Cocktail Hour: Manhattan

DSC_0013If there’s one thing that symbolized my childhood, it was the Manhattan.

Wow, that sounds really dysfunctional, but truly, some of my favorite times that I look back on in my childhood involved my Aunts Dora and Martha, who came over often (particularly for holidays) and my mother would make cocktails. Neither my parents or my grandma (who lived with me) were cocktail drinkers, so when Mom assembled her “bar” (which was just a section of countertop covered with a paper towel), I knew company was coming.  It always included a metal shaker, bar spoon, red cherry “tool” (it was a red syringe-type tool with prongs, specifically to pick cherries out of the jar), Rossi vermouth, I.B. Walker bourbon (which is no longer available in the U.S.– my aunts liked it because it was “smoky”), maraschino cherries and lemon slices. I can’t quite recall what the lemon slices were for, but I was always a fan of smelling the liquor (ahh, musty Vermouth…) and dipping the lemon slices in a little sugar, sneaking bites of them and the cherries.

Of course, other members in the family also liked Manhattans, and the results weren’t nearly so memorable in a positive sense, more in the dysfunctional sense  (what, every family doesn’t have alcohol-fueled fights at the holidays?), so when my mom saw me ordering a Manhattan, she was kind of shocked.  Then again, her chosen drink is a Cosmo, so I think she’s surprised I like something she deems rather masculine.  What can I say?  I like Manhattans.

Actually,  it’s funny, but a lot of men really are quite impressed when I order a Manhattan.  One of my coworkers said, at our holiday party, when I ordered one, “Julie, I had a lot of respect for you before.  I have even more for you now.” Win.  I’ve been in other cities, at the hotel bar alone, and have gotten approving nods from bartenders and male patrons alike when they serve me my Manhattan.  Huh. I guess people really do judge you by your drink choices.

So what makes a Manhattan?  The traditional recipe is as follows (this would be Manhattan #2 in the Savoy Cocktail Book):

1 dash Angostura bitters
2 parts Rye whiskey
1 part sweet vermouth

Shake well, drain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

There are a few things that have changed since this recipe has become standard.  For example, most places around here use Bourbon, and it’s considered equally as “classic”, if not regional, as using Rye whiskey.  In Wisconsin, according to Josh Durr from Molecular Bartending, it’s common to use brandy.  In general, when I order a Manhattan, I’ll order Maker’s Mark (in a bar that might not have a deep bourbon selection) or Woodford Reserve.  At home, I use Four Roses Bourbon, which has had the opposite trajectory as I.B. Walker– it used to only be available in China Japan and Europe (Thanks, Jay!), and now it’s available in the U.S.  Use what you like, be it Rye or Bourbon.  Cocktails are all about what you like, right?

It also matters what kind of vermouth you use.  Now, I’ll admit– a vermouth like Carpano Antica, which is considered the creme de la creme of vermouths, is fantastic.  You can easily drink it as an aperitif, which I can’t say about a whole lot of vermouths out there.  Unfortunately, vermouth– both sweet and dry– spoils, even in the refrigerator, after about two weeks, and Carpano runs around $30 a bottle– so if I’m only going to use about 1/4 of it before it spoils, I can’t quite justify the price.   Instead, I use Noilly Prat or Cinzano, which both run less than $10 and taste way better than Stock or Rossi.  If you’ve had a Manhattan made with fresh vermouth, as opposed to one made with stale or  musty vermouth, you’ll know– it makes a difference!  Most bars use Stock or Rossi, neither of which I like, and it’s usually gone bad anyway.  This is why most Martini drinkers are afraid of anything but a dry martini– bad vermouth!  My mother, I’m sure, still has one of the bottles of vermouth she used when I was a kid, and when I smelled my (too old) vermouth in the fridge, it brought me back to childhood (and not in a good way).  Mom, if you’re reading: pitch the vermouth!

Shaking vs. Stirring– the one thing Josh emphasized more than anything is that Manhattans are stirred.  Unless it has a juice in it (like last week’s Aviation), it has to be stirred.  So, Mom, though your vermouth’s decade of origin is questionable, you were right on with the stirring.

Rocks vs. Up– it should be served up, too, though I’ll be honest– depending on the bar, I’ll order mine on the rocks.  Tonic, Rookwood?  Up.  Mr. Pitiful’s? Rocks.

And, of course, a Manhattan is not a Manhattan without bitters.  I love Rolland’s Manhattan at Rookwood– he uses homemade, bourbon barrel bitters (and a little Maraschino).  You will probably use Angostura (who, earlier this year, had some exportation issues out of Trinidad, but everything is okay now) or Peychaud’s.  I usually end up with Angostura.  I’m tempted to go to Colonel de Ray’s and make some Regan’s Orange Bitters #5.  Very tempted (I think that’s another post).

I will definitely enjoy a Manhattan somewhere tonight (even if it’s at home).  Next week?  The Negroni!