22 February 2012

Musings on the Manhattan

As long time readers should know, though I enjoy inventing new cocktails and having fun with mixology, at heart I adore the classics. My two favorites are the Martini and Manhattan, and which one I prefer at any given moment depends a lot on mood and atmosphere and the ingredients at hand.

A bad but serviceable Martini can be made in pretty dire circumstances: a clear liquor, a shaker of ice, and a brined vegetable or strip of citrus peel, and you can achieve something bracing but able to perform the work at hand. I prefer a Martini as an aperitif, something strong but bracing and crisp that gets you ready for four courses and half a dozen different wines.

The Manhattan is different. It requires a higher degree of civilization. Whiskey/Whisky can be found everywhere, but bitters and Sweet Red Vermouth are a must, and so many bad variations are made in bars that it's often a losing proposition to order one in the first place. I once ordered said cocktail in a bar that shall not be named, and the bartender said, "Manhattan. Got it. Crown Royal and Dr. Pepper. Give me one second." And I said, "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Good day, sir!" I swear that the silk ribbon on my top hat positively wilted at that egregious faux pas.

Your worst Martini might have ruined rotgut vodka that spent a few hours in steel tubing, but a bad Manhattan ruins years of barrel aging in oak. Keep these things in mind when you're mixing drinks.

When I'm in the mood for a Manhattan, it's normally with the company of other guys and as a prelude to a dinner of hearty red wines and lots of rare red meat. To do it properly, you need control over your own ingredients. Better, older whiskey will make for a better Manhattan, and quality bitters are essential.

Here I lined up the various components I assembled after a long, hard day at work, and a desire for something relaxing but dignified:The end result was amazing, rich and spicy and with layers and layers of complexity. Even the cherry, the weakest part of the whole cocktail, was delightful upon consumption. When you have the opportunity, take the time to craft the very model of a modern major Manhattan, and enjoy the warmth and relaxation that flows from the glass.


Paul M. Jones said...


fredric koeppel said...

v. nice post. i love the b&w images. many years ago, in a no-count bar in Iowa City, a friend of mine who apparently wanted to impress the natives, ordering a brandy and soda: what did he get? peach schnapps and Seven-Up.

Benito said...


I think you've got some rye, don't you? It makes for a great Manhattan.


That's just wrong. Often better to stick to beer out in the sticks.


Big Mike said...

Great Post. I LOVE Bulliet Rye makes the best Manhattans ever. give it a try sometime.

Benito said...


I'll have to give that a shot. I've enjoyed the Bulleit Bourbon in the past, and I'm sure they make a great rye. That particular spice and tang of rye whiskey is a real delight, and so distinct from sweeter TN/KY whiskies or peaty Scotch. Doesn't seem to get the love it deserves, though.