Monday, October 19, 2015

Ode to the Manhattan Cocktail

Manhattan cocktails

During the past year, we've discovered a new favorite cocktail: the Manhattan. Of course, it's not a "new" drink, and we'd be drinking them for years. But, for whatever reason, lately it's what we turn to the most.

A good Manhattan is wonderfully satisfying: it has the woodsy/spicy flavor of whiskey, a bit of sweetness from the vermouth and a touch of bitterness. It's cold but not frozen, assertive but not overpowering, not too sweet and not too bitter.

In his book, Imbibe!, David Wondrich, renowned chronicler of cocktail history, states that there is general agreement that the Manhattan cocktail did in fact originate in New York. After that, there is a lot of disagreement as to its origins, a common problem in tracing the history of many of the best-known cocktails (I summarized some of these theories last year when I wrote about the Manhattan as part of my cocktail bitters week). No matter how it started, Wondrich says that drink was pretty well established by the mid-1880s. As such, it predates the classic martini by about a decade.

This week, I'm going to focus my attention upon this intoxicating drink: its history, recipe variations and, importantly, how to make it well. I have a companion article up today on constructing the perfect Manhattan. Below are links to 10 variations on the Manhattan that I put up on my site today.

I'm not the only one who likes to play around with Manhattans. My friends on the My Poor Liver Podcast tried three different bourbon-based Manhattans in their "Manhattan transfer" episode last year. And check out The Rakish Bon Vivant's excellent overview of his Manhattan experiments, published on the Duncan Quinn site. (Anybody know who The Rakish Bon Vivant Is? His blog hasn't been updated in 3 years, but he has some great content.) Check back on Friday for an 8-2-Eat with further reading (and listening) on the Manhattan.

Traditional Manhattan - The basic classic of 2:1 rye whiskey and sweet vermouth with bitters.

Classic Manhattan, variation #1 - A heftier 3:1 rye-to-vermouth ratio made this my Manhattan of choice for most of this year.

Classic Manhattan, variation #2 - Playing with ingredients, a subtle switch from variation #1 featuring my new favorite sweet vermouth, Carpano Antica.

White Manhattan - A brighter take on the Manhattan made with unaged rye whiskey and white vermouth (I've actually included two recipes here--one by a San Francisco bartender and my own version).

Winter Manhattan - The opposite of the white Manhattan, a smokier, woodsier version I created that I think is perfect for cold months.

Black Manhattan - The classic Manhattan but made with Italian amaro instead of sweet vermouth.

Elijah's Railcar - A variation on the Black Manhattan with a little honey and an aromatic grating of cinnamon.

Brooklyn - Admittedly, not a Manhattan, but it's close cousin from across the East River. The Brooklyn uses dry instead of sweet vermouth, getting its sweetness instead from maraschino liqueur.

Perfect Manhattan - A classic variation that uses both sweet and dry vermouths in equal measure.

Spanish Harlem - A south-of-the-border version made with añejo tequila instead of whiskey.

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