Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience [Food & Drink]

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What is the proper way to drink bourbon? (If you said, “With Coke!” try again.) Generally, bourbon is meant to be drunk neat, or maybe with a little ice or a splash of water. Bourbon is not widely known as a cocktail liquor (although bourbon cocktails are becoming more prominent, and to great effect). However, there are two classic cocktails that, if made correctly, never fail to satisfy: the Old-Fashioned and the Manhattan.

I had the privilege last night of attending the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience, a yearly competition between local bartenders to see who makes the best Manhattan. The winner of the Louisville contest gets to go on to Manhattan, New York to compete on a national level.

This year’s event took place at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Arriving with my friend Jon, we were given drink tickets and directed into the main hall of the museum where we could grab a drink (preferably a Manhattan, of course) and mingle with the crowd until the competition began.

Two satellite bars sat on either side of the room and offered three featured Manhattans. I started with the Classic Manhattan: two parts bourbon, one part sweet vermouth, bitters, and a cherry to garnish. It was tasty; it fit what I’ve come to expect from a well-made Manhattan. The best part (almost) is eating the bourbon-soaked cherry at the end

The second option was new to me: a Butterscotch Manhattan, made with bourbon, butterscotch schnapps, and sweet vermouth. While enjoyable, this thing was like candy. It was almost too sweet; Jon and I agreed that this is the perfect Manhattan for people who don’t like bourbon.

Finally, the French Manhattan: bourbon, Chambord (French black raspberry liqueur), and sweet vermouth. Again, tasty, but a little too sweet. Nix the vermouth, add a dash of bitters, and it would be just about perfect, I think. (Just my opinion, though.)

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