Manhattan Stories

It is still just chilly enough to talk about the Manhattan!  One of my favorite winter cocktails is another simple combination of ingredients that creates a luscious and memorable tipple.

The Manhattan is composed of rye or bourbon whisk(e)y, sweet vermouth, and some bitters. All of the ingredients contain alcohol.  Like a Martini, if you are not careful or aware, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble. In one of my more prominent Manhattan phases, I made it to the last stop of the night and ordered a Manhattan up at about 2:00am. As I walked from the bar towards my friends in the back with a cherry sitting pretty in my oddly colored liquid, a young “gentleman” stopped me to mock me and my parentage for having a cherry in my glass. He questioned whether I should be home in bed with such a drink.  I glanced at his watered down vodka and energy drink.  With a wry grin, I offered him a sip of this to see if he could handle it.  I continued to my friends listening to the sounds of his compatriots laughing at how he couldn’t really handle a Manhattan.  This is going to have very strong flavors about it and you will know that you are drinking alcohol.  If you have the gumption yet to try your hand, read on.

The Whisk(e)y component – The most common one you will find is bourbon when having someone make you a Manhattan.  I, however, prefer rye!  Where bourbon is sweet, with rounded edges not unlike a Chardonnay, rye is spicy and has a distinct sharp bite, not from the alcohol, that brings a greater smile to my face.  Like the Negroni, the layers of flavors, which match well with cigars, are created because of the complexity of the components and I find a rye Manhattan to be more to my tastes than one made with bourbon. Bulleit Rye has been one of my favorite bottles of the past year and I wholeheartedly recommend it for a Manhattan.

Sweet vermouth – see previous discussion on the Negroni post.

Bitters – The last, nigh alchemical, component of a Manhattan is the bitters.  These miniscule bottles of bitter, herbed, flavored, infusions were at one time medicine but most commonly today are used in cocktails.  They add depth by giving the complex flavors of the vermouth and rye something to play against and off of while at the same time harmonizing the drink.  Without the mere dashes of bitters, the drink will be wane and pale in comparison,.

Garnish – a marascino cherry is traditional.  If what you have available is a candy-apple red candied cherry that looks at home on top of an ice-cream sundae, you can skip it. If I am out, I won’t be annoyed if one ends up in my drink but I don’t stock those at home.  If you have had the time and chance to made your own brandied cherries, like with Lu Brow’s recipe for Imbibe Magazine (, they are the perfect garnish and treat at the bottom of the glass.

How do you make it?  The ratio is going to start at 2:1 and you can adjust it from there.  I am pretty true to the 2:1 ratio with mine.

Assemble your components.  Your Rye, Vermouth, and bitters.  Get a mixing tin, a cocktail glass, and a strainer.  Fill the mixing tin ⅔ of the way with fresh ice, add ice and water to the cocktail glass to chill it if you have not done so already.

Measure out 2 ounces of Rye into the mixing tin.  Now add, you guessed it, 1 ounce of vermouth,  Shake in a dash or two of bitters to the tin.  Now stir the drink.  DO NOT SHAKE.  The velvety mouthfeel and lushness of stirring is paramount for a glorious Manhattan, You can either use a cocktail spoon ad stir it looking snazzy and fancy or you can practice moving the tin in a circular fashion in your hands to slosh the concoction over the ice until it is nicely composed.

Dump the ice and water out of the cocktail glass.  If using, add the cherry to the now empty glass.  Strain the Manhattan from mixing tin into the cocktail glass.  Enjoy.

Cin cin.