Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Manhattan Cocktail

Splashing a cherry into a Manhattan Cocktail


Is This All-American Classic the World’s Best Cocktail? 

Cocktails are an American invention, and one of the best-known is the Manhattan.

No one can say with certainty where or when the Manhattan was first concocted, although cocktail historian David Wondrich says ”its roots stretch back to the old Manhattan Club, in 1874.”

But there’s no controversy regarding the popularity of the drink. Cocktail aficionados consider it one of the finest ever conceived, and it’s on almost everyone’s list of best cocktails.

We’ll get into this whole “best” thing later. Right now, we have a drink to build!


Splashing a cherry into a Manhattan Cocktail

Recipe: Manhattan Cocktail

The original Manhattan was made with rye whiskey, and that is my liquor of choice for this drink. Today some people prefer bourbon, a sweeter whiskey then rye. Bourbon is good, in my opinion — but not as good as rye in this drink. More about whiskey choices in the Notes.

Bitters (preferably the Angostura brand) were an important ingredient in the original cocktail, although today some bartenders omit them (assuming their clients prefer the drink without). But this is faulty thinking — the same kind that leads many bartenders to omit dry vermouth in the Dry Martini. The Manhattan Cocktail loses much of its soul without bitters. So if you don’t have bitters on hand, make yourself a different drink.

This recipe serves one. The proper ratio of rye to sweet vermouth is 2:1, so you can easily scale up this recipe to serve to a crowd.

Ingredients
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey (I prefer Wild Turkey 101 proof or Rittenhouse 100 proof Bottled in Bond; see Notes)
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth (the red stuff; Martini and Rossi is widely available and good quality)
  • 1 - 2 dashes Angostura bitters (I like bitters so I always use 2 dashes, sometimes more)
  • maraschino cherry for garnish (preferably one with a stem; optional)
 Procedure
  1. Fill mixing container half full with ice.
  2. Add ingredients.
  3. Using a long-handled spoon (a bar spoon is ideal) stir vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that’s been chilled).
  5. Garnish, if you wish, with a maraschino cherry (I often omit a garnish)
Why Stir Rather Than Shake?

Note that the recipe directs you to stir the drink.   There are three reasons for this:
  1. It makes the drink cold.
  2. Stirring with ice somewhat dilutes the drink, which adds volume and an important dimension to the final flavor.
  3. When you shake, you introduce tiny air bubbles into the drink, which (until they dissipate) gives the drink a somewhat “cloudy” appearance.  Many Manhattan aficionados prefer the crystal clear look that stirring imparts.  You can shake if you want — I often do — but your drink will be cloudy.  (By the way, you should always shake a drink containing any citrus juice, because citrus is difficult to incorporate into a drink merely by stirring, and because the inclusion of citrus juice means the drink will never be crystal clear anyway.)
Ingredients for Manhattan Cocktail:  Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Angostura Bitters
Ingredients for a Manhattan

