Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Cocktail Contest, You Say? That's the Spirit!

Lots of new cocktails out there, lots of new cocktail-related concoctions. It's a huge new business, catering to fussy drinkers, bored drinkers, adventurous drinkers. We've got a series of posts about this in the pipeline (as it were). Here's the first, about the most traditional American spirit of all, bourbon.
Metropolitan Grill's head bartender Rob Nokes

Didn't we just do this? (Memory plays tricks on us professional drinkers, ya know.) But yes, we did, last July.

And now a new crop of entrants, and a new, custom-blended bourbon from Woodford Reserve. This year's version is a little less spicy, a bit lighter-bodied, yet still oaky in the nose. The GM of downtown Seattle's prime steakhouse, Josh Anderson, exec chef Eric Hellner, and the Met's sommelier, Thomas Price, headed to Versailles, Kentucky, earlier this season and made the pick at the Woodford distillery.

"Running out of glassware!" calls the creator of Manhattan #1, a 13-year veteran behind the bar named Steve Alexander. His concoction includes Fernet Branca, Peychaud bitters, a splash of Maraschino and an orange zert, kinda like a Negroni with bourbon instead of gin. "The most Manhattan-y," says a nearby discerning journalist. "The least bourbon-y," thinks another blogger.

There's another contender among the traditionalists: head barman Rob Nokes, using the robust Woodford Reserve, Lucid absinthe, Italian vermouth and Fee Brothers Cranberry Bitters. "It's a Sazerac-style drink," says Nokes, who's been taking care of bourbon connoisseurs at The Met for two decades.

And in the end, wouldn't you know it was the most traditional concoction that won. Bravo, Mr. Nokes! Thanks, Met Grill! The Met Manhattan No. 5 will be available for $14 starting this weekend; it's a steal, considering that last year's winner cost $15. ("It's the economy," says GM Anderson.)

Steve Alexander at work

Two final observations before we stumble off into the night. First, three of the five contestants were professional bartenders, and their entries were along classic lines. Two were by Met Grill servers, and they veered severely toward the sweet side. Does this mean that servers think customers want sugary drinks? To be followed up.

Second, there are now 4.7 million bourbon barrels in the state of Kentucky, several hundred thousand more than there are actual residents in the state. The president of the Kentucky Distillers Association says there's "an explosion" of small-batch and single-barrel products. Good to know.

"Bourbon is a great value," says Met Grill GM Anderson. A premium bourbon costs less than half as much as a single-malt Scotch. The winning Manhattan No. 5 goes on sale this weekend for $14, down a buck from last year.

Metropolitan Grill, 820 2nd Ave. Seattle 206 624 3287

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