My husband is a salesman for a liquor distributor. He approached me a couple of weeks ago because they were having trouble finding a judge for the local portion of the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience contest. Would I be willing to do it? Hmmmm…..
A few years ago I gave up most vodka, gin and rum because the concoctions they’re a part of are typically sugary sweet or martinis that are strictly for getting drunk (which I prefer to believe happens only by accident.)
Enter whiskey. It’s got a kick that lets you know what you’re messing with but that has good flavor. Hard to find something to drink it with, though, and drinking it on the rocks seems too hard-core (but is a great treat once in a while.)
Two years ago, at a work event with my husband, we were having pre-dinner cocktails and most folks had martinis. I decided to try something different and ordered a Manhattan. One sip and I was done. I told my husband that it was obvious the drink had been created for me. Who knew?
A Manhattan is a drink I can have at home at the end of a day of mommying and instantly feel sexy and adult again, even if I am wearing Hello Kitty pajama bottoms with sweatshirt and eating pizza for dinner. When I’m out, it’s a great accessory to any nice dress (people will notice it before they notice your clutch, I promise) and a fun and yummy way to wait for a table at a nice restaurant.
If you’ve never had a Manhattan, here’s why you should order one:
- The flavor is unmistakable. It is all at once sophisticated, smooth, warm, comfortable, simple and wild. It doesn’t have any typical holiday flavors, but it tastes the way the Christmas feels.
- Served up, or even on the rocks, it is honey brown and usually accompanied by a delightful cherry and/or an orange peel. It is Betty-Draper-in-Rome sexy (although I think she orders a gimlet there.)
- It’s hard to lose track of how many Manhattans you’ve had. Every sip reminds you of its potency.
- While it is regaining popularity, it is still occasional enough to be a conversation starter.
- People are still surprised when women drink Manhattans. Maybe because whiskey is supposed to be a guy thing? Anyway, I think drinking a Manhattan exudes confidence, good taste and strength.
A Manhattan is so wonderful in its basic recipe: whiskey (I do prefer bourbon, specifically Woodford Reserve coincidentally – this isn’t just because they sponsored the contest. It’s because it is hands-down the most robust, grown-up bourbon on the market and perfectly melds with the other ingredients), sweet vermouth, and some bitters (I like 5 or so dashes of orange.) Read The Manhattan Project, an article by Gary Regan that tells the mysterious history of the drink and discusses its variations and merits. He hits the nail on the head when he explains:
“It’s the job of the vermouth to soothe the savage soul of the whiskey in a Manhattan cocktail, but it must allow the spirit to be heard, too.”
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/The-Manhattan-project-A-bartender-spills-his-2502224.php#ixzz2CllHGsAP
Back to my husband’s request. I told him if he really needed me I’d move some things around in my schedule if he’d find a sitter. (Of course, in my head I was jumping up and down and doing the happy dance. I had to reschedule folding laundry and watching DVRed Mad Men.) I’m not really sure why he didn’t just call this a holiday gift, but that’s his loss.
Judging was a little tougher than I thought (although even more enjoyable than expected) because it is tough to improve on such a distinguished standard.
The Connecticut bartenders that competed last night did a great job of adding their own twist on a classic. Each contestant worked hard and got really creative. Some of the more exceptional ingredients I saw included pumpkin, apple cider, hard cider, Tahitian vanilla bean, homemade strawberry vermouth, chocolate bitters, jalepenos, and peanut butter. There were probably more that I’m forgetting, but those stood out for me. The best cocktails, to me, were the simplest ones that kept the integrity of the Manhattan with just a subtle twist or surprise.
The whole night was amazing. I didn’t get to see the drinks being made or know who was making them, but I can imagine the work that went into some of them. They were presented beautifully, with garnishes like chocolate covered cherries, cinnamon sticks, citrus peel twists, citrus peel chunks, and even bacon (see the photo.)
I still don’t know what the winning drink was (my husband was tired and I’d just tasted 19 Manhattans, so we headed out early.) Hats off to all the contestants. I was honored to enjoy every sip last night. I hope to see some of those concoctions on local menus whether they won or not.