Spiriturgy 003: A tale of two bouroughs – Manhattan and Manhattan (No. 2)

Welcome back! Today we’ll be talking about a kissing cousin of the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan. Fortunately (both for my rambling tendencies and your reading pleasure), Manhattans are worlds easier to prepare, and I won’t need to go into such exhaustive detail this time around.

I. Today’s recipes

1/2 Rye Whiskey
1/2 Italian Vermouth
1 dash Orange Bitters
Serve with a Maraschino Cherry.

Manhattan (No. 2)
2/3 Bourbon
1/3 Italian Vermouth
Add a dash of Angostura Bitters and a cherry.

This is our first instance of Whitfield’s recipes giving us nothing more specific than relative proportions (fear not, there are many more to come). To keep things simple and reasonable, I assume cocktails are around 3 oz total volume unless specified otherwise. So in this case, 1/2 of 3 oz would be 1.5 oz, or a standard jigger – easy to manage. Likewise, 2/3 and 1/3 become 2 oz and 1 oz in the second recipe (and while I don’t have one myself yet, my father informs me that jiggers can be found in 2 oz and 1 oz sizes).

II. Our ingredients

Nearly everything we need is already on hand from Old Fashioneds last week, save a couple of new things:

Dolin Rosso vermouth – Vermouth generally comes in two varieties, sweet and dry (there are more types, but those are the fundamental two). However, just to confuse things, there are multiple names for each variety:

– Sweet vermouth – aka Italian vermouth, red/rouge/rosso vermouth, etc.
– Dry vermouth – aka French vermouth, white/blanc vermouth, etc.

Whitfield generally refers to vermouths as either Italian or French. We’ll be getting into French vermouth in a few weeks with martinis, but for now only the Italian variety is in play.

Vermouth, in general, is a sweetened and fortified wine that also has various herbs, spices, and aromatics introduced during fermentation and fortification. The brand I’ve relied on thus far is Dolin, which is very affordable but still generally well-regarded.

One thing to remember with vermouth is that, having a lower alcohol content than spirits (for example, Dolin’s sweet vermouth is 16% abv), it’s not as impervious to the ravages of time. Once opened, you want to store vermouth in a refrigerator instead of on the bar with your other bottles, to keep it fresher longer. However, there’s no need to plow through a bottle in a night – vermouth still has a healthy lifespan, easily three months when kept in the fridge (and I’m sure you could push that date a bit with little trouble).

Maraschino cherries – I won’t belabor these very long, since I trust most readers are generally familiar with them. Mostly, I wanted to acknowledge that I’m using the standard neon-red zombie cherries commonly seen at bars, and I know that true conesseuirs turn their noses up at these. By most accounts, Luxardo brand cherries are the best and most authentic choice short of preparing your own cocktail cherries – however, that quality comes at a steep cost, and I can’t justify that sort of expenditure on garnishes just yet. But someday!

III. Tools of the trade

In addition to a good barspoon (discussed previously), there’s only one new thing you’ll want to have to hand for Manhattan-making:

Shaker/strainer/mixing glass – An invaluable tool to have on hand. I won’t actually be doing any shaking with today’s recipes, but the necessity of a good vessel to stir ingredients with ice and strain the results can’t be understated.

IV. The process

First, don’t forget to chill your glasses! I’m using stemmed cocktail glasses today, but there’s no faux pas in using rocks glasses to serve a Manhattan. Likewise, I’m serving them straight up, which means prepared (read: stirred or shaken) with ice but then strained, but putting a Manhattan on the rocks (read: with ice in the glass) shouldn’t take anything away from your enjoyment.

As I mentioned up top, Manhattans are a fair sight easier to prepare than Old Fashioneds, at least in terms of overall labor. Also, if you’re making them for a group, feel free to double, triple, or x-tuple the ingredients during prep and just pour out equal servings once everything’s been mixed together.

As with Whitfield’s two Old Fashioned recipes last week, the two Manhattan recipes this week are really small variations on a few core questions. If you want to customize a recipe to fit your taste, here are the simple inquiries to make:

– What kind of whiskey do I want to use (bourbon or rye)?
– What ratio of whiskey and vermouth would I prefer (1:1, or 2:1 in favor of whiskey)?
– What kind of bitters do I want to use (Angostura, orange, or both)?

