OK, so the event was held at the Broken Shaker and Virginia King had the home court advantage. The truth is King won the competition by making the best tasting cocktail. Her rendition of the classic Manhattan cocktail, the "Looking at me Like You Don't Want me to Go", ranked the overall favorite with judges Aurora Rodriguez (editor of Where magazine), Ben Potts (bartender at Blackbird Ordinary), Tony Guerra (marketing specialist, Citrus Miami), and myself.
King faced off against some heavy hitters in the south Florida mixology scene including Sara Welch of Tongue & Cheek; Brett Hart of Hullabaloo; Marc Carniero of Seminole Hard Rock; Alex Alfonso of Swine Southern Table & Bar; and Philip Khandehrish of the Setai.
Each bartender in the mix-off was chosen from hundreds of local entries. The competition, sponsored by Woodford Reserve bourbon and Esquire magazine, is being held in 30 different cities, with six total winners (chosen from the local competitions) selected to showcase their cocktails at the Manhattan Experience finale in New York City on January 13, 2014.
The rules were simple. Each bartender had 15 minutes to make five of their signature Manhattan cocktails (one for each judge and one for the camera), using Woodford Reserve (naturally). The cocktails were judged on five criteria: recipe name, creativity, ingredients, presentation, and taste.
King's cocktail, made with Benedictine, Carpano, and bitters, best brought out the bourbon, and her technique was nearly flawless.
Coming in second was Swine's Alex Alfonso for his Smoker's Jacket, made with smoked vermouth ice cubes.
The Setai's Philip Khandehrish came in third for his Five Boroughs, which married five spirits to make one smooth cocktail.
Here's King's winning recipe:
Looking at Me Like You Don't Want Me to Go
1 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve
3/4 oz. Carpano
1/2 oz. Benedictine
1 dash Angostura bitters
2 dashes cherry bark vanilla bitters
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Stir ingredients with ice to chill, express oil of fresh lemon peel into cocktail, garnish with filthy cherry.