A Philosophy of the Manhattan Cocktail

Todd Appel
Origins of the Manhattan date back to New York of 1870’s. A different world existed back then. A time when Ulysses S. Grant was President, Stanley met Livingston, and the first Kentucky Derby was run and a time when the cocktail was still in its infancy in the U.S. It was the Manhattan that was born and sired may offspring while staying important and popular above the thousands of cocktail ghosts that litter old bar books today.
It is my favorite cocktail. This is the quintessential drinking man and woman’s cocktail and for good reason.  The simple blend of dark spirit, Italian vermouth (sweet) and bitters yields a cocktail that is very complex and rich in flavors and aromas. It was born for the sophisticated drinker, the one who wants to enjoy each sip with a smile, as it rolls gently over tongue and mouth.
It is excellent in either summer or winter. By adding a dash of orange or peach bitters it becomes the perfect summer evening cocktail. A hint of allspice makes it a special winter sipper.
While tobacco products are certainly becoming taboo, the Manhattan does blend perfectly with a wonderful cigar or slow burning clove scented cigarette.
Recipes abound for this drink, yet the basics are simply a dark, barrel matured spirit, Italian vermouth and bitters mixed over ice and served up in a cocktail glass.
Many other cocktails are derivatives or themes on the Manhattan. The Old Fashioned is a very close relative to the Manhattan, born some years later in Kentucky. Whiskey, bitters, sugar, ice and citrus garnish make the Old Fashioned a very similar play on the theme built by the granddaddy of all these drinks, the Manhattan.
Some variations have actually taken on names of their own. A Manhattan made with Scotch whisky is a Rob Roy and a Manhattan made with Brandy can also be called a Harvard. The Brandy Manhattan is most popular in the state of Wisconsin, where they do call it a Brandy Manhattan and also drink their Old Fashioneds with brandy as well.
Acceptable variations that can be put together like a jazz improvisation on a melody can include any of the following.
Dark Spirit: Canadian Whiskey, Bourbon Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Brandy or Cognac, Scotch whisky or any other whiskey that you may desire. Añejo tequila and rum are now accepted dark spirits that makes a delicious Manhattan style cocktail.
Vermouth or Amaro could be dry, sweet , bitter or a combination.
Liqueur Modifier  Try a splash of Maraschino, Peach, Pear etc. to add some fruit and depth to your manhattan style cocktail
Garnishes could include lemon peel, orange peel, maraschino or brandied cherries, or olives.
Bitters could be any of a multitude of homemade creations or prepared variations, such as Angostura, Fee Bros. Orange or Peach, or Peychaud’s.
Ice  Try it on the rocks for a cool slow sipping cocktail.
Ratios for any or all of the above can be varied to taste, but the dark spirit should be dominant in the drink.
Mixing the Manhattan is as important as deciding on your ratios. Ice is the unnamed and unseen ingredient that mellows and smoothes your Manhattan while the overt ingredients are blended together perfectly. Whether you drink your cocktail up, or on the rocks, an easy shake, stir, or tumble is essential to finishing your Manhattan.
My current favorite recipe for a Manhattan on the rocks:
½ part Dubonnet Rouge
½ Part Italian Vermouth
2 dashes of Angostura
1 dashes of peach bitters
1 Homemade Maraschino Cherry with stem
Build in your favorite rocks glass filled completely with ice and pour all contents into shaker and gently roll or swirl the cocktail and ice together. Do not shake. 15 seconds should do. Strain over fresh clear ice and add garnish. I sometimes swirl all ingredients including the garnish and pour all contents back into my rocks glass without straining. This adds some seasoning to the garnish and also extracts some subtle flavors from them into the cocktail.

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