MxMO – Repeal Day

December 3rd, 2007

Mixology Monday - Repeal Day

This month Mixology Monday, hosted by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, is all about Repeal Day – the celebration of the end of prohibition in the United States. For thirteen years consumption of alcohol for non-medical purposes was banned in the States, leading millions of Americans to willingly break the law by frequenting speakeasies, and giving cause for the proliferation of gangsters across the country. Not quite what they were aiming for.

Thankfully over here on the other side of the pond we managed to avoid the pressures of the temperance movement and never endured a prohibition, except in Scotland where an act was passed which allowed districts to declare themselves dry. Indeed, you could argue we actually gained from the prohibition as many American bartenders like Harry Craddock, suddenly finding themselves without jobs, crossed the pond and took up residence in British bars and hotels.

To celebrate Repeal Day I’ve decided to return to a cocktail I have already talked about before that was popular prior to prohibition. A cocktail that for me sums up the elegance of pre-prohibition cocktails and the obsession late-nineteenth century bartenders had with vermouth. It also traditionally uses Rye, a whiskey that was very popular pre-prohibition but overtaken by Bourbon after the 18th amendment was repealed, for reasons Robert explains here. I am of course talking about the Manhattan cocktail

Equal-parts Manhattan

Equal-parts Manhattan

This recipe was the most common Manhattan for the first few decades of the drinks life, during the 1880s and 1890s. Upping the vermouth makes for a sweeter, but still enjoyable cocktail. Using a strong Rye like Rittenhouse Bonded ensures the whiskey remains the backbone of the drink and doesn’t get overpowered by the vermouth. As with any Manhattan, mix and match your bitters to taste. I like using a few dashes of aromatic bitters and a dash of orange bitters for an extra layer of flavour.

As you might expect with the larger portion of vermouth the brand you use plays an important part. The vermouth of choice is Carpano Antica Formula, which is apparently much closer in flavour to vermouths in the 19th century and is definitely the tastiest vermouth I’ve ever tried. Freshness is also important – if your bottle has been sat on the shelf for more than six months do yourself a favour and get a new bottle. Vermouth is cheap, and you’ll end up with a much better drink.

Carpano Antica Formula

“Reverse” Manhattan

The larger portion of vermouth in this version makes for a much lighter drink than the Manhattan is traditionally known for. It is rather on the sweet side, but a small twist of lemon zest helps lift the drink a little – be careful though as too much will overpower the other ingredients somewhat. David Wondrich lists a recipe in Imbibe! that includes a teaspoon of maraschino. This improves the cocktail greatly, adding an extra funkiness, but ultimately the “Reverse” Manhattan just doesn’t compare to the other recipes.

Overall, I still don’t think you can beat the modern Manhattan recipe. The “Reverse” recipe was disappointing, and while the equal-parts recipe was enjoyable, it just doesn’t compare to its more whiskey-heavy companion. Play around though – the Manhattan is a cocktail ripe for tweaking depending on what brand on whiskey, vermouth and bitters you use.

That would have been it for my Mixology Monday entry, were it not for a very generous gift I received from a client at work recently. Some weeks ago over lunch I had mentioned my interest in cocktails and in particular how I enjoyed the ease of access to rare ingredients, like rye whiskey, that London provides. Clearly that conversation stuck, and as a bonus for completing this clients project early I received two bottles of rye whiskey from him on Friday.

Not any two bottles though – a bottle of Rittenhouse 21-year-old and a bottle of Thomas H. Handy – perhaps two of the finest, and most beautifully bottled, ryes available today. Now of course all either of these require to be enjoyed is an empty glass to pour them in, but I couldn’t help wonder… what kind of Manhattan would these make?

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

Jay’s Ultimate Manhattan

Given how powerful the Thomas H. Handy is, I decided it would probably be best to try and tame it a little by combining it with the Rittenhouse to create a blend that would hopefully combine the best of both whiskeys. After a little experimentation (and it really was a little, as these aren’t the kind of spirits you use with abandon) I arrived upon the above measurements.

There is no disguising the fact this contains a 132.7 proof whiskey, but the Rittenhouse and Antica does subdue the fire of the Thomas H. Handy slightly, and the resulting taste is absolutely amazing. Every sip is an explosion of flavour, with the subtleties of each whiskey swirling around, backed by the complex sweetness of the Antica and the bitters holding everything together. This certainly isn’t a cocktail I’m going to be mixing up every week, but it is definitely a most enjoyable indulgence.

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Posted in Aromatic Bitters, Mixology Monday, Orange Bitters, Recipes, Rye, Vermouth

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9 responses to “MxMO – Repeal Day”

  1. Mark Mark says:

    Very nice post, Jay! Probably my favorite so far. I live and die by Carpano Antica. It’s amazing in Manhattans. Check out the Islay Manhattan video I posted not long ago (it’s episode # 1). Also, I’ll have to try this reverse Manhattan. Sounds interesting.

  2. Robert Heugel Robert Heugel says:

    You just made me want a Manhattan myself. I am off to the kitchen…

  3. Paul Paul says:

    Wow, that’s some bonus! The Handy is one of my absolute favorites, and the Rittenhouse 21 is no slouch. If you want to do a real old-school Sazerac, try the Handy with a rinse of Jade’s Nouvelle-Orleans absinthe — unspeakably good.

  4. Jimmy Jimmy says:

    Hi Jay,

    I’ve finished up part II of the wrap-up over at my site:

  5. SeanMike SeanMike says:

    1. I’m going to have make me a Manhattan or two tonight.

    2. I AM SO INCREDIBLY JEALOUS OF YOUR ACCESS TO GOOD RYE. :-) And good vermouth! The best I’ve been able to find around here is Noilly Prat.

  6. Jay Jay says:

    Mark – I just went through every video on your site so far – great stuff! Keep up the good work, can’t way to watch some more.

    Robert – Come on, you can’t tell us you’re having a Manhattan and not provide the recipe you went for!

    Paul – yeah I was very pleased, if only all clients were so generous! Embarrassingly, I don’t own any absinthe, but a decent bottle of Jade is top of my wishlist. Would you recommend the Nouvelle-Orleans over the 1901 or Edouard?

    SeanMike – I’ve found Martini & Rossi vermouth makes a perfectly good Manhattan. Great infact.

  7. SeanMike SeanMike says:

    There’s a tang I get when I drink anything with Martini & Rossi in it that I don’t get with Noilly Prat.

    I think it’s all in my head, really, after I did my taste test with the two, but hey…if I’ve got a gazillion different kinds of bitters around, I want that many different kinds of vermouth!

  8. Nick Nick says:

    Wow Jay, GRRRRREAT Manhattan post. One question, feel free to tell me off for ignoring the booze here, where did you get that glass for your Ultimate Manhattan?

  9. Vintage Cocktail Friday: The Manhattan | Kitschy Kitten says:

    [...] (recipe via OhGosh) [...]

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