Every bartender should have a signature Manhattan up their sleeve. And the 2019 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience is the perfect opportunity to put yours to the test. The right recipes—you also need to submit an original cocktail—could take you to the finals in New York City and win you an all-expense-paid trip to London Cocktail Week.
You don’t even need to advance to the finals to have this competition be an unforgettable experience though. The 39 semifinalists will visit the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Kentucky with three leaders of the bar and cocktail world: Jacques Bezuidenhout, Charles Joly and Julie Reiner.
Judge #1: Jacques Bezuidenhout
Why he’s judging: Bezuidenhout currently works with Liquid Productions on branded event production around the country, as well as spending time on his spirit and cocktail consulting company. He has served as the bar, cocktail and spirit specialist for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and launched Forgery in May 2015 and Wildhawk in April 2016. These San Francisco bars were each named one of the Top 10 New Bars in the U.S. by Tales of the Cocktail.
How to impress him: “Show the judges what makes you and your bar special,” says Bezuidenhout. “Convey that passion and energy in your presentation and through your cocktail. The competition challenges you to stay within the boundaries of the classic recipe while giving your own twist on the Manhattan. So really focus on the small details.
What not to do: “A common mistake is not giving the choice of vermouth proper consideration,” he says. “Test different styles of vermouth in your Manhattan to see what you think pairs best with Woodford Reserve.”
Judge #2: Charles Joly
Who is he to judge?: Joly has opened and overseen seven venues in three different states. He has served as beverage director at The Aviary in Chicago and chief mixologist and founder of The Drawing Room. He was named American Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail in 2013 and won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program at The Aviary in the same year. Joly has also earned James Beard nominations from 2015 through 2018 for Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional.
Crafting the perfect Manhattan: “There are only three ingredients, so there's nothing to hide behind,” says Joly. “Your choice of vermouth, bitters, glassware, temperature, texture and presentation and your bar-side manner all come into play.”
A common mistake: “One of the biggest mistakes I've seen is letting the vermouth overshadow the bourbon,” he says. “You need to understand the profile of Woodford Reserve and allow it to shine. The other ingredients should be playing supporting, albeit important, roles.”
Judge #3: Julie Reiner
Why she’s such a qualified judge: Reiner has been elevating the cocktail scene in NYC for 20 years, most notably by opening Flatiron Lounge in 2003, Clover Club in 2008 and Leyenda in 2015. Each received rave reviews, with Clover Club being named Best New Cocktail Lounge at Tales of the Cocktail in 2009 and Best American Cocktail Bar and Best High Volume Bar in 2013. Her recipes have appeared in “The New York Times,” “Bon Appétit,” “GQ” and much more.
How to impress her: “Create a thoughtful cocktail and be able to explain all the choices you made,” says Reiner. “And remember not to take your Manhattan too far from the original recipe while still giving us something exciting.”
Create an experience, not just a recipe: “Bartenders forget the Manhattan Experience isn't only about the drink,” she says. “Show us your personality and bartending style. We want to feel as if we are guests at your bar. We want to get a sense of how you work and entertain.”