If you weren’t at the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Competition in Ponte Vedra this past Sunday, you missed a great time and an exciting moment for the local mixology scene. Five talented bartenders from across North Florida competed against each other to see who could make the best interpretation of a classic Manhattan with Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select and who could invent the most creative original drink using Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon.

The competition was fierce, and all five of the mixologists performed fantastically, but only one could come out on top. Jacksonville’s own Robert Freeman of Sidecar in San Marco was crowned the overall champion. His twist on the classic Manhattan was perfectly crafted, but it was his original creation that really won the hearts of the judges. Contestants were judged on a number of factors, including taste, presentation, and thoughtful use of ingredients. He scored well in all of those categories with his unique drink entitled “Missed the Boat” which combined the Double Oaked Bourbon with Jamaica Rum to make a strong yet tasty drink. He even brought his own ice to the competition, which showed true dedication to perfection.

For his efforts, Freeman will be rewarded with a free trip to the Woodford Reserve distillery to meet the rest of the regional winners from all over the country and get the VIP experience. From there he’ll have the chance to be among the six people chosen to compete on the national stage in New York City and show off his mixology skills to the whole country. Aside from bragging rights, the ultimate grand prize up for grabs is a trip to San Francisco to do a photo and video shoot for Liquor.com.

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While a team of experienced judges chose the first place winner, it was up to the rest of the crowd to pick the “People’s Choice” winner. That honor went to Sonny Wallace of Jones B-Side in Gainesville. He put together a fantastic Manhattan, but his original recipe really stood out from the rest. His “Hepburn’s Reserve” was a sweet and spicy cocktail that Audrey herself would have enjoyed.

This was the competition’s first year in Jacksonville and hopefully marks the beginning of a new era of our city being home to tons of new unique events such as this. It’s exciting that North Florida is finally being recognized as the home of many talented mixologists (which we already knew, of course!) and we’re already looking forward to next year’s competition.