Drink of the Week: The Manhattan

the Dry ManhattanWe’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:

The Manhattan

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.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Martini

It wouldn’t be right to kick off our new “Drink of the Week” feature with any less of a beverage than this most durable but paradoxically most intimidating of cocktails. It’s the strong but perfect before dinner drink.

A million things have been written about martinis, but the first thing you need to realize is that it’s a specific cocktail and not just any liquid poured into a martini glass. We love a good chocolate martini, because it’s chocolate, but it’s no more a martini than a chocolate bunny is a rabbit. A cosmopolitan is also not a martini; it’s a freaking cosmopolitan.

Here’s our starter recipe:

2 ounces gin or vodka
1 ounce vermouth
1-2 dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters (optional, but especially recommended with gin)
Olive(s) or twist of lemon garnish

the Martini. Pour gin/vodka and vermouth over ice into cocktail shaker, along with a dash or two of orange bitters if you’ve got them. Shake or stir very vigorously and strain into chilled martini glass or, for smaller portions, a wide-mouthed champagne glass, add olive(s) or lemon twist. Always serve up — i.e., without ice. (We know people who drink martinis on the rocks, but we’ve tried them that way and think they’re wrong. Very, very wrong.)

Now, note that this is a starter recipe. You’ve doubtless heard of the dry martini. It’s possible that the term once simply referred to dry vermouth, but in common usage this is one with very little vermouth. From the “M.A.S.H.” TV series, to “Auntie Mame,” to Luis Buñuel’s surrealist comedy classic, “The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” the extremely dry martini has been lionized and joked about endlessly in low, middle, and high culture. Feel free to experiment in the direction of less vermouth, reducing the amount as much as you dare.

It’s even legitimate to make your martini a la Mame Dennis (Rosalind Russell, in the movie) and pour a small amount of vermouth into a glass and then simply discard it, filling it with extremely cold strained gin or vodka afterward. This can work particularly well with vodka. We’re pretty sure, however, that Luis Buñuel was kidding in his autobiography when he suggested merely having a ray of sunlight pass through a vermouth bottle on its way to a gin bottle.

Importantly, don’t be afraid to go in the opposite, not-so-dry, direction. Many would call our recipe, which is in fact similar to what you’ll find on the back of vermouth bottles, a bit overly “wet,” particularly for vodka. Nevertheless, it’s good to use a significant amount of a good brand of vermouth. (Señor Buñuel’s choice of Noilly-Pratt is our default.) The martini is, after all, a cocktail not just a gussied up shot. We’ve even been experimenting with a drink called, “the fitty-fitty” which is, as you would expect, 50 percent gin and 50 percent vermouth. Done right, it’s an extremely smooth martini and highly recommended.

Moving on, our take on the shaken vs. stirred debate is that shaking works really well for vodka martinis, which is what James Bond is mostly ordering in the movies, and we’re still making our mind up about how it works with gin. We’ve had good and less good gin martinis made both ways.

We hope to return to the shaken/stirred and dry/not dry dichotomies at some date in the not-so-immediate future as we continue to explore classic cocktails. For now, just remember that martinis are very much a case of trial and error with your taste buds, but even the errors should be fun.

  

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