Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Speakeasy cocktail world rests on two pillars. This is the other one.

The Manhattan.

The Manhattan is, to me, the equivalent to the navy blazer in a gentleman's wardrobe. Elegant, simple and flexible.

Let's get one thing out of the way, right off the bat. The classic Manhattan was made with rye whiskey. Bourbon has become accepted, at least in the popular culture, the way vodka is now commonplace as the base spirit in a martini.

We may be too polite to say so, but we also know what's what.

At this point in the proceedings, the Usual Cocktail Blogger would begin to tell you of the various competing narratives for the title of The Real Origins of The Manhattan. However, I can't be bothered. It was invented at the Manhattan Club in the 18somethings.

That's not the important bit.

Mixing one properly is.

Now, here's the thing.
At the time of Prohibition/speakeasies, there were three basic spirits used for cocktails. Gin, "whiskey" and rum. Rum was only used because it was, in the words of Jeff "Beachbum" Berry "The only bonded liquor you could get" during Prohibition. Gin and "whiskey" (which meant rye or bourbon depending on where in the USA you were standing...all of my vintage cocktail books have one section for "Rye/Bourbon" recipes) were what people really wanted to drink.

But here's the interesting bit. Gin is like cats and "whiskey" is like dogs, in the sense that you can have a MUCH broader spectrum of flavors in, say, bourbon than you find in gins. This is neither good or bad, just parameters to keep in mind.

For the purposes of this piece, it's important to note because as you try to wean your friends from the sort of Regal Beagle cocktails that still litter the cocktail landscape, you have a better chance of doing so with a Manhattan, because you can start with something in a spirit that is mild/sweet like Maker's Mark bourbon, which has a prominent "wheat" profile. Then you can go to a more rye-forward bourbon such as Elijah Craig and then, possibly, finally, settling on a rye like Templeton.

The real-deal classic recipe is simplicity itself. In a mixing beaker filled with ice cubes put:

2oz rye (I like Templeton, but wouldn't spurn Sazerac or Rittenhouse)
1oz sweet Italian vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi)
Dash or two of Angostura bitters

Stir until the beaker is well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or, if you'd prefer, an old-fashioned glass with clean, fresh ice, and garnish with a cherry. Or a sprig of curly-leaf parsley ("Central Park").

My go-to for when I have guests, comes from the glorious Poppy Buxom and it is the Perfect Bourbon Manhattan, straight up.

In a mixing beaker filled with ice cubes put:

2oz bourbon (Maker's Mark or Knob Creek)
½ oz sweet Italian vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi)
½ oz dry French vermouth (I prefer Noilly Prat)
Dash or two of bitters (if you are daring, use orange bitters)

Stir until the beaker is well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

Now, my personal preference and the ne plus ultra of Manhattans, the Perfect Rye Manhattan:

2oz rye (Templeton or Sazerac/Rittenhouse)
½ oz sweet Italian vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi)
½ oz dry French vermouth (I prefer Noilly Prat Extra Dry)
Dash or two of Angostura bitters

Stir until the beaker is well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

Now, important bits:

1- In the name of all you hold to be sacred, STIR. Do not shake.
2- Vermouth is a fortified wine. After opening the bottle, put a vacuum stopper in it and stash it in the fridge.
3- Seriously, make your own cocktail cherries.