The Manhattan is the perfect summer cocktail. Named after the New York City borough where it was invented, supposedly, though probably not, for a party in support of presidential candidate Samuel Tilden, the Manhattan is a cocktail containing whiskey, traditionally rye, sweet vermouth and bitters. It’s garnished with a dark maraschino cherry. It is a classic drink. Simple, yet with infinite variations.
I hear you, margarita people. I know the last few remaining Tom Collins enthusiasts are getting all riled up somewhere, and I’m ignoring you if you’re waving any sort of spritzer at me with your drinking-at-brunch hand. It’s summertime, and while whiskey isn’t normally featured on the front page of hip magazines (do they still make magazines?) it is an overlooked classic. This is how you make it.
First, choose your whiskey. I prefer a quality, yet affordable whiskey like Maker’s Mark or Buffalo Trace. You’ll be adding flavors so no need to go for the fancy stuff on the top shelf, but you still want quality because the end product depends on it. Also, you’ll want something with a nice label so your Instagram photos look good.
Next, round out the rest of your ingredients. Buy a bottle of sweet vermouth, which is a fortified wine. It is very, very important to make sure you buy sweet and not dry vermouth. The labels can be confusing, and it will make for a jarring taste if you mix them up. Many vermouth labels use red to indicate sweetness or green to indicate it is dry. There are some craft versions out there, but your basic bottle of Martini & Rossi will do just fine. Spend 10 bucks, toss it in the fridge and it will always be there when you need it. It will seemingly never disappear, and when you move someday, the remains of the bottle will wave goodbye.
You need bitters. Bitters are important. They are a concentrated collection of herbs and spices that add flavor and aroma. Just a dash can change the entire complexion of your drink. Angostura is the best known brand and has been producing their specific blend of herbs since 1824. I like the classic, but they also offer an orange infusion that can really spice up your cocktail. See what I did there? You can also make your own and infuse them with whatever flavor suits your fancy. Search for “bitters recipe” on Pinterest and be prepared for a weekslong slide into the rabbit hole of craft bitters making.
Lastly, you put it all together. Tradition says to mix it over ice. Stir and strain it into a chilled cocktail glass (think miniature martini glass), drop in the cherry, and serve neat (without ice). However, like Manhattan the city, the cocktail doesn’t like to be defined. It can also be served in a low-ball glass on the rocks (with ice), with or without garnish or, if you prefer, and this is really crazy, a different alcohol entirely. Use scotch, and it becomes a Rob Roy. It’s the drink of the people. I prefer it on the rocks without the garnish.
Make one and take it to the nearest patio about an hour before the temperature drops. Bask in the remains of the late-day heat. The ice will make a pleasant clinking sound as you instinctively rotate your wrist in a swirl. The sun’s rays will reflect through the amber liquid. That first drink will be a complex cacophony of flavors in your mouth, a curious blend of bitter and sweet with just a hint of botanical fruit. It will be cold and refreshing.
The air around you will begin to blur, and the world will appear to be drowsy. As you near the bottom, you’ll feel a pleasant buzzing in your head that could be the whispers of hummingbirds or honeybees, or perhaps the whiskey is starting to take hold. Even though there is a chill rolling in off of the Pacific, you will feel the warmth of the whiskey flowing through you. This is summer, and you’re going to Manhattan.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
- Dash of bitters
- Garnish with a maraschino cherry
- Optional: Ice
- Combine whiskey, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.