Let's Chat About Manhattan: Cocktail of Champions
We've had a long love affair with Manhattan. It's fitting that one of our favorite drinks, to sip and toast the town, would be a liquid delight by the same name. We've written about our go-to recipe for throwing together this delightful concoction, but we turn to our own Jon Rich to show us the history and finesse behind the Manhattan. It's all about the details man. You don't have to be a New Yorker to experience this adult beverage. Just gather your trusty bar kit bartender and take notes from Jon:
Now that you (hopefully) know a thing or two about gin, whiskey and vermouth, what do you think the right move is here for you? Go out and spend a bunch of cash on some booze and aromatized, fortified wine and then just let it all sit there in your living room? Maybe you could paste eyes on them, give them human names and tell them your secrets (that’s actually really fun). Maybe not. What you should really do is get them together in a nice, cool glass with some ice and other stuff, stir and enjoy a big boy/girl cocktail. For the sake of brevity, and because generally I only drink three cocktails, including martinis, I’m going to give you a brief tutorial on my other favorite two: the Manhattan and the Negroni. In honor of National Manhattan Month (something I just made up), let’s start this week with the Manhattan, and next time, as it gets even warmer, we’ll delve into the depths of the Negroni, a summer classic.
The Manhattan was invented in, you guessed it, Manhattan, NYC (specifically at the Manhattan Club – my membership is still pending) around the 1870’s. Strong, yet simple and to the point, the Manhattan might just be the quintessential manly man cocktail. Dudes’ beards will literally grow while drinking one, and if you’re a lady, there is no man alive who won’t want to marry you if you order a Manhattan. As I said, Manhattans are simple, with only three ingredients – whiskey, sweet vermouth and (usually) dark cherry bitters - and minimal preparation is required. The end result creates a powerful drink that’s boozy, slightly sweet, ever so briny and finished with subtle dark cherry essence. Even better tasting than it sounds, the Manhattan is an amazingly smooth and satisfying cocktail, which is especially impressive for something so strong.
First, let’s have a chat about the whiskey because the kind you use will slightly alter the taste. Bourbon will make the drink sweeter and smoother, while rye will make it less sweet and spicier (think: nutmeg, cinnamon). While I generally prefer to use rye, which is also more traditional, either works great. To me, it all depends on your preference and/or mood. Keep in mind though that after two of these, it’s highly likely that you won’t care or even remember whether you were drinking a rye or bourbon Manhattan, or even a Manhattan for that matter.
Next, let me briefly explain what the “deal” is with bitters. For those who don’t know, cocktail bitters are cute little bottles of botanicals, water and alcohol that are often “dashed” or shaken into cocktails to provide a little extra somethin' somethin'. One of the best-known examples of bitters is exactly what goes into a Manhattan. Angostura Bitters (white bottle, yellow cap, big heart) are dark cherry-flavored and give the Manhattan that delicious little, spicy cherry kick at the end. Note: when adding bitters to any cocktail, proceed with caution because they can be quite concentrated. That’s why the standard is usually 2-3 dashes per cocktail. This might be difficult, given how much fun and cool-looking it can be to dash bitters, but just try to exercise some restraint, Tom Cruise from Cocktail, and you should be okay.
Okay, sorry, sorry, just one last thing, which is perhaps the most critical: the cherry. As any debonair, and slightly buzzed, gent would tell you, a Manhattan is not a Manhattan without the cherry. I’m not saying don’t drink it that way, but do yourself a favor and get some Maraschino Cherries. Maraschino Cherries are pitted cherries that are preserved in sugar and their own juice. Now, there are many brands that make them, but unfortunately, the most well-known kind are those crappy, translucent, lifeless, rubbery little sugar bombs that you’ll find in almost every run-of-the-mill bar, which cost about $3.99 in your local super market. Fortunately, several other brands make far better, less sugary Maraschinos, which actually still resemble cherries. Trust me, they’re way better and will only cost about $10-$20 more, which is well worth it. Their use in the Manhattan is simple, as you will see below.
To prepare: The most important aspect of making this drink, besides not spilling it, is the ratio of whiskey to vermouth, which is 2:1. So, for example, a “regular” (read: wussy) sized Manhattan is usually 2 ounces whiskey to 1 ounce vermouth. Easy, right? Okay, so get some ice cubes (crack them if you remember how) into a pint glass or shaker. Pour in 2 ounces bourbon or rye and 1 ounce sweet vermouth, like the ones I recommended last time. Then, hit it with 2-3 dashes of bitters. If you want something a little sweeter with more cherry flavor, you can add a little drop of the Maraschino juice from the jar, but only a small amount, if any. Another thing you can try if you like is to add some orange flavor, which is very traditional and old school, by dashing in some orange bitters or garnishing the drink with some orange peel. I don’t love that addition, but definitely give it a go for a taste of antiquity. Next, because a proper Manhattan, like a Martini, is stirred, not shaken (sorry again, 007), give it about 50 smooth rotations with a bar spoon. Strain the liquid into a Martini or the more-rounded “coup” cocktail glass, drop in that cherry and bombs away!
Jon's picks for the ingredients:
Rye: Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye
Vermouth: Camparo Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
Bitters: Angostura Bitters
Cherry: Mess Hall Bourbon Cherries (not exactly Maraschino, but slightly spiced and excellent)