them. He had experimented with recipes after work and picked through antique shops to find the perfect presentation items. All that effort brought him back to New York for another landmark achievement.
New York wasn’t his last stop in the Manhattan Experience either. He won a free trip to Kentucky, but rather than getting an immersive experience at the Woodford Reserve distillery, he was attending the Kentucky Derby with his girlfriend, who was also his biggest supporter in the competition.
“She was the only person who came out to support me during the first round in San Francisco,” says Salehi. “Being able to treat her to this very special event and seeing her look as beautiful as she did in her Kentucky Derby attire was definitely a highlight of the trip.”
The experience has given Salehi a greater appreciate of his industry in general and Woodford Reserve in particular. “It has always been a spirit I’ve been aware of and known to be quality, but I never knew exactly how much care and extra work is put into this whiskey and what makes it stand out.” Watching his fellow bartenders at work gave him a similar sense of appreciation.
Salehi is self-aware enough to realize that with the title of Master of the Manhattan comes increased expectations. “I’ll have to live up to those expectations by continuing to grow and improve,” he says. If his performance in his first competition is any indication, he’ll have no trouble doing exactly that.
It’s less likely that the next competition will come close to this experience.