Monday, October 19, 2015

Manhattan Construction

Classic Manhattan Cocktail

How do you build the best Manhattan? That's a simple question with a not so simple answer. Like a lot of cocktails that have been around awhile, there are lots of ways to make a Manhattan. Opinions on what makes "the best" Manhattan are likely as strong as the drink itself.

Here then are my opinions, honed to perfection (or so I'd like to think) with quite a lot of experience and research (ahem).


First and foremost, Manhattans can be served in different ways. I prefer mine served up (i.e. in a cocktail glass without ice). They are also sometimes served on the rocks in a lowball glass, which would keep the drink colder but also dilute it more if you don't drink it fast. A Manhattan is a strong cocktail. It should be enjoyed and not downed quickly with a few swallows. Save the rocks and rocks glass for an Old Fashioned.


An "up" Manhattan calls for classy glass--something statuesque. It can be either a coupe (the rounded kind that champagne was once popularly served in) or a cocktail glass (the conical kind some people call a "martini" glass). Pop the glass in the freezer before you start making the drink to give it a nice chill.


Whiskey is the base spirit of a Manhattan, and about half the finished drink is whiskey, so choose a good one. Although a lot of people make a Manhattan with bourbon, rye whiskey is traditional, and I prefer it myself. While a bourbon Manhattan isn't a bad thing, I find it gives the drink a softer, sweeter profile. I like the rougher flavor of the rye. I wouldn't recommend other types of whiskey for a Manhattan. Rittenhouse and Bulleit are my favorite rye whiskeys. Clay Risen's authoritative American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit calls Bulleit rye "a fine choice for a Manhattan cocktail" and says that Rittenhouse rye is "a spot-on classic rye." I keep both stocked in our bar depending on my mood.

Sweet vermouth

Sweet vermouth, also known as Italian or red vermouth, is what you want to take the edge off the whiskey and add sweetness. Dolin sweet vermouth is a very good choice for Manhattans, and I love that they sell their vermouth in smaller bottles, so you can use it up and it stays fresh. However, lately, I've become a convert to Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, a relatively new product that adds a bit of vanilla. It makes for a fantastic Manhattan. Some variations also experiment with Italian amari, which can be fun, although not traditional.


The traditional ratio for a Manhattan is 2:1 whiskey to vermouth. I find the 2:1 works great with a 100-proof whiskey like Rittenhouse rye. When using a standard-proof (in the 80s to 90s) whiskey, however, I like to up the whiskey a bit to 3:1. There are, of course, other formulas. Gary Regan's Bartender's Guide uses a 2 2/3 to 1 ratio, making for a stronger drink.


Traditionally, a Manhattan is made with Angostura bitters. If you have a single bottle of bitters kicking around your bar, it's probably this one. However, other bitters work great in a Manhattan too. Orange bitters can make for a bright drink, while chocolate bitters can add a dessert-like component. And during the winter months, Fee Brothers' whiskey barrel-aged bitters makes for a particularly cosy Manhattan. I also sometimes split the difference with one dash of aromatic (Angostura or whiskey barrel-aged) bitters and one dash of orange bitters. I don't recommend using more than two dashes of bitters per drink, as it can make the drink too bitter.


Since a Manhattan is all alcohol, experts would advise stirring it, and I really do agree. Shaken Manhattans can get too diluted and it's weird to get a Manhattan with a few bubbles on top, a telltale sign it was shaken. Stirring a cocktail isn't just a few turns with spoon. You need to stir long enough to thoroughly chill and slightly dilute the drink, at least 30 seconds up to a minute.


Manhattans can be garnished with either a cherry or a citrus twist, but not both. This isn't an Old Fashioned (and really, and Old Fashioned also only needs one garnish). When I started making Manhattans, I was in the orange peel camp, but I migrated to the preserved sweetened cherry camp. Maraschino cherries are traditional and easy to come by; however, I often garnish my Manhattans with the darker bing cherry, just because it looks cool.

Cocktail: Traditional Manhattan

2 oz. rye whiskey, such as Rittenhouse
1 oz. sweet vermouth, such a Carpano Antica or Dolin
2 dashes bitters, such as Angostura
Maraschino or bing cherry, garnish

Combine whiskey, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.


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