 Notes
  • Because rye grain grows well in the cold northeastern United States, it was the primary ingredient for whiskey in that part of the country (rye whiskey by law must contain at least 51% rye).  And because the Manhattan Cocktail hails from, well, Manhattan, it makes sense that the drink was first made with rye.
  • Besides, the sharp taste of rye blends exceptionally well with sweet vermouth and bitters, producing a superior Manhattan.
  • Although I prefer either Wild Turkey 101 proof rye or Rittenhouse 100 proof Bottled in Bond for my Manhattans, both ryes can be difficult to find.  The two most widely available ryes are Old Overholt Rye and Jim Beam Rye (every liquor store and many supermarkets will stock at least one of these).  Either of them is more than serviceable.
  • Both Old Overholt and Jim Beam are 80 proof.  My preferred brands are 101 and 100 proof, respectively.  (I like them for their flavor, not because they contain more alcohol.)  Because Wild Turkey and Rittenhouse make stronger drinks, if you use them, you may want to reduce the ingredient quantities to 1½ ounces rye and ¾ ounce sweet vermouth (plus 1 or 2 dashes of bitters).
  • In areas of the United States outside the Northeast, corn tends to grow better than rye.  And where corn is plentiful, bourbon is usually the most common whiskey (by law, bourbon must contain at least 51% corn).
  • No doubt the popularity of bourbon outside the Northeast prompted some drinkers to replace rye with bourbon in their Manhattans.  That version of the drink is good, but because bourbon is so much sweeter than rye, the drink can be cloying.
  • Solution?  If you substitute bourbon for rye in your Manhattan, you need to tinker with the amount of sweet vermouth to add (you’ll likely need less than I specify).
  • Gary Regan, mixologist extraordinaire, prefers bourbon in his Manhattans. In his Joy of Mixology he details the proper ratio of sweet vermouth to use with various brands of bourbon. If you want to make the perfect bourbon-based Manhattan, his book is well worth reading.
  • Speaking of “perfect,” in cocktail parlance “perfect” usually means equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth.  If you want to use bourbon in your Manhattans, I suggest you make a Perfect Manhattan:  2 parts of bourbon, ½ part each sweet and dry vermouth, and bitters.  This will balance better with the sweetness of the bourbon.
  • I very much prefer Angostura bitters in my Manhattans.  But some people like Pechaud’s bitters or orange bitters.  If you have them on hand, certainly give them a try.  I have, and they make a nice Manhattan.  But I still prefer Angostura.
  • Much of Wisconsin, particularly the northern part of the state, has a love affair with brandy.  And not just any brandy:  It has to be Korbel.  Many of these folks like their whiskey-based drinks to be made with brandy.  The Manhattan, the Old-Fashioned — it doesn’t matter.  Brandy is their spirit of choice.  In fact, in some Wisconsin establishments, the bartenders will just assume that’s what you want, and mix accordingly.  Just a word to the wise in case you voyage there.
  • The Manhattan is an “up” drink (i.e., served chilled but without ice in a cocktail glass).  That said, many people prefer this drink “on the rocks.”  Although some drinks (like the Martini) should never be served this way, I think the Manhattan works OK over ice.  
Manhattan Cocktail with Cherry Garnish


What Prohibition Wrought 

Speaking of the Martini, it — rather than the Manhattan — is probably the best-known cocktail today. The Dry Martini is also probably the Manhattan’s fiercest challenger for the title of “best” cocktail. But the Martini’s rise to prominence may be something of an accident, driven by Prohibition.

Before Prohibition, whiskey-based drinks were America’s favorites. But whiskey needs aging, and Prohibition shut down all the commercial enterprises devoted to producing fine, aged whiskey. So whiskey became scarce. What was available had to be smuggled in (often from Canada).

As a result, gin (which requires no aging) became the favorite bootleg spirit of the speakeasy. Bootleg gin was easy to produce, it mixed well with other ingredients, and it tasted far better than bootleg whiskey. Thus, gin became the popular base spirit in cocktails, and the Martini became one of the most popular drinks.

Even after Prohibition ended, the Martini retained its popularity. It took some time for distillers to restore whiskey supplies (remember, whiskey needs to be aged), so Americans got in the habit of preferring drinks made with gin (or sometimes rum). By the time rye and bourbon became widely available again, the nation’s taste had shifted to less distinctively flavored spirits.

So, Which Is the Best? 

So the Martini is better known. But what about my suggestion that the Manhattan is the “best” cocktail? Both the Martini and the Manhattan feature an illustrious liquor mixed with vermouth and bitters (if you don’t think a Martini needs bitters, you should read about the Dry Martini).

Both cocktails offer distinctive flavors, both are easy to mix, and both just plain taste good. Of the two, however, I think the Manhattan has the more interesting flavor, which is why I would hand it the prize.

The Manhattan Cocktail also has a warming effect, which makes it a better cool-weather drink. The Martini, though somewhat less interesting overall, probably offers better refreshment during warmer months.

So as we head into winter, you can look forward to the perfect weather for consuming the world’s best cocktail. You may be shoveling snow and scraping ice, but at least you won’t have to compromise on the quality of your drink.

You may also enjoy reading about:

The Dry Martini Cocktail
The Pegu Club Cocktail
The Gin and Tonic
The Classic Daiquiri

28 comments:

  1. Great information. However what I love even more is your incredible photograpahy! What kind of camera are you using?

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  2. I you are fond of rye you should be on the lookout for Templeton Rye out of Iowa. It is small batch and the stuff is the best rye I have ever used when making Manhattans.

