I fondly remember my grandfather drinking Manhattans when we’d go out to a restaurant with him, and my dad recalls my grandmother making them for the two of them after dinner when he was growing up. The drink’s roots trace back to the late 19th century in a bar called the Hoffman House in, you guessed it, Manhattan!
But unfortunately, the Manhattan is often still viewed as an old man’s drink. But it’s probably – no it’s actually - my favorite classic cocktail. Here’s why: it’s made with just three ingredients, which means it’s ultra simple and there’s absolutely no fluff in it to mask those ingredients. It also strikes a perfect balance of sweet and bitter tastes, with the oakyness and sweetness of the whiskey shining through without overpowering. Anyone can learn to appreciate a Manhattan; it’s just all about discovering how you like yours.
So last night, I decided to change up the usual way I like to drink my Manhattans, which is with bourbon rather than the traditional rye and made “perfect.” Perfect is a term used to describe a Manhattan with half sweet and half dry vermouth, rather than using only sweet vermouth (but using the same proportion of vermouth regardless). Since I only had Martini sweet vermouth in the house, that’s what I was going to use, with Woodford Reserve bourbon and a bottle of Bittercube’s cherry bark vanilla bitters, which I hadn’t tried before [fun fact: Bittercube's basic aromatic bitters recipe is featured in Booze for Babes for those who want to try making them at home]. Usually, you’d use Angostura bitters, in a Manhattan but its simplicity allows you to change out the flavors and types of ingredients while keeping with the proportions, and wind up with a subtlety different taste.
Some people like to place a maraschino cherry in their Manhattan, but I find them to be syrupy and gross. Plus I like my Manhattan to be an elegant rust brown color rather than cherry red. I was afraid that the sweet vermouth was going to make the drink too saccharin for me, but once I mixed everything together, it not only looked beautiful, but it tasted fantastic! The cherry bark and vanilla aromas trick your olfactory system into thinking the drink is much sweeter, but it’s actually not. This made me think that this recipe would be great for a Manhattan novice who typically finds the drink too alcoholic for them. Overall, this Manhattan maintained a balanced profile that was easy to savor and fun to make. See for yourself with the recipe below. Got a spin on the Manhattan you think is absolutely the best? Tell me about it!
My Manhattan Recipe
(makes one drink in a four-ounce glass)
2 ounces Woodford Reserve bourbon
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
3-4 drops of Bittercube Cherry Bark Bitters
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and stir vigorously with an 11 inch barspoon (but a wooden cooking spoon will do in a pinch). Strain into cocktail or coupe glasses.