By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Hilary Packard worked her way through Southern Illinois University Carbondale as bartender.
Once she graduated with a degree in math and physics she thought she’d work in an office or a lab putting her knowledge to use. Instead she found, she drawn back to bartending. So now Packard puts her calculating abilities to work as a mixologist.
She’s the general manager of Two Foxes, a gastropub in downtown Bowling Green. She’s been concocting seasonal cocktails for the bar since early June.
“I’m still using the same skill set,” she said, “logic and problem solving and critical thinking.”
Now she’s decided to put her skills to the test against some of her peers from top markets in the country.
On Monday she’ll travel to Columbus to take part in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience. She’s one of 10 mixologists from the region selected to compete. At stake for the regional winners is an “immersive three-day experience” to the Woodford distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, and beyond that a trip to New York to compete with about 40 other winning mixologists from the United States and Canada.
And, of course, there’s the “street cred” that comes with matching her skills with large market mixologists.
Packard learned about the event through liquor.com. “It seemed like a really good opportunity to showcase my skills with whiskey,” she said. She had to submit her recipes for her ideal version of the classic Manhattan and a cocktail of her own creation.
Each had to use a Woodford bourbon, at least one, the basic Woodford Reserve. Packard used that in the Manhattan. For her custom drink, she used Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.
This was not a matter of just pulling stuff off the shelves and mixing it. One of the advantages mixologists in cities have is greater access to ingredients.
In creating these blends, Packard made her own ingredients from scratch. That meant for her The Tokyo Throwback Manhattan blending her own vermouth.
The drink is a tribute to Japan and more broadly Asia. While the increase in consumption of whiskey has been modest in the States, about 2 to 3 percent, the demand in Japan has skyrocketed. This has meant growth in the amount distilled. So all whiskey aficionados like herself benefit.
So for her vermouth, she started with plum wine. Then she infused the wine with wormwood, lavender, cardamom, and other aromatic herbs. She used a blackstrap molasses, and then a blend of brandy and sherry to bring it up to proof.
She had homemade bitters on hand. “I have a Frankenstein fridge,” she said. “I have all kinds of weird stuff.” And she even made her own cherries marinated in Japanese whiskey.
For the Winter Fox she made her own simple syrup scented with lavender from Pemberville and honey from SoBee in Bowling Green. She wanted some coffee concentrate, so she worked with the folks at Flatlands to come up with the right flavor to complement the other ingredients. Add some Xocolatl Mole Bitters, and “the whiskey, of course,” and she arrived at something “a little boozy, a little bit sweet, and kind of yummy.”
In Columbus, she and her station partner, Jared Domonique, head bartender at Two Foxes, will serve up one-ounce portion of the potions. She also make two full sized drinks to highlight her presentation, such as the coffee beans on the Winter Fox.
Packard, 34, said that the drinks highlight craft cocktails that is just taking hold in Bowling Green. Before Two Foxes started doing craft cocktails it signature beverages were different variations on Moscow mules.
Now in its third season of offering cocktails, “we see more people coming in specifically for the cocktails.”