MxMO – Variations

February 11th, 2008

Mixology Monday - Variations

It’s that time again! Mixology Monday is this month hosted by Jimmy over at Jimmy’s Cocktail Hour, and has the theme of “variations”. This immediately conjured up lots of ideas, mainly based around recipe comparisons, but as they have become something of a regular item here I wanted to come up with an entry that was a little different. An unrelated discussion with friends on the theory of six degrees of separation planted an idea in my head, and so I present – six degrees of cocktail separation.

It’s often surprising quite how radically just one ingredient can alter a cocktail, whether it be swapping a main ingredient or just changing from orange to aromatic bitters. I wanted to take this to its logical conclusion and see just how many changes are required to move from two radically different cocktails. Of course for some cocktails this would require very few steps so I tried to pick two fairly different cocktails, and incidentally two of my favourites; the Manhattan and the Aviation.

I tried to stick by two main rules – firstly each iteration must be a previously published cocktail recipe, and secondly each recipe may only either add, omit or swap one ingredient. Easy, right?

My Ultimate Manhattan cocktail with Thomas H. Handy, Rittenhouse 21-year-old and Carpano Antica Formula bottles in background

Manhattan (Modern recipe)

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We start with the modern recipe for a Manhattan, taken from The Joy of Mixology. This is my favourite Manhattan recipe, and while my choice of bitters tends to vary depending on what mood I am in – orange bitters always work well adding an extra citrus note to the spice of the whiskey and the aromatics of the vermouth – you can never really go wrong with Angostura bitters. We’re a long way from an Aviation here, so let’s start by adding an important ingredient to the mix.

Manhattan (Savoy recipe)

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Jumping back to 1930, The Savoy Cocktail Book offers a Manhattan which swaps the ratio of whiskey to vermouth, but more importantly for our needs adds a splash of Maraschino. This is familiar ground so I won’t dwell on the nuances of this particular Manhattan variation. Time to make the biggest change to the recipe and replace whiskey with gin.

Martinez cocktail


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A further forty or so years back, Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders’ Guide provides us with the next step, the Martinez. Technically this recipe calls for Boker’s bitters, but as they are no longer in production I’m going to class Angostura as an unchanged ingredient – cheating already, I know. The swap of whiskey to gin is a fairly major step, changing the drinks profile substantially. That said, the vermouth heavy recipes mean the Martinez and Manhattan are surprisingly similar given how different gin and whiskey is.

Wailuc cocktail

Wailuc Cocktail

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The Wailuc, taken from CocktailDB, drops the bitters from the Martinez and ups the dose of vermouth even further. The drink is less dominated by vermouth than I thought it would be, with the Maraschino providing a decent funky kick that prevents it becoming too deep and aromatic. The gin is very much in the background but does make itself known, and the citrus zest provides a lighter note to the sweetness of the vermouth and Maraschino. Not a bad cocktail, and full of interesting flavours.

King Charles cocktail

King Charles

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At this point things started to get a bit more difficult, and I began to wish I had given myself just a little more time to prepare my MxMO entry. No matter where I looked, I just couldn’t find a cocktail that would bridge the step between the Wailuc and the Aviation without breaking my rule of only changing one ingredient. In the end I went for the King Charles, an obscure drink taken from the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, which while breaking my rule only did so with soda water. And what’s a bit of soda water between friends?

As you might expect from the ingredient list Maraschino dominates the flavour of the King Charles, but thankfully the soda water and gin tones back the sweetness preventing the drink from becoming cloying. The fruit garnish adds some interest, but ultimately it lacks the balance and depth which to me defines a good mixed drink. However, with the vermouth finally gone we are starting to get towards the character of the Aviation.

Two Aviation cocktails

Aviation (Modern recipe)

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Sweeping the minor rule-bending under the carpet and moving on, the fifth change is pretty much there with the addition of lemon juice and hence the modern Aviation. The gin and maraschino work wonderfully together along with the sour edge of the lemon juice to produce a really fine cocktail. However, as there is still a spare step left it seems silly not to dig out the Crème de Violette and make a classic Aviation.

Aviation (Classic recipe)

View in: oz | ml | shots

While I did end up cheating my own rules a bit, I think this clearly demonstrates how similar a lot of cocktails are. In just six(ish) small steps, the recipe went from a rich, deep Manhattan to the lighter, floral Aviation. Ultimately, if you trace cocktails back to the beginnings all drinks are variations on one of a few base drinks. That might sound a bit boring, but on the contrary I think that’s what makes cocktails so exciting. Despite such similar ingredients all it takes is one slight change to bring a whole new dimension to a drink. Hooray for variations!

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Posted in Aromatic Bitters, Bourbon, Crème de Violette, Gin, Lemon, Maraschino, Mixology Monday, Recipes, Rye, Vermouth

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9 responses to “MxMO – Variations”

  1. Ouroboros Ouroboros says:

    What a great post! It’s like a sliding picture puzzle, what you’ve put together here. And a heck of an evening’s drinking.

    On a technical note, that is a nifty little bit of javascript you’ve got translating/swapping the measures between oz/mL.

  2. Bryan Bryan says:

    Great thread, and I follow your progression. For me, since the mid 80’s, I had thought the ultimate cocktail was always the Manhattan. I’ve ordered them all over the world, in bars from base to haute classe, and never felt let down (Well, that’s because I’m generous by nature!). But how let down I indeed was became apparent – my obliging and generous nature stripped aside – I had one from Jim at Vessel in Seattle.

    Now the irony of this is that the Aviation (classic style) is one of their standard bar drinks – on their menu and made prominent. When I tasted this – with no prior knowledge, the linkage was instant to my limbic brain. Decades of chemical imprinting was still registered despite the changes.

    How fascinating that I find your “separation” post a few days later. Really fascinating.

  3. Dr. Bamboo Dr. Bamboo says:

    Jay, wonderful idea for a post! (and the perfect excuse to drink a Manhattan and an Aviation) ;-)

  4. MixMO: We weren’t there. « Iceland Spar says:

    [...] my favorite of the many posts was over at Oh Gosh! Six Degrees of Separation. Manhattan to Aviation. It makes me wonder what other drinks you can take to an aviation in six [...]

  5. Marleigh Marleigh says:


    Great idea! Very clever, though I don’t know if I’d have been taking very good pictures by the end…

  6. Jay Jay says:

    It should be noted I didn’t drink all seven cocktails in one sitting – I’m not that much of a lush! I drank the Wailuc and King Charles, my boyfriend had an Aviation, and the rest of the photos were cribbed from previous posts.

    If you really wanted to do the complete journey from Manhattan to Aviation, I would recommend using at least half-portions. Otherwise taking bad photos is likely to be the least of your worries! ;-)

  7. Chris Chris says:

    I’d love to know where you got those beautiful little cocktail glasses in which your aviations are shown. They seem really ideal for service flights of cocktails, and I would *love* to get myself a few of them for tastings.

  8. Jay Jay says:

    Chris, they are beautiful aren’t they! Almost all the glassware I use for photos is from Urban Bar, except for any wine glasses that crop up on occasion. Those you mention with the thick stems aren’t that little actually, they hold about 7 oz of liquid. As you can imagine this makes them pretty chunky pieces of glass, but they look amazing. Sadly not the flight glasses you seek though I’m afraid…

  9. Chris Chris says:

    Looking back at the photos I’m not sure why I thought they were smaller. Still, thanks so much for the info. The *really* disappointing thing is that I *love* their coupes, but just wish that they were much, much smaller.

    And sadly, my quest for the perfect glass for cocktail flights continues.

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