Remember the good old days when a pre-drink just meant a Keystone Light or a Vodka and 7-up in a red plastic cup? Do you remember when an after-party just meant you needed to have something, anything to drink that possibly contained alcohol and maybe some balloons and a tank of nitrous? Well, as much as I would happily be a part of such a party, I think there is something to be said for being able to make a good quality staple drink in a pinch when you have to play host. I’m talking about a cocktail that would please even a sophisticated drinker and maybe even astonish someone who wasn’t expecting anything special at all. That cocktail for me is not any kind of new concoction but a classic with a long history: the Manhattan.
To be honest, I feel like there has been a resurgence of the Manhattan for quite some time, so I can’t take credit for bringing this drink to new life. Many restaurants and bars offer their variations on cocktail menus all across Chicago. Ordering them can be fun for sure, but making them at home – now that’s some real rewarding business. While I continue to try and stock up a decent bar at the house I remain fixated on making a good Manhattan for guests and serve it whenever I can. If I have a buddy come over for a drink before dinner, then it’s my go-to. If we have friends back at the house for a nightcap and some Jenga then again, it’s my go-to. As long as I have been trying to perfect this cocktail, I am now not so sure the Manhattan can be perfected. However, I have a new respect for this classic’s versatility as it can always be transformed in so many ways, and for so many different tastes. No question, it’s a great drink for any guy (or girl) to learn, to re-create, and keep forever in their repertoire.
The beauty of this drink is it’s simplicity. Truly, it consists of only three ingredients and those three ingredients have endless possibilities for flavor and intensity. They are whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. A shot measuring tool such as this will do you very good here and is pretty much a necessity if you plan to dive down this rabbit hole as I have. It measures 2 oz. on one side and 1 oz. on the other so that making any Manhattan is extremely effortless as you will find out below.
Through research (mostly just the drinking kind), I have found that rye whiskeys are best and most commonly used. Even within the scope of rye whiskeys there are so many choices. Some of my favorite ryes are Redemption Rye, Rittenhouse Rye, Bulleit Rye, and Templeton Rye (yes, make sure the bottle says Rye). A slightly pricier but incredible option is the Koval Rye, which is local to Chicago. Trying them all is obviously fun in itself and you will notice the difference as long as it’s not your 12th Manhattan of the evening.
Sweet vermouths are aperitifs that are mainly Italian in origin and they will usually say ROSSO on the bottle, meaning red. The Martini Rosso Vermouth is one of the most recognizable and inexpensive. The next level up would be something like Carpano Antica which makes a noticeably smoother cocktail. Yet, there are many other brands out there and I urge you to just experiment like a mad person. An intriguing aspect of the Manhattan it is that other liqueurs can be used in lieu of sweet vermouth. So far, my favorite substitute is amaro, which is similar to sweet vermouth in that it’s Italian but it is considered a digestif and therefore a little more bitter. I picked up the Ramazzotti Amaro at Eataly on a whim and I have found it to be pretty incredible as it gave an extra layer of flavor I had not ever created before.
The third ingredient is bitters, which is a botanical and aromatic liqueur. It’s medicinal qualities have been known to cure ailments as well as flavor drinks. Let’s hope to God it does both. In similar fashion, there are a wide variety of bitters. There is a bitters section at Binny’s for example, and it is quite astounding how many there actually are. Two of the most common are Angostura and Peychaud’s. However, they do come in different flavors, which leads me to my latest little friend – orange bitters. This one made by Fee Brothers adds a nice citrus element to the Manhattan and seems easier to drink for people that don’t like to get too medicinal but still appreciate a good intense flavor.
So now you have the major elements. You can make a Manhattan any way you like. However, if you want to up your game and get a little crazy/classy there are a few more things you can do. Luxardo Maraschino Cherries are fairly expensive but last an insanely long time and adding just one in a cocktail is a fantastic treat. Secondly, who doesn’t like huge cubes? I know I do. Get yourself a jumbo silicone ice tray. It is very inexpensive and when it comes to Manhattans you will probably never go back to using ice in any other form if you can help it. Finally, get lucky enough to have someone special give you a crystal decanter and a set of two nice whiskey glasses as a gift. (Thanks @themidsis). When I first opened them up I didn’t know if I wanted them, and now I really do appreciate them. If you’re a fan of Sterling and Draper I think you’ll understand. They will change your world.
Making The Manhattan
The measurements for the Manhattan are simply 2 parts whiskey, 1 part sweet vermouth, and 2-3 dashes of bitters, but can be varied a bit by taste. Without further ado, here is my current favorite combination so get your measuring device ready:
1oz. Ramazzotti Amaro
2-3 dashes of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Now high five yourself. Enjoy you classy dudes (and ladies)! And please drink responsibly.