I’m Listening To: Manhattan by Ella Fitzgerald (1956) – naturally.
To my mind, no cocktail better represents the culture of 19th and early 20th century New York than the Manhattan. The mingling of bold American rye and classy Italian vemouth is a perfect metaphor for the melting pot of immigrants and natives that the most populous New York isle became, along with the beauty (architectural, cultural, and otherwise) that arose from it. In the troubling times of recent months, perhaps we should take inspiration from what can really be accomplished when different cultures mix together in harmony. With that in mind, here’s my recipe for my favourite Manhattan variation, the sweet-dry Manhattan.
I say my favourite variation, as the Manhattan is probably the traditional cocktail with the largest number of different permutations. The standard Manhattan is made with a ratio of whisky to sweet vermouth of approximately 2:1. A ‘dry’ Manhattan substitutes the sweet vermouth for dry vermouth, while a ‘perfect’ Manhattan is made of equal parts sweet to dry vermouth.
I’ve elected on the name ‘sweet-dry’ for this variation, as while it still uses sweet rather than dry vermouth, the ratio of vermouth to whiskey is closer to that of a dry Martini. The use of ‘dry’ to mean dry vermouth (with a Manhattan) and ‘dry’ to also not much vermouth (with a Martini) is a confusing distinction, so be careful when ordering a Manhattan at a bar and ensure that you’re getting what you want!
The sweet-dry (and indeed, any) Manhattan is made up of the three following principal ingredients:
I’m an advocate of making the drink with the original intended spirit – rye whiskey. To me, nothing else really compares for depth and texture of flavour in a Manhattan. Sadly, Rye isn’t the easiest or cheapest thing to get hold of in the UK (though the situation is greatly improving recently – Fenwick stock both Bulleit and Few Rye, but both are a little pricey), so why not follow the example of Prohibition-era Americans when they didn’t have any Rye, and swap it Canadian whisky? Canadian Club is a good Rye substitute, and be grabbed for a decent price at Fenwick and Sainsbury’s (and quite possibly elsewhere). If you can’t get either of these, or don’t find them to your taste, the other option is to use a rye-heavy bourbon. This means looking for things like Few Bourbon, Wild Turkey, Bulleit Bourbon, or TinCup. These are all great bourbons, and Wild Turkey, Bulleit, and TinCup are widely available – and while your Manhattan won’t be the most authentic, it will still be damn tasty.
As for the vermouth, I’ve always preferred French rather than Italian in both my Martinis and Manhattans. While not sticking to the original recipe entirely (I know, I’m a hypocrite to insist on rye and then alter this…), French vermouth is more to my tastes. As with most things in cocktail making, it’s really a case of bending the ingredients to your own personal tastes.
If you want to go Italian, finding a great vermouth can be a little more challenging – Martini Rosso simply won’t cut it if you want to make this thing properly. Antica Formula is a great choice when buying a whole bottle. For those in Newcastle, Fenwick Wine Store stock small bottles of it at a good price. For people further afield, head to The Whisky Exchange.
The original recipe calls for Angostura Bitters, and these are still probably the most accessible, and best place to start when making your Manhattan. If you want to change things up and experiment, Bob’s Abbotts Bitters and Jack Rudy’s Bitters both work exceptionally well in a sweet-dry Manhattan.
2oz/50ml Rye Whiskey, Canadian Club, or rye-heavy Bourbon
Sweet (Red) Vermouth
Four of five dashes of bitters (Bob’s Abbotts Bitters or Jack Rudy’s Bitters are particularly recommended)
A cocktail cherry or slice of orange peel to garnish
A handful of good quality, purified ice cubes (mineral or filtered water!)
1. Stick your cocktail glass into the fridge to properly chill it before serving.
2. Fill your cocktail shaker/mixing glass with the ice cubes. Add the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters.
3. Stir until the exterior of the shaker/mixing glass feels nice and cool, and the ice has slightly melted. Some recipes call for as little as 30 seconds of stirring – I prefer closer to a minute to 90 seconds to ensure the drink is entirely chilled. Just make sure that the ice doesn’t melt too much and overly dilute the drink! Stirring a Manhattan can end up being a very fine line between the perfect mix and a drink that’s diluted and ruined, and it’s really all a case of both practice and discovering your personal taste.
4. Take your cocktail glass from the fridge, and strain the cocktail mixture into the glass.
5. Garnish with either a cocktail cherry or a slice of orange peel. Jack Rudy’s produce (along with many other fine things) some decadent bourbon-soaked cocktail cherries that work excellently in a Manhattan (along with an Old Fashioned, or even to give a bit of bite to a Tom Collins). Like the Antica Formula, these can be grabbed from Fenwick Wine Store in Toon, or The Whisky Exchange.
6. Savour. A Manhattan is a great choice to enjoy on a contemplative summer evening.