One of the perks of being a nightlife columnist is occasionally getting asked to help judge bartending competitions. This past Monday I sat on a panel for the Woodford Reserve Ultimate Manhattan Competition, hosted by Chicago Sport and Social Club at Angels & Kings. Along with four other judges—including Mike Miller of Delilah’s and Bottom Lounge, and last year’s winner, Paul Stern of Suite Lounge—I sampled eight different Manhattans made by eight local drink slingers and judged the results based on presentation, creativity, and taste.
You might wonder how creative a Manhattan can be, given that the key ingredients are pretty straightforward: whiskey, sweet vermouth, ice, and bitters. I know I did—at least, I did before I started drinking. But I learned quickly enough that there are plenty of variations on the theme, including maple syrup as sweetener and bacon as garnish. One entry—the Raspberry Manhattan, made with Woodford Reserve, Chambord, and a splash of OJ, garnished with an orange slice and a cherry—looked and tasted just like a cosmopolitan, which made me feel right at home.
I also learned that sipping eight Manhattans in a two-hour window can leave you feeling like you’ve got a hole in your esophagus. Although I’m not much of a whiskey drinker (vodka, yes; whiskey, not so much), I managed to agree with the other judges on a winner. Or two. Tied for first place: Blue Water Grill’s Anthony Venturini, who mixed a salty-and-sweet Early Morning Manhattan (Woodford Reserve, bitters, wine distillate, maple syrup, fresh lime juice, crushed black pepper, red pepper flakes, and a bacon garnish), and The Violet Hour’s Michael Ruble for his Woolworth’s Manhattan (Woodford Reserve, Carpano Antica Formula, Cynar, Angostura bitters, and root beer bitters). The winners got to choose from prizes including an iPod Touch and a Wii. The judges got nothing but killer hangovers.
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You know what they say about chicks and hockey sticks? I don’t either, but we can all find out at WestEnd Monday the 10th from 6 to 8 p.m., when the Blackhawks defenseman James Wisniewski, a.k.a. “Wiz,” leads hockey 101 for ladies. Following the tutorial, women will have the chance to ask questions and win T-shirts from Wisniewski’s new clothing line, (ahem) Wiz Wear. The event is $20 and includes passed appetizers and drink specials. For reservations, call 312-981-7100.