We’re continuing with the old reliables in our second week here at Drink of the Week central. The Manhattan, which may really have originated on the island in New York City, is really just a sweet inversion of last week’s beverage, the martini. It merely substitutes whiskey for gin or vodka, sweet vermouth for dry vermouth, and a maraschino cherry for the olive. Since it can be fairly sweet, it’s a more accessible drink than a martini. It was a favorite of the “Sex and the City” crew, but we love it anyway.
Here’s our starter recipe:
2 ounces whiskey (bourbon, rye, Canadian, etc.)
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura or Regan’s Orange Bitters
Maraschino cherry or lemon peel as garnish
Pour your whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters over ice cubes into a shaker. Shake or stir very vigorously for as long as you can stand it and pour into chilled martini or wide-mouthed champagne glass, garnish with cherry or lemon peel.
The shaking vs. stirring debate is less intense here than on the martini, but it exists. Some — including MSNBC host and drink maven Rachel Maddow — make an aesthetic argument. They argue that shaking “clouds” the drink and therefore ruins its presentation. We, however, love the white froth that shaking produces — it’s more visible if you use a healthy amount of Angostura bitters — which reminds us of the crema you get on a well-brewed cup of espresso. It’s also true that the shaking temporarily produces those clouds (actually small bubbles), but they are gone soon enough and the icy coolness of a well shaken Manhattan is irresistible.
Whatever you do, though you may want to limit them for various reasons, never eschew the bitters completely. If you do, your punishment will be a sickly sweet beverage. As for the type of bitters, we personally prefer Angostura with bourbon or rye, and Regan’s Orange with the lighter (less sweet) Canadian or American whiskey.
Actually, though, even with a few dashes of bitters the above recipe may be too sweet for many. One solution is to simply use only half as much sweet vermouth, but also perhaps reducing the amount of bitters down to one dash to keep the drink from being too harsh. Another possibility, one we prefer, is to find a good, 90 proof or higher bourbon or rye that can stand up to all that sweetness. Another excellent alternative is the “perfect Manhattan” in which, instead of one ounce of sweet vermouth, you use half an ounce of sweet vermouth and half an ounce of dry vermouth. Especially in conjunction with Canadian whiskey — Crown Royal or the just-about-as-g00d Canadian Club, in any case — we’ve found it to be pretty close to its name. Depending on your preference, you may want to limit the bitters on this one.
If you use Scotch, the drink is called a Rob Roy, but we’ve yet to figure out how to make it taste good. Something about the smokiness of Scotch doesn’t seem to quite work for us, but we’ll give it another shot some day.
A word about vermouth. Use a good one like Martini & Rossi or, our personal fallback choice, Noilly Pratt. We know the super cheap brands like Gallo are tempting and don’t taste bad, but it’s really worth it to spend a whole $8-$10.00 for 750 milliliters of a decent brand. If you really want to go to town, there are some outstanding higher end vermouths which usually sell for well over double that price. A brand like Carpano Antica can make a perfectly amazing Manhattan, even when used with a plebeian and inexpensive rye like Old Overholt. The only problem is that Carpano tastes so good on its own and you might just want to scarf the stuff straight.