When it comes to cocktails, I'm a traditionalist. I like a simple set of ingredients, something more on the dry side, and a beverage whose name does not contain words commonly scrawled on the walls of middle school bathrooms. While the martini is an old favorite that can typically be found anywhere libations are poured, recently I've grown fond of a properly made Manhattan.
It's been around since the Civil War era, and while ingredients have varied slightly over the years, the basic recipe is simple: two shots whiskey, one shot vermouth, and a couple of dashes of bitters. Stir with cracked ice (to moderate the potency, stir longer) and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or a lemon twist. For the version I made at home, I started with 1792 Bourbon that I had on hand and some martini glasses chilling in the freezer.
For the next ingredient, I selected Noilly Prat Rouge sweet red vermouth. This company is better known for its dry white vermouth (and less known as the namesake of T.S. Eliot's cat), but I was very happy with the red. In fact, when chilled it can be sipped on its own as an apéritif. It is sort of like an herbal sherry, but lighter with a spicy tamarind aroma. And contrary to the name, the color is like tawny Port, more brown than red.
Vermouth seems to be horribly misunderstood here in the States, with bartenders using mere drops in a martini. I personally love the flavor of both white and red, and find that it's a fun ingredient when cooking fish. Plus even the good stuff is rarely more than $20 a bottle and it will last for a couple of months once opened. If you'd like to know more about vermouth, I'd suggest this excellent post on the subject.
I'd like to say that I used imported Hungarian cherries that I preserved myself in a homemade Bourbon syrup, but in reality I grabbed a jar of Kroger generic maraschinos. More than enhancing the flavor, the cherry serves as an intriguing visual cue, a little target resting in the apex of the martini glass. So let's talk about the bitters. I used Angostura, but if anyone knows of other bitters available in the Memphis area, let me know. Angostura can be found at many grocery stores in the mixer aisle. It's got a great, complex flavor full of assorted spices and extracts, and the label is fun to read. It suggests taking a few teaspoons before dinner to aid digestion and a few after dinner to prevent flatulence. Huzzah!
The finished product is a true delight. The vermouth softens the edges of the whiskey while the botanicals of the vermouth and bitters keep it interesting. Watch out, because this cocktail is the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove. Best enjoyed with a little something on the stomach and the opportunity to relax for a while.