Words by: Heath Lawrence
Photography by: May Lawrence
The Woodford Reserve Cocktail Challenge places an emphasis on demonstrating the flexibility of bourbon and rye whiskies as showcased by some of Australia's top bar talent, with a focus on the history of the spirit, and new spins on traditional cocktails normally associated with bourbon and rye.
The Woodford Reserve Cocktail Challenge first started as an annual competition in Australia in 2015, with this year's Australian final behind held in the beautiful Marble Bar in Sydney, a heritage-listed marble and mahogany bar constructed in 1893 and re-situated beneath the Hilton Hotel in 1973.
Bartenders from across Australia were invited to submit two recipes for judging - the first to be an original variation on the Old Fashioned recipe using Woodford Reserve Distillers Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon and the second to be a any original cocktail featuring the Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye.
Five finalists were chosen, with Simon Hopkins from Surly's American BBQ, Burgers & Beer (Sydney), Josh O'Brien from The Bowery (Brisbane), Vini Wang from Hains & Co (Adelaide), James Connolly from Long Chim Perth and Matt Linklater from Black Pearl (Melbourne) travelling to the finals to present their cocktails to the judging panel.
This year's judging panel included Woodford Reserve's Master Blender and Sensory Scientist, Elizabeth McCall, Australian Bartender Magazine Editor Dave Spanton and last year's challenge winner Alex Boon.
After 10 cocktails were presented for judging, Matt Linklater of Black Pearl Bar in Melbourne was crowned the 2017 champion after his Natural Order cocktail featuring Woodford Reserve Rye stunned the judges.
Presented in a little schooner glass to look like foamy beer, Linklater used Woodford Reserve Rye, pomegranate vinegar, grenadine, white ale umeshu, soap bark extract and limonata to create a rye fizz.
Linklater has won a personalised trip to the Woodford Reserve distillery in Kentucky and will compete at the Woodford Reserve 2018 'Manhattan Experience' final in the US next year.