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  3. Hi Vicki, thanks for the kind words. I'm using a Nikon D40, which is a low-end DSLR (6MP), but nice to work with. Thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Matty, thanks for the tip! I've never heard of Templeton Rye, but a quick Google search turns up interesting info about it. I'll look for it. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. I love classic cocktails and a well-crafted Manhattan is high on my list of favorites! Thank you for sharing this great recipe and all of the great information about it. And I just love your cocktail photos!! They are always stunning.

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  5. Very much enjoyed your post. I usually drink my Manhattans with wheated bourbon on the rocks. At that point it may not be a Manhattan anymore, but it is still delicious :)

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  6. @Katherine, classic cocktails are wonderful! I discovered them a few years ago, and greatly enjoy them. There are dozens I want to write about. Thanks for the compliment regarding the photos - you take such great photos, your praise really means something to me. I really enjoy cocktail photography, although I find it hard to do. But I think I'm getting better. Thanks for stopping by.

    @Other Half, wheated bourbon sounds wonderful! I've never had that; at least I don't think I have. Any way that you prefer your drink or food is OK in my book. And your Manhattan does sound delicious. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Wow, gorgeous! I'm using the same camera and the results are far less impressive than yours! Maybe someday.

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  8. Hi Danguole, lot's of practice is the key. What I find hardest isn't the photography so much as the food styling. I have tons of pictures where the photographer (me) came through, but the food stylist (me!) didn't. But it's a lot of fun. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. Hi. Really great description, recipe and explanation of a beautiful, beautiful drink. The photography as well is excellent. And i couldn't agree more with your comment about bitters...i think citrus and bitters are the salt and pepper of cocktails...if a recipe is tasting a little thin, tweaking the balance of bitters to sugar and acid is normally enough to make it deeper and richer.

    Just for the record, the cocktail you describe above is in fact just a Manhattan (Perfect, Dry or Sweet). The Manhattan Cocktail is in fact a much older drink. Whereas we first see Manhattans appearing in this sort of recipe from relatively recently, the Manhattan Cocktail dates back to the late 19th Century (Can be found in How To Mix Drinks, The Bon Vivants Companion and Harry Johnson 1882 Bartenders Manual). That recipe has a much higher proportion of Sweet Vermouth to Rye Whiskey, as well as orange Curacao and a now forgotten ingredient - Bokers Bitters. It is also garnished witha lemon twist, not a cherry.

    Please don't misread my comment as an insult or criticism, I just thought you would be interested to know. And if you would like a recipe for the Manhattan Cocktail, we have our own-modernised version at my bar, which i'd be happy to share.

    Many thanks for the beautiful Blog, and keep up the good work.

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  10. Hi Me & You Cocktails, thanks for the extra added info! You are quite correct that the original Manhattan was much sweeter than the version I present (just as the original Martini was much sweeter than the one I have on my blog). Mine is actually the "classic" version, which is how the drink evolved in the first third of the 20th century. I've seen recipes for Bokers Bitters, but alas have never tasted them. Didn't know the 19th century version was garnished with a twist. To be honest, I often (as in almost never) garnish my drinks unless there is a compelling reason to do so. But they often do look pretty, so I like to use them in photographs. Thanks for stopping by, and for your detailed comments.

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  11. I dont know if i would call it the 'original'...in my mind they are 2 separate cocktails....The Manhattan, and The Manhattan Cocktail. As for garnishing you are absolutely right, and i think the problem is often that when people read 'lemon twist' often it is not realised that the lemon should be peeled over the glass, thus spraying lemon oil over it which would obviously flavour the drink quite strongly . If you macerate your own cherries teh addition of a cherry to a Manhattan, can also make a world of difference...and is a nice sweet cleanser at the end of an otherwise strong drinkl Keep up the excellent work, i really enjoy your writing.

