For the overeager and/or uninitiated, the annual "what did you learn?" of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic might translate into "what do you remember?" But just like last year, we limited ourselves to a few boozy selections from the MCC's insane catalogue of events, parties, crawls, and even one intrepid bus trip to Jersey (where $7.50 tiki drinks pack as much punch, and even more kitsch, than their Manhattan counterparts).
Whereas last year we learned about barrel-aging, spirits blind-tasting, and agave lore (and worship), this year we focused on spirits almost entirely: the secrets of bourbon blending, the versatility of Scotch, the many layers of Chartreuse, the competition-inspired variety of Campari in cocktails, and the case for white whiskey. Along the way we caught some of the high-tech action at Booker and Dax, where Dave Arnold oversees a crew of mixos-gone-mad-scientist, and stood in intimidated awe of the 16 female competitors at Miss Speed Rack finals. Read all about it, or what we remember of it, below.
Kicking off MCC unofficially were the 2012 Miss Speed Rack Finals, bringing 16 of mixology's most talented femme fatales together from across the country. Speed bartending competitions have built in excitement: stop watches, the thrill of spillage potential, and copious booze. But Speed Rack takes it to the next level, complete with studly male barbacks clad in pink bandanas (all event proceeds went to breast cancer research), a band of beautiful roller skating brand ambassadors (including Mrs. Amanda Boccato and Charlotte Voisey), and a DJ who at one point seriously indulged in explicit musical celebration of the speed rack pun.
The competitors had all dominated their markets—and included some StarChefs.com friends and friends of friends, including: Yael Vengroff (who's since left our fair island for Houston), Natasha David (now bartending at Demi Monde), and Alba Huerta, who works under 2011 Houston Rising Star Bobby Heugel at Anvil Bar & Refuge. Judges included Dale DeGroff (who gave us the ocular equivalent of a "what up!," we're sure of it), cocktail godmothers Julie Reiner and Audrey Saunders, and Amanda Freitag, a cooking competition regular who gave the panel culinary perspective. For each round, each of the four judges ordered a cocktail from the two competitors. There were more than a few repeats (Moscow Mules, Cosmos, Vespers, etc.) and familiar recipes (Singapore Sling, El Diablo, Absolut Gimlet) because the competition wasn't about concocting complex cocktails, but creating balance (in double time) with a few simple classics.
We had a lot of favorite moments—when Mia Mastroianna of L.A.'s Soho House screamed "Moscow Muuuuule!" during a high pour of vodka; co-emcee Simon Ford calling Lacy Hawkins' double shake "what this contest is made for!"; an unofficial toast with a passed bottle of bourbon; secretly dancing to "Burning Down the House," pen in hand; etc. But our favorite of favorite moments might have been when Miss Vengroff, raven-haired speed demon, took the win in the final round of competition against Huerta, and was promptly showered with victory booze.