Okay, so no one won the actual Whiskey Fest, per se. Or maybe everyone won, considering the amount of booze that was flowing on the floor of the Crystal Tea Room. There were a few disappointments (like the cocked and loaded smiles of the liquor spokesmodels after being asked to pose for their 1,000th cell phone picture of the night with some sweaty, half-in-the-bag creep rubbing all up on them, or there being an awful lot of vodka being poured at a friggin’ whiskey fest), but for the most part it was a fine excuse to gather with about 700 of one’s closest friends and drink more than anyone ever should without there being a bar to lean on.
The one part of the whole shindig that did have a winner, though? The Woodford Reserve Manhattan competition, which pitted six of the city’s heavyweight drink-slingers in mano-a-drink-o competition to see who could mix the meanest Manhattan of the night. The competitors were Bob Caskey of Barclay Prime (who knocked out an interesting fig-and-spiced-port version that was both tasty and had the benefit of going first), Damon Danko from the Capital Grille (who gets serious props for being the only man who free-poured his cocktail–trust the arm, baby), David Marks from North 3rd (who didn’t quite manage to make six drinks in eight minutes, but did manage to use Green Chartreuse in a way that didn’t make me want to barf), Colin Shearn from Franklin Mortgage (who, naturally, gets credit for having the best drink name of the night: Radiation Blues), John Armstrong from Village Whiskey (who made a kind of mutant Red Hook/Jockey Club, but called it “The Tomahawk” because it was “badass”) and Nicole Kelly from London’s (who under-poured the bourbon in half her drinks, but–since I got one of the properly-made ones–still made a fine cocktail, using Lillet, St. Germain, bourbon-soaked cherries, walnut liqueur and every other bartender’s secret weapon behind the bar).
So, with all that action behind the long oak, who do you think mixed up the best Manhattan?
It was Colin from the Franklin and, at least by my score sheet, it wasn’t even close. (Bob from Barclay Prime took home the People’s Choice award.)
Still, Colin schooled everyone with a simple (gasp!) balance of flavors matched by a serious, full-bodied kick (which seemed to be missing from several of the other versions). His recipe for Radiation Blues was Woodford Reserve, Orange Curaco, Mamoro Ramazzotti, Bitter Truth bitters and an orange peel–not exactly a G&T, but nothing that the average dumbass couldn’t figure out.
For his efforts, he’ll be headed to NYC in January to participate in the National Championships of Manhattan-Making. And if he wins that?
Well, I have no idea what happens then. But I hope he gets some kind of crown to wear which entitles him to free Manhattans for life at any bar in America. That would be so cool.