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  12. Hi Me & You & Cocktails, thanks again for your comment! Really interesting point that you're making. One difficulty, though, is the Manhattan as I describe it is a cocktail; and if you walk into most bars today and order either a "Manhattan" or a "Manhattan Cocktail" - you're going to get a drink similar to how I've described it (too often, though, without the bitters). I agree that the first Manhattans had a sweeter profile. David Wondrich in his great book, Imbibe!, says there are several different "schools of Manhattanistics" - the earliest recipe he detailed called for Peruvian bitters, gum syrup, and equal parts of whiskey & vermouth. Quite similar to what you describe. Anyway, you do make an interesting point. Wait until I get around to writing up the Old Fashioned; there's lots of disagreement on how to mix that (I'm in the camp of not topping it up with water or soda). Interesting you mention macerating cherries - I'm planning on doing that, probably next year, and will of course write it up. Many thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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  13. Oh yeah, absolutely understand the naming difficulties...just being pedantic really. And water or Soda in an Old Fashioned is blasphemy!

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  14. "And water or Soda in an Old Fashioned is blasphemy! Amen. Thanks again for the interesting conversation and your kind words re the blog & photos.

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  15. Great post, great info, but the photo just blew me away!

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  16. Hi FJK, thank you! I'm having a lot of fun learning food photography. Cocktails are challenging (because of the reflections on the glass) but the most fun because so many of them have gorgeous colors. Thanks for stopping by.

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  17. Your Manhattan post has made quite a splash! I drink only water myself, but I've enjoyed the gustatory enthusiasm of your followers.

    Will you be posting any recipes for Thanksgiving biscuits?

    your friend,
    Beet.

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  18. Hi Beet, thanks! By coincidence, biscuits are next up. Hope you enjoy it.

    Your friend, Kitchen

    (Readers: no, I'm not spamming my comment thread. Long story behind "anonymous" which is way off topic.)

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  19. hello - did you get a bottle of templeton? i absolutely love this rye. my family has long roots in my beloved state of iowa and it is wonderful that templeton has reappeared.
    also, what snacks do you enjoy with your manhattan?

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  20. Hi Anonymous, haven't yet tried the Templeton, though I plan to at some point. Snacks? I like Homemade Chex Mix.

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  21. Love the Article but I totally agree with Sir Kingsley Amis that the best cocktail ever invented is the Old Fashioned. Similar of course to the Manhattan, but just different enough. Oh, like the Manhattan, better made with Rye as the Good Lord intended.

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    1. Hi James, no argument from me that the Old Fashioned is a superb drink! I'm rereading Amis' drink books right now (in that reissue that has 3 of them presented together). I haven't read him for at least 30 years. His recipe for an Old Fashioned was one of the first I ever used, although nowadays I think it's too sweet - he calls for "1 hefty squeeze of fresh orange juice and 1 teaspoon maraschino cherry juice." I'm fine with the orange and cherry garnish, but want just a bit of sugar to sweeten the drink. Thanks for the interesting comment.

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    2. I love that reissue....it has become my bar bible! I totally agree with you about his Old Fashioned being a bit too sweet and I use less sugar than he suggests. I also include a squeeze of lemon juice to the mix, balances it out I think. Best Regards!

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    3. Hi James, thanks for the followup! Lemon juice sounds interesting - I'll have to give that a try. Thanks.

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  22. First time on the site, but will make it a habit. I have always used bourbon in my Manhatten, mixed perfect. Now I know why - learned something. I will go and buy some rye today, and try just the sweet vermouth. Thanks for the write-up!

    Mike

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    1. Hi Mike,welcome! A Perfect Rye Manhattan is pretty good, too. Rye is a wonderful liquor IMO - hope you enjoy. Thanks for the comment.

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  23. Been perusing this site, love it! Rye lover here. I see some good discussion about Templeton. I agree it's a fantastic rye, but I tend to shy away from mixing it in my drinks. It's VERY mellow and a bit sweet, which makes it a great rye for sipping neat, but I prefer my cocktails to have a little bite. I prefer the Bulleit 95 rye or Michter's rye for making drinks.

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    1. Hi Marshall, I agree that Templeton isn't something I'd use to mix drinks. Bulleit is nice, and I really think Rittenhouse makes a superb Manhattan. Thanks for the comment.

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