The Dry Martini and the Manhattan are the most famous of all classic cocktails. Most people, even if they have never experienced the joy of drinking one, will have at least heard their names in passing. As Robert Hess recently pointed out, despite first appearances the two drinks actually share a lot in common. Indeed, it’s quite possible the Manhattan had a role in the creation of the Martini.
Like the Martini its exact origin is that of much speculation, but it was probably created in the 1880s at the Manhattan Club in New York. The original recipes called for more vermouth than whiskey, like the original Martini recipes used more vermouth than gin, and often called for the use of Maraschino in small doses. However, Darcy wrote an excellent post on the classic Manhattan recipes recently, so I will be concentrating on the more modern, post-prohibition Manhattan.
Unlike the Martini, the Manhattan has survived in to the modern world relatively unscathed. Although it has also had a reduction of vermouth it still remains a major part of the recipe, unlike the modern Martini which is often just cold Gin or Vodka. The one major change is the switch from the drink being mostly made with Rye Whiskey, to Bourbon Whiskey. This is almost certainly because of the proliferation of Bourbon after prohibition, the reason for which is excellently explained in the latest episode of The Cocktail Spirit.
The Manhattan was the first strong, all spirits cocktail I tried. Rye whiskey is pretty difficult to get hold of here in Britain, so it was always a Bourbon Manhattan, most often Maker’s Mark, but while I enjoyed these immensely I always wished I could try the original Rye Manhattan, which so many cocktail blogs had recommended. Thankfully my new home in London has given me access to a vast array of spirit shops, and I’m now able to get hold of many excellent Rye whiskies. And my first drink with Rye just had to be the Manhattan…
- 2 shots Bourbon or Rye whiskey
- 1 shot sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes bitters
- Stir with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.
The Rye whiskey lends a much spicier note to the drink, which works nicely with the sweet vermouth to create a drink that is perhaps more balanced than a Bourbon Manhattan. The home-made cherry I used also adds the slightest hint of Maraschino which is much better than the plain sweetness a store-brought cherry brings.
Although I have enjoyed many Bourbon Manhattans over the past few years, since trying a Rye-based one it now seems noticeably sweet. Don’t get me wrong though, it is still a great drink and a lot more approachable for a Manhattan-virgin than a Rye one would be. I would definitely recommend starting with Bourbon, but if you’re already enjoying Bourbon Manhattans not trying Rye would be a real shame.
The Manhattan is a great drink for experimenting with bitters, something I will elaborate on further in my up-coming aromatic bitters comparison. Even orange bitters can lend an interesting taste to a Manhattan, although at the moment my favourite to use are The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters, which work wonderfully with the Rye. I also like to squeeze a bit of orange zest in to the glass prior to pouring the drink, which adds a further subtle layer of flavour.
How do you like your Manhattans served?
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