Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Manhattan!
Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. I wanted to cover one more classic whiskey drink before spring arrives. I’ve poured hundreds of these in my career behind the stick. But making a truly good one is all in the details. Let’s make some Manhattans. Here’s the recipe.
2 oz Western Reserve 4 Year Rye Whiskey
1 oz Boissiere Sweet Vermouth
2 shakes Angostura Bitters
Add 2-3 large ice cubes to a stirring vessel. Pour all ingredients over the ice. Stir 8-12 seconds, or until the outside of the vessel is cold. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry on a cocktail stick. This cocktail is 33% ABV, or 66 proof.
The Manhattan’s a classic 1800’s cocktail. It’s easily as old as the martini, old fashioned, and sidecar. A serious craft cocktail bar without a Manhattan on the menu isn’t a serious craft cocktail bar. But Manhattans haven’t always been popular. In the dark ages of the '70s and '80s, bourbon fell by the wayside in favor of vodka and tequila. When drinkers rediscovered rye whiskey, the Manhattan came back into its own. The dark, peppery flavor of rye compliments the rich sweetness of vermouth like peanut butter and jelly. It’s easily one of my favorite cocktails.
The crucial part of any good Manhattan is the ratios. If you don’t balance the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters right, you’ll end up with a bad drink. The magic numbers are 2:1:2 – two parts rye, one part vermouth, two shakes of bitters. Measuring is critical. If you don’t own a jigger or a graduated cylinder, now’s the time to pick one up. Nail those ratios. Make that drink. You won’t regret it.
Before I dive into ingredients, I want to make it clear that my bottle choices are only suggestions. I try to keep my choices in the $20-$30 range. If that’s not in your budget, please feel free to pick something less expensive but still tasty. Even a “cheap” Manhattan is going to be terrific, especially if you make it yourself. With that in mind, here’s what’s in my glass right now:
Ingredient shot. The Luxardo cherry drowned in the Manhattan shortly after this photo was taken. Matthew Hooper
Western Reserve 4 Year Rye Whiskey: Rye whiskey is very similar to bourbon, but the base ingredients are different. Bourbon is made from at least 51 percent corn. Rye is mostly, well, rye grain. Jack Daniel's explained the difference beautifully – bourbon is corn bread, rye whiskey is rye bread. Western Reserve is locally made here in Ohio. As rye whiskey goes, it’s fairly mild. It smells of honey and citrus, and tastes of peppery rye spice. If you can’t get Western Reserve near you, try Larceny Rye, Rittenhouse Rye, or Jack Daniel’s Rye. Any of those would work wonderfully.
Boissiere Sweet Vermouth: First things first: Vermouth is not liquor. It’s wine. Keep it in the fridge. If you don’t, it gets nasty fast. Room temperature vermouth on the rail is a sure sign of a dive bar. Don’t run a dive bar at home. Chill your vermouth. After that, please feel free to explore what vermouth goes well with your favorite whiskey in a Manhattan. I started out using the most expensive vermouth I had, Campari Antico. It tasted yeasty and funky with the Western Reserve rye. Boissiere tasted much better, and it’s half the price of Campari Antico. Taste a few vermouth brands, decide what you like, use what you like best.
Angostura Bitters: The spice of Angostura glues together the rich sweetness of the vermouth and the spicy rye. Angostura’s bottle is weird. The label is much bigger than the bottle itself. According to legend, two brothers were put in charge of bottling process for Angostura. One bought the bottles, the other designed the label. The end result was corporate American decision making at its finest.
Luxardo Cherries: These cherries are dreadfully expensive, and completely worth it. Customers beg for a second cherry on their cocktails. Dunking the cherry into the cocktail is a great move. The cherry dries out, and the drink gets richer and sweeter. It’s an investment, but you need to try these at least once.
Now that we’ve talked about the ingredients in the classic rendition of the Manhattan, I’d like to encourage your creativity. The crucial part of the Manhattan is the ratio: 2:1:2. If you respect that ratio, you can create all kinds of exciting variations. Basically, any aged spirit, any rich vermouth, and any bitters produce a tasty Manhattan. Dozens of bartenders have made signature Manhattans for their bars. There’s no reason you can’t jump in. Some quick variants:
Bourbon Manhattan: Bourbon’s sweet all on its own. A 50/50 ratio of sweet and dry vermouth – a “perfect” Manhattan, in bar lingo — might pay off. Alternately, upping the bitters content might be tasty, especially if you use something like black walnut bitters or spiced cherry bitters.
Black Walnut Manhattan: Replace the vermouth with nocino, a very tasty black walnut liqueur. The sugar content of the nocino will be higher than that of the vermouth. A dark, spicy rye is key. Rittenhouse Rye does the job fairly nicely. Black walnut bitters are a must. A candied walnut meat would probably be over the top in terms of sweetness, but it sure would look pretty.
Cabernet Manhattan: Vermouth is a sweetened, fortified wine. Why not just use wine in your Manhattan? Use bourbon instead of rye here. You want to boost the sweetness of the cocktail if you’re using a dry wine.
Tequila Manhattan: This one is really out there, but with an anejo tequila it works. Use a dry white wine or dry vermouth. I’d use orange bitters or – if you’re feeling brave – hellfire tincture for your bitters.
In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! I’m the head mixologist and bar manager for Western Reserve Distillers. Come by and say hello! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!