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The Manly Manhattan

January 22, 2010

Cocktails are emasculating.  Just go and look at any cocktail menu at any bar that has such a thing.  They are largely sweet and sticky things whose primary purpose is to cover up the taste of alcohol and make it more palatable to those with a more delicate constitution.

Sometimes they are pink, or bright green, or could be confused with a milkshake.

But not all cocktails are emasculating.  James Bond for better or for worse drank the martini.  Ernest Hemingway drank maybe one too many daiquiris.  But the Manhattan is the only one known as the “drinking man’s cocktail.”

And it’s brown.

There is no sugared rim.  No cloying liqueurs.  There is no dusting with cocoa.  No syrup swirls.  It’s only whiskey, aromatized wine, bitters and perhaps a wee bit of garnish.  It is a cocktail after all.

If you will be kind enough to indulge my sentimentality, I will share the memory of my first Manhattan.  After yesterday’s heavy topic, it’s refreshing to think about college drinking.

It was late on a Saturday night in the fall of my senior year.  All the parties were over and the bars were all closed.  So obviously it was time to go get something to eat at the Wawa on 38th and Spruce.  A few of my friends stumble in a few minutes later, and they are hell bent on making it to Atlantic City before sunrise.

They lured me with the promise of free booze at the casinos.  Plus I’m always open to new experiences, and embrace the strange.

And it was there, in some casino whose name I do not know, that I ordered my first Manhattan.  It just felt right.  Here we were, a bunch of manly men, driving through the night, listening to Frank all the way, to make it to the shore by daybreak.

The thing I remember most about the drink was the maraschino cherry.

It was just too bright, too garish, sitting there in the bottom of the glass as if to say, “Look at me.”  That part just felt wrong.

And it is.

But we’ll get to that more in a bit.  First let’s focus on how to actually make what is one of my favorite cocktails.

1)    Fill your cocktail (or bucket) glass with cracked ice and a bit of water to chill
2)    Fill your mixing glass with large fresh ice cubes
3)    Add a two drops of Angostura bitters
4)    Add one drop of Fee’s orange bitters
5)    Add one drop of Angostura orange bitters
6)    Add two (2) ounces of whiskey (I like Wild Turkey Rye or Maker’s Mark)
7)    Add one (1) ounce of sweet vermouth (I stock Martini & Rossi Rosso)
8)    Stir until cold (about 20 to 30 seconds) – DO NOT SHAKE. EVER.
9)    Empty water from chilled glass, and strain the drink.

Now this is where the garnish comes into play.  I know the vast majority of recipes call for maraschino cherries.  They are all wrong.  Maraschino cherries should be abolished from the mahogany and relegated to the soda fountain, where they belong.

Instead, this drink deserves something that is as fine as the cocktail itself.  The garnish should be something of stature.  I would accept a cherry that has been soaked in sprits.  Even a dried cherry reconstituted with spirits would be fine. But it should be dark, like the cocktail. If no cherry is available, a twist of orange zest over the top also nicely rounds out the Manhattan.

Now don’t go mucking around with the recipe and trying to improve upon it.  If you are a tinkerer, here’s what you do: figure out the best adjustments to be made for different combinations of whiskeys, vermouths and bitters.

There are certainly over a million variations baked into the original formulation itself.  A million? Multiply the brands of rye and bourbon by the brands of sweet vermouth by the number of different bitters by the variations in the proportion of each, and you will get to a million in no time.

But don’t think you can substitute Stirrings blood orange bitters for orange bitters.  You can’t.  Mostly because they aren’t bitters.  Now you know.

Have a great weekend.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. llcwine permalink
    January 22, 2010 1:10 pm

    I prefer what we used to call a perfect Manhattan, good not premium quality canadian whiskey, both sweet and dry vermouth, on the rocks with a slice of orange and the cherry is optional….though I did know someone who used to like it a tad sweeter and added some of the liquid that comes with the cherries..made it too pink for me.

  2. BenP permalink
    January 22, 2010 10:40 pm

    I was just going to post my preference for the perfect manhattan as well! My favorite is up with a twist. I could swear I used to happily use lemon peel but I’m no longer sure. Remember… Don’t add extra vermouth. Just add a half-portion of both kinds.

    I always thought it would be fun to like Rob Roys, but I was never crazy about them. Does anyone have a good scotch recommendation that makes this drink come together well? Or a cherry alternative?

  3. Swilliguy permalink
    January 27, 2010 4:09 pm

    I prefer my Manhattan to taste a little more like the Bourbon I’m drinking so I cut down a little on the 2:1 bourbon to vermouth and make it more like 3:1. I’ve not tried the cocktail with 3 types of bitters, but I am intrigued by the thought. I agree Rye is the way to go, but upon the discovery of Basil Hayden, (a Jim Beam small batch bourbon made from rye) I prefer it to say Wild Turkey or Jim Beam Rye. I am also curious about the cherry issue. I would like to know where to get cherries that aren’t “Maraschinoed”, as even the ones I have soaked in bourbon are that type. I recently saw an online video on making a proper Manhattan and the barkeep had some cherries that were not designed for the soda fountain, but since I was inspired by seeing the video and promptly began experimenting with different proportions of bitters, booze and vermouth, I forgot all about the video and writing down the name of cherries. I can’t even remember what website the video was posted on, but I sure put a good buzz on making the perfect Manhattan. Great post!

  4. Richie from Nisky permalink
    June 9, 2010 11:01 am

    As a Manhattan fan, I have recently started using Carpano Antica vermouth in my Manhattans. It has a fantastic flavor, and the botanicals really come through. I use a 2:1 ratio with Makers Mark, and either Angostura or Fee’s bitters.

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