Once you’ve decided your ingredients and proportions, start pouring and dashing into your mixing glass. Just to over-explain my recipe math from earlier, suppose I’m making 3 oz drinks for three people. With a 1:1 ratio of whiskey and vermouth, I just added 3 jiggers of each to get a total of 9 oz of liquid ready to mix (which, once prepared, would divide again into three 3 oz drinks). Similarly, with a 2:1 ratio of whiskey and vermouth, I added 4 jiggers of whiskey (6 oz total) and 2 jiggers of vermouth (3 oz total) to get me to that total of 9 oz again.

As per usual, bitters can’t be handled with the same precision as our other ingredients – don’t sweat it. I just gave the bitters bottle a couple of shakes per person and went from there – remember, you can always adjust for taste down the road.

Once whiskey, vermouth, and bitters are all together in the mixing glass, throw in a couple of ice cubes and stir with your handy barspoon. It’s also your choice if you’d prefer to shake instead of stir – if you do, you can expect to see a frothier drink upon straining, and it will also be slightly more diluted (shaking agitates the ice, causing it to melt more quickly and watering down the drink slightly).

Once the ice has cooled everything down and all ingredients are thoroughly mixed, pop on the strainer top and dole out equal pours in everyone’s glass. Finally, toss a cherry in, and voila! I’ve begun to realize that it’s a bit of an open secret how absurdly easy these are to make, especially compared to the sorts of delighted reactions you get from people when a handsomely garnished cocktail is proffered to them.

It’s possible to talk a bit more about the flavors in a Manhattan, since we’re dealing with a bit more liquid and slightly different ingredients compared to the highly austere Old Fashioned (which can sometimes feel less like a cocktail and more like a whiskey delivery device). I’m sure the vermouth plays a large role in a Manhattan’s character, although we don’t currently have the means to compare different brands – even despite that, my companions and I made a few choice observations when trying Whitfield’s recipes.

First of all, it’s interesting to note that Whitfield advocates a larger quantity of vermouth when preparing with rye (1:1 with the whiskey), and calls for a heavier quantity of whiskey when using bourbon (2:1 in favor of whiskey). It’s logical when you compare the relative characters of rye and bourbon – rye tends to the drier, spicier side of the spectrum, so giving the vermouth a larger presence helps balance the cocktail and keeps it smooth. Conversely, since bourbon is usually a bit sweeter and smoother, you don’t need to worry so much about overcoming its harsher qualities.

The other big discovery of the night was that orange bitters can have a surprisingly large effect on a drink’s mouthfeel. I used orange bitters for the first time in last week’s Old Fashioneds, and I confess that I didn’t really notice anything unique that they were bringing to the table. This may be attributable to Old Fashioneds already having lemon and orange garnishes involved, so the citrus flavor is already present without needing the bitters to pull any weight. However, with just a cherry as a garnish, that extra bit of citrus flavor can offer a startling improvement.

When we prepared Whitfield’s second recipe (2:1 with bourbon and Angostura bitters), we all agreed that it was not as good as the first recipe with rye and orange bitters. Generally, all the drink’s flavor was hitting us up front, with little follow-up – the bourbon and vermouth were also getting along almost too well, with the push-and-pull getting buried. After a few sips, we decided to toss a few drops of orange bitters into our glasses – and the effect was, for me, astounding. That extra zip of citrus rounded out the entire drink, giving it a much more lasting mouthfeel and generally adding the sort of contrast we had been missing. Bottom line: I’m much more of an orange bitters convert than I was last week, and I’d encourage anyone making Manhattans to play around with them and see what sort of changes they can wring out.

That about wraps it up for this week – unfortunately I’m not aware of any Mad Men clips of Manhattan-making for us to critique. Have fun and enjoy!

Next time: Whitfield throws us a curveball and gives us two gin cocktail recipes that are quite different, and call for an unusual ingredient or two. I need to do some extra legwork to get ready, so we’ll be going briefly off-book and addressing a cocktail not included in Whitfield: the humble negroni, and a fun variant thereof.

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