Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Meet Me in Manhattan

The Manhattan is sort of a whiskey martini as it's composed of spirit and vermouth, though it has bitters thrown in as well. I consider it the more exciting and flavorful cousin of the martini. While traditionally made with rye whiskey, the modern Manhattan often includes Bourbon, so we tried some of both.


Rye Whiskey or Bourbon
Vermouth (sweet or dry, depending)
Angostura Bitters
Garnish (Cherry or lemon)

How to Make a Manhattan

There is the Manhattan, which uses sweet vermouth and a maraschino cherry and then there is a perfect Manhattan which uses both dry and sweet vermouth and a lemon twist. I tried both.

I have to admit that, like many serious drinkers, I have a deep phobia of maraschino cherries. I mean, come on, those "cherries" aren't fruit. They bear no resemblance to any cherry I've ever had; they're made in a lab somewhere out of plastic and Red Dye #5, or worse; they may be the Soylent Green of bar garnishes. In any case, I tend to shy away from the cherries but added them here based on tradition.

The recipe is simple. In a shaker or pint glass pour:

2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill the glass with ice and stir or shake (I've got no dog in that fight). Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the radioactive cherry. To make it perfect use 1/4 ounce each of sweet and dry vermouth and garnish with a lemon twist instead of a cherry.

The Rye Manhattan

Having learned my lesson with last week's Sazeracs, I stuck with the mid-level rye here and used Rittenhouse 100, although Old Overholt or Sazerac 6 year old would probably do a comparable job.

I started by making a regular and perfect Manhattan out of Rittenhouse. I was not pleased. For me, the rye whiskey Manhattan is just too densely flavored. You've got the spice of the rye, the botanicals in the Vermouth, the bitters and, in the perfect version, the twist. It's a bit of an overload. Rather than a pleasing gestalt, it's a big chaotic clusterfuck of flavors. Like atonal symphonic music or the most radical of orchestral free jazz, I struggle to find beauty in the cacophony. It's a thin line, and in the end, the composition is lacking in harmony (or harmelodics) and the sum is not greater than the whole of its parts.

Well, you can't like everything.

The Bourbon (or Tennessee) Manhattan

After my rye experiments, I was about to give up on the Manhattan when I read Tony Cecchini's Cosmopolitan: A Bartender's Life. Cecchini's entertaining work is a sort of Kitchen Confidential for bartenders, a look at the ugly and often humorous reality of professional drink slingers.

Cecchini, who prides himself on his Manhattans, includes a Manhattan recipe using George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey instead of rye. Given that I am a Dickel fan, I decided to try it, and I'm glad I did. The sweetness of Dickel provides that certain something that the rye Manhattans were missing. It pulls together all of the aromatics in the bitters and vermouth so that it tastes like one cohesive whole.

I followed that up with a Woodford Reserve Manhattan, which was also terrific.

So, make mine a Bourbon Manhattan or even better, a Tennessee Manhattan. Thanks Tony!

Next Wednesday: The Mint Julep


luniz said...

I'm an amateur but I like them perfect with Maker's and no damn fruit.

Dr. Whisky said...

Made mine with sazerac 6 (2oz) and noilly prat rouge (just under 1oz) and it was fricking delish but I can certainly see that vermouth and whiskey chosen will totally effect the ratio.

and yes, no damn "fruit", but sometimes on the rocks for me.

sku said...

Lately, I've been using Carpano Antica Formula, which is a rockin' good Vermouth, but a little goes a long way.