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The Manhatten: Finding the perfect balance, part 2.

The Manhatten: Finding the perfect balance, part 2.


The Manhatten is very much like the Old-Fashioned in the sense that it seems as though it should be one of the simplest drinks in the world to prepare. It’s only made with three ingredients – what could possibly go wrong? Let’s just throw them in a mixing glass, stir ’em up, and pour! Right? Wrong! I think you’re all getting to know me better than that! The trick is in finding the right balance between the ingredients that make up the Manhatten, and also in understanding and respecting the role that each ingredient has to play. Only then can you create the drink in the way in which it was intended to be made, and, as a bonus, you can even reach a little farther and begin to come up with your own variations. So let’s consider what’s actually in a Manhatten. First we have rye whiskey, which is going to be drier (or less sweet) than the bourbon we used in last week’s Old-Fashioned. I also find that rye has a distinct spiciness to it and that’s what makes it work so well with the sweet vermouth. These two elements bring the drink into balance, but we still need one more ingredient to tie it all together and that’s where the bitters come in. There’s a great exercise in the new Death & Co Modern Classic Cocktails book that has you make three different Manhattens. In the first one, you use considerably less vermouth. In the second variation, you leave out the bitters. Finally, you follow the recipe just as it is. Tasting the drinks side by side really illustrates the importance of each component. Give it a try! It’s a little like being back in high school chemistry.

2.5 oz rye whiskey*
3/4 oz sweet vermouth**
2 dashes Angostura or other aromatic bitters***
1 Italian Amarena cherry for garnishing****

Place all the ingredients in the larger half of a shaker tin or in a very pretty mixing glass (if you have that special someone sitting in front of you). Add ice to the shaker (or glass) until its about 2/3 full. Too much ice will make it hard for you to stir; too little will not chill the drink. Stir the drink with a long handled bar spoon for a good 15-20 seconds. When the drink is chilled, strain it using a Julep strainer, and pour it into a chilled cocktail glass. Drop the cherry into the glass and serve.

*I used Bulleit rye for my Manhatten. Redemption is also a good choice if you don’t have a favorite.

**Two options here: Carpano Antica Formula (sweeter) or Punt e Mes (a bit more complex and bitter). I love the Punt e Mes.

***Try Fee Brothers, Scrappy’s, Bittermilk, Hella Bitters or any other hand-crafted bitters.

****Available locally in the cheese department of Whole Foods.

Cocktail coupe glass made by Schott Zwiesel.

As you can see there are lots of options here. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you come up with which combination of ingredients you like best. Enjoy!


The Old-Fashioned: Finding the perfect balance…

The Old-Fashioned: Finding the perfect balance…


Knowing how to make a good Old-Fashioned for someone who truly loves them is a very satisfying thing. At first glance it seems like it’s a relatively simple drink that should be easy to prepare. After all, it consists of only four things: bourbon, bitters, water, and sugar. Yet when done right, the flavors blend together and compliment one another so well that it’s almost like some kind of magic has happened. I start by being very careful with my ingredients, choosing a really good bourbon, well crafted bitters, real demerara sugar cubes, and an Italian maraschino cherry (as a garnish). I like to try different bourbons and bitters together to see how everyone reacts to the new combinations, and I would encourage you to do the same. That’s where this becomes really fun! As important as the ingredients are, the way in which you make the drink is just as essential. I try to think of it as a kind of ritual, making every effort to do it the same way every time. It’s a built drink (as we talked about yesterday) so it’s going to be made in the same glass in which it’ll be served.

2 oz Bourbon*
2 dashes of Aromatic bitters**
1 demerara sugar cube
1 splash of water
1 or 2 Italian maraschino cherries***
2 orange peel strips

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass. Add two dashes of bitters and a splash of water. Muddle together until the sugar cube is almost completely dissolved. Swirl the glass a bit. Add ice (preferably one large cube) and then the bourbon. Stir the drink gently, just enough to get it chilled. Take one of the orange strips, hold it over the drink horizontally (white side toward you, orange side toward the glass) and squeeze the strip in half. You’ll see the oils hit the top of the drink. I like to add the cherries and the other orange strip right to the glass, but you can also put them on a cocktail pick if you prefer. As you’re making the drink notice how the different aromas hit your nose. First it’s the spice of the bitters, then the warmth of the Bourbon, the sweetness of the cherries, and finally the tang of the orange. Finding the right balance between all of these is where the magic takes place!

*Choose your favorite bourbon. Mine is Buffalo Trace!
**Try Fee Brothers, Scrappy’s, Bittermilk, Hella Bitters or any other hand-crafted bitters.
***I love Amarena cherries, available at Whole Foods in the cheese department.

Vintage glassware from Jinxed in Philadelphia.

If you’re already an Old-Fashioned fan, tell me what some of your favorite ingredients are!