Last week I blogged my martini recipe. Today I'm doing another classic, the Manhattan. Feel free to Wikepedia it if you want the history, but here's my history with it. My mother always told me that her mother drank Old Fashioneds--more on those later--and her father drank Manhattans. Hearing about my grandfather, who I never knew, and his drink of choice eventually led me to try to make one for myself. My first effort was probably more like a cheap Rob Roy, I used blended scotch (maybe Famous Grouse or Cutty Sark) and Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth, some ACME maraschino cherries and a few dashes of Angostura bitters. It wasn't bad, but thankfully I didn't peak there.
A whisky bar opened in center city Philadelphia a year or so ago, appropriately called Village Whiskey. It seemed like a place that could serve up a decent Manhattan, so I ordered one. This event spurred me and a buddy of mine to make our own Manhattans, comparing recipes and ingredients until we were satisfied. You can get as picky as you like, but what I love about this drink is it's simplicity and elegance. And t he cherry adds a bit of fun. Here is the resulting recipe, by ingredient.
Manhattans call for rye; some folks prefer bourbon. To me bourbon already has a sweetness to it that makes it a bit too sweet in a drink with sweet vermouth, and I think the rye spice is a nice balancer. I have tried a half dozen ryes or so. The one I ultimately settled on was Rittenhouse 100 proof bonded, a solid rye at a great price ($18 bucks), perfect for mixing. I felt vindicated in this choice when I read Jim Murray's tasting notes on it; he likes it. Unfortunately it's now quite hard to come by and so I am experimenting again. I really like the Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve 6 year rye, but it's almost too tasty on it's own to mix it. Old Overholt is a bit too cheap tasting, though I used it at a Mad Men party and felt it was successful (Don Draper uses it in his Old Fashioneds on the show). Sazerac is decent as well. I don't really care for the Jim Beam Rye, and I'm planning to take another run at the Wild Turkey entry level rye. I've had a couple of fancier ryes but nothing I would use for mixing.
Some folks like their Manhattans "perfect," meaning they contain both sweet and dry vermouth. I like mine with just the sweet. The best vermouth for Manhattans isn't even a vermouth, per se, but a sweet Italian wine called Carpano Antiqua Formula. It's a bit pricey for me, though, even though you only use a bit of it at a time it is a wine and once opened the shelf life countdown begins. So my sweet vermouth of choice is Dolin , it does a fine job, it's sweet but not syrupy, provides the "winey" flavor of the Manhattan without overpowering it or cheapening a decent rye. Currently I am using Noilly Prat sweet vermouth, it's not quite as good but more readily available. It's been a while since I've had the Martini and Rossi sweet, but I didn't think it was bad.
The classic cocktail craze has caused a range of flavors of bitters to be available. Manhattans call for Angostura bitters, which are the most readily available. You can probably even find them in your grocery store. I have been using the Fee Brothers Classic bitters (which also use the Angostura bark), but find them a bit too potent--one dash too many and you've overpowered the drink. The Angostura brand is the best.
Since Manhattans are one of my staple drinks, I brandy and jar my own cherries. I found a decent recipe online and I can do it for around 2-4 bucks a jar, not much more than cheap maraschino cherries and a lot cheaper than fancy imported cherries. There is a long history about the bastardization of the maraschino cherry due to Prohibition. I won't bore you to tears here but long story short I like to make my own cherries rather than using cheap store bought cherries. You can use them, though, if you don't feel like special ordering Italian cherries or brandying your own. There's no shame in it.
2 oz rye
1 oz sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir rye, vermouth, and bitters till chilled. Strain into martini glass (chilled if you like) and garnish with cherry. (note: stir gently, and don't shake, otherwise you get a frothy drink)