The Manhattan – The King of Cocktails

To me the Perfect Manhattan perfectly made is the perfect cocktail.  It is subtle, nuanced, and sublime.  The Manhattan has a storied and honorable past.  Unfortunately, I find that this libation has become unfavorable – or even worse, forgotten – by those born after 1970.  It is reprehensible that drinks ending in “tini” have become the staple of ‘cocktails’ that are found in most establishments.

A quick aside: I must vociferously state that while these unconscionable beverages are given a ‘martini’ moniker, they are absolutely and unequivocally not martinis.  Just because the contents of a shaker find their way into a funny shaped glass, that does not make them a martini.  A martini is made with gin – and only gin – and vermouth.  If you were to try and make an argument that a martini can also be made with vodka, I would politely listen to your argument and then pistol whip you with a Walther PPK out of principle.

Moving along, I am taken aback and quite saddened at how difficult it is to find a barkeep worth their salt.  I was at a steak house in Chicago recently (I will withhold the name to protect the guilty, however the establishment’s name  may or may not rhyme with Dr. Seuss’ character who gives a ‘Who’) and I requested a perfect Manhattan to start off my evening.  They couldn’t properly attend to my request.  After two attempts, I had to finally give the standard proportions and directions to have my libation made properly.

A poorly made Manhattan always fills me with sadness.  The Manhattan is a vehicle for great creativity for true bar chefs.  The Manhattan is beautiful in its simplicity.  However, an innovative bar chef will take the basic ingredients and bring this drink to new levels.  Many bartending competitions begin (or end) with the competitors concocting their version of the Manhattan.

I will give a quick primer for those not intimately familiar with this lovely creation.  The basic Manhattan is made with sweet vermouth, whiskey – rye whiskey is my and the traditional liquor of choice however, I am much more forgiving with the choice of whiskey used than I am with the liquor for a martini.  I think the subtleties of different whiskeys such as Canadian, Tennessee, or bourbon allow for more creativity with the Manhattan – and it is generally garnished with a maraschino cherry.  The Perfect Manhattan halves the portion of sweet vermouth used and replaces it with dry vermouth.  Indeed, the Manhattan was the first cocktail to incorporate vermouth.  Prior to the creation of the Manhattan, vermouth was traditionally enjoyed by itself.  One of my favorite authors, a man of superb taste and the consummate imbiber of fine spirits, Papa Hemmingway, was very fond of his vermouth, which is nothing more than wine fortified with herbs.

The standard recipe for the Manhattan is as follows:

2 parts whisky

1 part sweet vermouth

Stir in ice

Strain into a cocktail glass

Add two dashes of Angostura bitters

Serve with a cherry

This is an adequate recipe and I would never balk at drinking a well made Manhattan.  However, like any true aficionado, I am never fully content with any libation.  There are almost always ways to make improvements.  As I previously stated, I enjoy my Manhattans perfect with a ratio of two parts rye to .5 parts dry and .5 parts sweet vermouth.  Additionally, I use a tablespoon of maraschino cherry juice and coat the inside of the martini glass prior to pouring the contents of my shaker over the two cherries nestled at the bottom of my glass.  I have experimented with Luxardo Maraschino Originale 32° as the glass coating instead of the maraschino juice, but I find it a little too heavy and sweet for my taste.  However, Red, found this style to her liking and it has been colloquially named as a ‘Ms. Manhattan’ for the time being in the 12 O’clock household.

I actually quite enjoy the frothiness that is imparted upon the Manhattan when it is shaken.  The final step is something that is often overlooked, but is a vital component to the Manhattan (as well as many other cocktails): bitters.

Traditionally, two dashes of Angostura bitters are used to finish off this drink.  Recently, I have changed my bitters of choice to Peychaud’s Bitters, which is a staple in another rye drink that has been all but forgotten (but hopefully, seems to be making a small resurgence), the Sazerac.  I rather enjoy the lighter more floral anise style nose of Peychaud’s Bitters.  It is a pleasant departure from the ubiquitous, but wonderful Angostura.

While the Manhattan seems to have been unceremoniously dumped to the trash bin of alcoholic history, I have hope.  Rye is making a comeback.   Inevitably, the Manhattan must follow.  Find a bar chef with true chops and creativity and order yourself the finest cocktail ever made.  You will not be disappointed.



~ by its12oclocksomewhere on September 16, 2010.

5 Responses to “The Manhattan – The King of Cocktails”



  2. this made me very thirsty


  3. […] have in their bar in the event someone (generally me) comes over and wants to make a martini or Manhattan, but using an inferior vermouth will absolutely destroy an otherwise well made cocktail.  The gin […]


  4. Hear! Hear! Well stated.


  5. […] Lawry’s Steakhouse.  I was bummed. The last time I went to place like this, I could not get my Manhattan properly made. I have never been so happy to be wrong. The food was delectable. I had come in […]


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