Proposed by: David
Reviewed by: Jonathan
The colorful but unlikely story of the Manhattan’s origins says that, in the early 1870s, during a banquet in New York hosted by Winston Churchill’s mother (Lady Randolph Churchill), Dr. Iain Marshall invented the cocktail at the Manhattan Club. So popular was the drink that people started ordering it by the name of the club, hence “The Manhattan.”
Honoring Samuel J. Tilden is also in there somehow.
Because Lady Randolph was pregnant and elsewhere, many other stories abound, including one that places it in 1860 at a bar on Houston Street. Whatever. With libations, you begin to believe someone was bound to discover it eventually.
Whatever you guess about the Manhattan, it’s certainly one of America’s basic cocktails, appearing regularly in Mad Men and in bars all over. The New York Times calls it “The boss of all cocktails” (naturally) and says, “Unlike other cocktails that have recently been roused from long hibernation, the Manhattan never really slumbered, having been kept drowsily awake through the lean years of cocktaildom by French-cuffed businessmen and other habitués of old-guard hotel bars and private clubs.”
Sounds awfully snooty. However, here in Chicago we’ve having Manhattan Week (which, Chicago-style, has been going on since January 22nd), with several bars offering their own variations on the classic. I gave the classic to Jonathan, though, like me, he explored a bit.
Here’s the basic recipe:
Combine the vermouth, bourbon whiskey, and bitters with 2 – 3 ice cubes in a mixing glass. Stir gently, don’t bruise the spirits and cloud the drink. Place the cherry in a chilled cocktail glass and strain the whiskey mixture over the cherry. Rub the cut edge of the orange peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink to release the oils but don’t drop it in.
The variety I tried (along with the classic… what can I say?) came from the Siena Tavern and replaces the Vermouth with Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, which the restaurant calls, “The Rolls Royce of vermouths.” The recipe also adds 2 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters and a garnish of orange peel, but I didn’t have that (and it was snowing hard) so I substituted Scrappy’s Grapefruit Bitters and grapefruit peel. I’m not really sure, after all the changes, whether I had a Manhattan at all, but there it is.
And here’s Jonathan’s review:
Sometime back in the dark ages, the laws of North Carolina permitted the purchase of beer at age 18 but restricted hard liquor to those over 21. I was between those ages when I accompanied my friend, Barry, to New York to help his sister move. Not one to miss an opportunity, I ordered a Manhattan in a Manhattan restaurant. The problem was that I had meant to order a Long Island Iced Tea but didn’t know any better. I was also too proud to admit my mistake and slowly, very slowly, sipped the most bitter and strong drink I had tasted up to that point.
This is a cocktail that has continued to intrigue particularly after reading the guide to bitters and their use in cocktails. David’s link to Chicago’s Manhattan Week also piqued interest in all the varieties offered. I decided that I would keep close to the basic recipe but try a couple of other combinations. The final selection (I shared with others) was the basic recipe using bourbon, the same basic recipe with rye and served on the rocks, and finally a version with wheat whiskey (Bernheim Original) and peach bitters instead of angostura.
All of the options successfully recreated the drink that I remember. It is a sipping drink no matter what your level of sophistication. The mix of spirit and vermouth was somewhat diluted in the rocks version, but those stirred with ice and strained demanded strict pacing to enjoy them. This drink is a classic for a reason, and allows the drinker to savor the base liquor. For that reason, it almost demands that a quality brand be used as opposed to drinks where the other mixers make the use of a basic spirit more than reasonable.
Jonathan’s take: Much better than my first experience with this cocktail. I look forward to a few more variations on the classic.
David’s take: I’m with Jonathan here. I like the idea that a cocktail might have so many iterations, so much potential for improvisation and discovery.
Next week Proposed by Jonathan:
One of my brothers-in-law is the biggest James Bond fan(atic) that I know. The classic Bond line is a vodka martini “shaken not stirred”, but the original drink came from the first book – Casino Royale. It was a cocktail made with gin, vodka and Kina Lillet that was ultimately called the Vesper.