DC Bartenders Dominate at Marriott’s ‘Bourbon Battles’

When I walked into Bourbon Battle, I couldn’t decide where to run first. On the right, guests were ushered to a blind tasting table where we sampled shots of fine bourbon and put a token in the jar of our favorite. On the left, Food Network’s Rossi Morreale​ cheered on mixologist contestants as they stirred and shook their versions of classic bourbon cocktails.

Flanking each side of the bartending stage were banquet tables of upscale southern cuisine. The menu included braised short rib quesadillas, coffee-BBQ spare ribs with sauerkraut, honey-drizzled fried chicken biscuits – you get the picture. I all but sprinted to the comfort food section. Once I had procured four quesadillas and a splash of bourbon, I started to explore.

The Jonny Grave blues band kept the vibe rockin’ Wednesday night.
Braised Short Rib and Kimchee Quesadilla
Coffee BBQ Spare Ribs w/ House Kraut

There was much to enjoy Wednesday evening, but the main attraction was the Bourbon Battle competition. Marriott Hotels has rolled out this lively contest as part of their Marriott Bourbon Program, which provides guests and visitors with spirited (see what I did there) events, opportunities to learn more about bourbon and tastings of top tier brands. Battle contestants included Marriott bartenders, local DC mixologists and out-of-town spirits experts alike. The judge’s panel was comprised of a Marriott Brand VP, a cookbook author, and the Spirits writer for the Washington Post.

From left: James Addison (Marriott VP of Brand Operations), David Hagedorn (author of My Irish Table), Carrie Allan (Washington Post Spirits Writer)

The contestants were given two minutes to create their versions of classic bourbon-based cocktails. The judges tasted each creation and rated the drink from a 1 to a 5, though during the first few rounds, I thought it they were rating of 10 and were just being really mean.

Managing Editor of DC Refined Laura Wainman works on her drink while Rossi Morreale​ (Food Network) entertains the crowd.
Rina Rapuano (Zagat) and Laura Wainman (DC Refined)
Judges David Hagedorn and Carrie Allan taste drinks and give their honest feedback.
Sam was a “crowd favorite” contender. He’s worked as a bartender at the Marriott for over 20 years.
James, David, and Carrie in heated deliberations.
James got a taste of something he didn’t love.

Unique combinations and adventurous ingredients ranged from banana liquor and blood orange bitters to maple syrup and sparkling wine floaters.  After several rounds, Jess Weinstein, beverage director for Hank’s Oyster Bar, was crowned the winner of Bourbon Battles. The winning package included a weekend stay at the Marriott Georgetown and 100,000 reward points. Plus, you know, stellar bragging rights.

Jess’ version of the Manhattan had all of the judges waving their high score cards in the air.

If you’re disappointed you missed this round of Bourbon Battles, cheer yourself up by checking out the Ivy City Distillery Joseph A. Magnus & Co. We sampled several award-winning blends from Joseph Magnus on Wednesday, a brand who blew the competition out of the water last year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Joseph Magnus offers free tours, as well as cocktails and whiskey / gin tastings in the distillery’s own Murray Hill Club.


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