American Whiskey: A Natural Born Leader
We are ready to move into the world of “brown” liquor today, and what better place to start than with American Whiskey, which is like the brilliant leader who can stand on his own, but who also recognizes that he can shine even more when he surrounds himself with other talented people. Whiskey is the featured ingredient in so many classic cocktails, like the Old-fashioned, the Manhatten, and the Sazerac to name a few, but it can also be served neat or on the rocks. When it’s paired together with other spirits in a drink like the Manhatten, those secondary ingredients enhance the flavor of the whiskey and take things to a whole new level. These ingredients can also be changed to give the cocktail a totally different flavor profile which you’ll see in today’s recipe for my take on a Manhatten for the fall season. Before we get to that let’s talk very simply about the different types of whiskey made here in America.
Bourbon is a whiskey that must be made from at least 51% corn (the other 49% can be other grains) and it cannot have any else added to it other than water. If the bourbon is to be labeled as “straight bourbon” then it must be aged in charred new-oak barrels for at least 2 years. It does not have to come from Kentucky (although many bourbons do), but it does have to come from the United States. There are a number of distilleries right here in the Philadelphia area, some of which are going to be featured during the Philly Craft Spirits Week which kicks off this Thursday. Bourbon will generally have a sweeter and softer flavor than rye whiskey; think of the difference between rye bread and corn bread and you’ll begin to get the idea. Some bourbons are smooth like Buffalo Trace and Bulleit, where others have a very distinctive bite to them like Widow Jane, which is distilled in Brooklyn.
Rye whiskey must be made from 51% rye grain and, once again, it cannot have any other additive besides water. If it’s going to be labeled as “straight rye” then it must be aged for 2 years in charred new-oak barrels as well. Rye has a sharper and spicier flavor profile than bourbon and it is the whiskey featured in the Manhatten. Old Overholt, Redemption, Rittenhouse, and Bulleit are all excellent choices for your bar at home and are also reasonably priced. I’ll be using Dad’s Hat in my Manhatten today because it’s distilled here in Philadelphia.
Wheat whiskeys like Maker’s Mark substitute wheat grain for rye and all the same restrictions apply.
It can take a while to find what your favorite bourbon or rye whiskey is going to be. Sometimes it may vary depending upon what drink you’ll be using it in. A cocktail made with citrus or fruit might need a softer whiskey, while one with a minimal amount of ingredients in it like an Old-fashioned might require a whiskey that’s a bit more assertive. Tasting (side by side if possible) is always your best way to quickly learn what you do and don’t like.
We’ll close today out with my Autumn in Manhatten recipe. I’m using Dad’s Hat rye, Punt e Mes sweet vermouth, Velvet Falernum, and 2 dashes of Jack Rudy’s aromatic bitters. I’ll admit that the Velvet Falernum is a bit of an odd ingredient to find in in a whiskey cocktail, but I love the way its sweet spice drop flavor works with the spiciness of the rye whisky, and plays against the bitterness of the Punt E Mes.
Autumn in Manhatten
2 1/2 oz Dad’s Hat rye whiskey
1/2 oz Punt E Mes Sweet Vermouth*
1/4 oz Velvet Falernum
2 dashes Jack Rudy Aromatic bitters
Place all ingredients into a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into an old-fashioned glass with ice or into a cocktail glass without ice. Garnish with a Luxardo or Woodford Reserve cherry. Enjoy!
See you all tomorrow when we’ll be talking about another whiskey cocktail for fall: a Bourbon Cider Smash!