The Manhattan, A Great Cocktail However You Make It
Oct 04, 2010
The Manhattan is one of our most popular, if not most beloved, cocktails. References to the drink date back more than a hundred years, meaning it survived Prohibition and countless cocktail trends that had people consuming all manner of drinks (Buttery Nipple, anyone?).
The strength of the Manhattan lies in the brevity of the ingredient list and how well they play together. After all, it doesn't get much simpler than bourbon and sweet vermouth.
Or is that rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters? Wait, maybe it's Canadian Whisky, orange bitters and equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. What about the garnish? Should it be a maraschino cherry or twist of lemon? And which of these versions is "perfect?" (Is there an imperfect Manhattan?)
Google "Manhattan cocktail recipe" and you'll get a more than 2.8 million (mostly porn) results, and I would venture nearly as many unique takes on the classic drink.
Some Manhattans I've ordered were simple affairs: bourbon and sweet vermouth. A nice enough drink, but technically the lack of bitters makes it a sling, not a cocktail. I think it also makes for a cheap bar.
More often than not, though, I come across Manhattans that are made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and garnished with a frighteningly red cherry. Although this drink looks and (more or less) tastes like a Manhattan, it's not quite.
To help figure out what makes a Manhattan a Manhattan, I e-mailed noted cocktail expert and proprietor of The Passenger and Columbia Room, Derek Brown.
"A Manhattan is a cocktail with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters," he wrote. "Often, Bourbon is substituted for rye. The varying proportions are important dinstinctions(sp) but don't necessarily constitute a separate category."
So while the ingredients are important, they don't have to be in the traditional amounts of two parts whiskey, one part vermouth and three dashes of bitters. Brown cited the reverse Manhattan, which is two parts sweet vermouth and one part whiskey.
While Brown noted that bourbon can be substituted for rye, in parts of the Midwest, there's no substitute for brandy.
My wife's family and part of mine come from the great state of Wisconsin. Order a Manhattan in Mosinee and no one will bat an eye. Order it with bourbon or rye and they'll know you're not local.
For many Midwesterners, the typical Manhattan also uses equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, which is commonly known as the perfect Manhattan.
Whenever I get together with my father-in-law, the day ends with a Manhattan. He grew up on them in central Wisconsin and seems to enjoy my take on the drink (or the fact that I'm making them).
Of course, my recipe is different. Both recipes, actually.
With all these variations of the drink, what makes a true Manhattan and what doesn't?
When I posed this question to Brown, he sought counsel.
"Former judge and judicial scholar Robert Bork had this to say about martinis in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2005," Brown wrote, "which was his response to an article by Eric Felten: 'What counts in mixology is the 'original understanding' of the martini's essence by those who first consumed it. The essence remains unaltered but allows proportions to evolve as circumstances change. Mr. Felten's 'near-perfect martini' is the same in principle as the 'original-understanding martini' and therefore its legitimate descendant. Such latter-day travesties as the chocolate martini and the raspberry martini, on the other hand, are the work of activist bartenders.' Hope that helps."
It seems that fans of the Manhattan are attracted to the spirit of the drink - the rich, sweet amber whiskey (or whisky) cocktail - not necessarily the specifics of the ingredient list. While one man's Manhattan might be technically different than another's, when it comes down to it, we're all enjoying the same great cocktail.
The "Perfect Manhattan" and Little Italy
2 ounces of rye whiskey or bourbon (Wild Turkey 101-Proof Rye or Early Times Kentucky bourbon)
1 ounce of sweet vermouth (Dolin if you can find it.)
1/2 ounce of dry vermouth (Dolin again.)
4 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 brandied cherry (Les Parisiennes or similar brand)
When I make a Manhattan, I always use dry vermouth. It balances out the sweetness of the sweet vermouth and richness of the bourbon.
In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and stir. Add the dry vermouth to the cocktail glass and gently swirl so the vermouth coats the walls of the glass (a process known as rinsing), and then discard the rest into the sink or drink it like I do. (If you like your Manhattan on the rocks, pour the dry vermouth over the ice, swirl and remove the rest. This way, the ice will be nicely coated.) Add the cherry to the glass.
(A quick word on the cherry. It's time to graduate from the candy-red cherry you're used to using. A couple years ago, I picked up a jar of Les Parisiennes brandied cherries and haven't looked back. These cherries are sweet, but not cloying, and a little boozy, which is appropriate for, well, booze.)
Fill the shaker half way with ice and stir for 20-30 seconds or until the whiskey, vermouth and bitters are thoroughly combined. Strain the ingredients into the cocktail glass and enjoy.
If you find the Manhattan a bit too sweet, this might be the drink for you. I replace the sweet vermouth with amaro, a bitter Italian liquor. It's sweet enough to stand in place of the sweet vermouth, but the added bitter levels things out. I also like to use Fee Brothers' Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters instead of Angostura for the caramel and nutmeg flavors they bring to this drink.
2 ounces of rye whiskey or bourbon (Wild Turkey 101-Proof Rye or Early Times Kentucky Bourbon)
1 ounce of amaro (I like Ramazzotti.)
1/2 ounce of dry vermouth (Dolin once again.)
4 dashes of Fee Brothers' Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 brandied cherry
In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, amaro, bitters and stir. Add the dry vermouth to the cocktail glass and gently swirl so the vermouth coats to walls of the glass, and then discard the rest. Add the cherry.
Fill the shaker half way with ice and stir for 20-30 seconds or until the whiskey, amaro and bitters are thoroughly combined. Strain the ingredients into the cocktail glass and enjoy.