Hundreds of bartenders submitted recipes for the 2018 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience. Only 40 of them reached the semifinals in Kentucky. And after an unforgettable and highly competitive trip to the Bluegrass State, six bartenders advanced to the finale.
They faced off at The NoMad Bar in New York City, all competing for the title of Master of the Manhattan and a free trip to London. It was a hard-fought finale, but ultimately Christopher Enns of Vancouver emerged as the 2018 Woodford Reserve Master of the Manhattan.
But before even reaching the finale, these bartenders had quite the experience.
Discover what the finalists have to say about the Manhattan Experience, and check out the Manhattans that earned them a ticket to New York.
THE 2018 WOODFORD RESERVE MASTER OF THE MANHATTAN
Name: Christopher Enns
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Hometown bar: Fairmont Pacific Rim
The full Kentucky experience: I’ll always remember going to Kentucky and seeing the beautiful Woodford Reserve distillery site, with the impressive copper stills, active barrel run and beautiful sounding creek with Canadian geese. And being a horse racing fan, touring Churchill Downs was a thrill.
The camaraderie: The best part so far has been becoming friends with the other bartenders. Now I can travel across North America and have friends and barstools ready. It really is the greatest thing we can take away from this competition.
The magic of the Manhattan: The Manhattan is my favorite drink to order. It’s simple enough to make for friends at home but also gives professional bartenders the perfect template to show off their creativity and personality.
Enns’ The Only Woodford Manhattan: Enns’ deep knowledge and respect for the Manhattan shines through in his subtle twist on the classic recipe. Its use of cherry liqueur brings in the flavor of what’s usually just the garnish.
Name: Jesse Cyr
Hometown bar: Herb & Bitter Public House and Rumba
Why the Manhattan Experience matters: Meeting bartenders with different ideas and techniques. Once you get in a room with people and start to talk, you’re going to have new ideas pop into your head. It’s so much fun to go home and think through what you want to work on next.
All about the challenge: Bartending competitions are always kind of awkward and stressful. Stepping behind a bar that you’re unfamiliar with is always a challenge. The silver lining is that every competitor is in the exact same situation.
The thrill of the finale: I’m really looking forward to bartending at The NoMad Bar. It’s always exciting to step behind someone else’s bar and make drinks. It’s even more special to do it at a place that has earned so much recognition for pushing our industry forward.
Cyr’s Douro Manhattan: The Seattle bartender updated the classic Manhattan recipe by adding tawny port. His Douro Manhattan was innovative and delicious enough for him to earn a place in the finale.
Name: Leanne Favre
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Hometown bar: Clover Club
Growing pains: The competition definitely takes you outside of your comfort zone and forces you to make mistakes. With all the inevitable blunders, I always walk away feeling like I’ve grown, both personally and professionally.
A master class in whiskey: Visiting Kentucky was the experience of a lifetime. Being lead through the Woodford Reserve distillery by the master distiller was one of the most in-depth whiskey educations I’ve received.
The home field advantage: I can’t wait to have the other five bartenders in NYC and be behind the bar at The NoMad. This is going to be a fun night.
Favre’s Sly Smile Manhattan: The Brooklyn bartender added an unexpected but very welcome splash of sweetness to her take on the Manhattan.
Name: Sophia Kim
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
Hometown bar: Saison
All in on Woodford Reserve: When Chris Morris, the master distiller of Woodford Reserve, gave us some insight into the history of Woodford and explained that the company started out of a desire to be progressive and push the envelope, that was an "a-ha!" moment for me. I’m absolutely all-in on the realization that Woodford is pushing boundaries but carefully and with intent.
Rising to the occasion: I feel that I have grown immensely in my career over the past couple of years. This experience has strengthened me through challenges and affirmations and helped me to grow even more. I appreciate the opportunity to push myself beyond what I thought was possible.
Family reunion: I really look forward to seeing the friends I met in Louisville. There’s something really magical about making friends with people so far away and being able to see them again.
Kim’s Spot On Manhattan: The Richmond bartender’s spin on the Manhattan has a fitting name, since no element is out of place. The sherry, Cynar liqueur and rye whiskey all compliment one another.
Name: Frank Magnasco
Hometown: San Diego
Hometown bar: Juniper & Ivy
A new favorite city: I had never considered vacationing in Louisville. But I’m so glad that I was given an opportunity to explore this amazing city. I absolutely fell in love with it, from the sophisticated cocktail scene to the proud horse culture. I can’t stop raving about Louisville, and I can’t wait to go back.
Meeting whiskey legends: I’ve been a fan of Woodford Reserve since I started bartending 12 years ago. Getting to meet the master and assistant master distillers and understand why Woodford Reserve is such a unique product was the most fascinating part of this experience.
Manhattan power: My Italian family drank Manhattans at every holiday gathering growing up. Manhattan is my blood type.
Magnasco’s Tribeca Manhattan: Sometimes the difference between a typical and award-worthy Manhattan is as simple as the choice of bitters. The San Diego bartender made some inspired choices in his recipe.
Name: Emily Mitchell
Hometown bar: Bar Margot
Rising to the challenge: The most challenging part of any competition is standing in front of prestigious judges and being confident about your drink. This is why I so valued the feedback from my local judges before going to Louisville.
The thrill of the finale: I’m thrilled to meet so many bartenders in the city that’s arguably the mecca of craft bartending. I hope to ask more questions, be humbled many times over and bring home a title for Atlanta.
Competition tricks: Get in front of judges, learn to put on a show, learn to expound upon creative decisions, learn to keep clean under pressure and learn how to make a cocktail centered around such a beautiful product (not your ego).
Mitchell’s Careful Consideration: A dash of sambuca elevates the Atlanta bartender’s take on the Manhattan. There’s no doubting that it belongs in the Manhattan Experience finale.