Gotham Greatness -- The Manhattan
Just to be clear, I don’t mean Gotham as in Batman, I mean Gotham as in New York City. In my opinion New York City is one of the great cities of the United States, if not the world. Every American should visit it at some point in their life.
There’s no doubt that the Manhattan is a classic cocktail. It is straightforward in that there are only three components – bourbon or rye, vermouth, and bitters.
However, it can be a deceptively complex drink, and it lends itself to all manner of variations. Bourbon or rye? What type of vermouth(s)? What proportion of spirits? What type of bitters? What type of garnish? Fortunately it’s tough to make a truly awful Manhattan, but it can be tough to make a truly spectacular one. Of course, it’s all a matter of taste, so feel free to experiment. Here is the recipe I use (it makes two cocktails):
2.5 ounces bourbon (I prefer Willett Pot Still)
1 ounce sweet vermouth (I recommend Carpano Antica Formula)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine in shaker with ice, stir, then strain into chilled martini or cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel, or if you insist on using a cherry, go with Luxardo instead of Maraschino.
Let’s break the Manhattan down into the three components .......
Bourbon – I prefer bourbon even though a small and vocal minority argue that a cocktail isn’t a Manhattan unless it contains rye. I’m a big fan of rye, but I like my Manhattans with bourbon. As I mentioned above, I really like Willett Pot Still. If you use it in a Manhattan, the final result is exquisite.
Vermouth -- It’s easy to focus so hard on the bourbon that you overlook the vermouth. To paraphrase the old Nike ad – just don’t do it. Carpano Antica Formula enhances the cocktail regardless of what bourbon I use. I must thank the Mortons in Reston, Virginia for introducing me to Carpano Antica Formula. Mortons uses this vermouth in its house Manhattan. Incidentally, if you’re using a really strong bourbon, e.g. Booker’s (which is a whopping 126 proof compared to the 90-95 proof range of most bourbons on the market), I suggest using slightly more sweet vermouth.
Bitters – You’re not going to go wrong if you use Angostura. Sometimes I will use Regan’s orange bitters instead of Angostura, or a dash of each.
Bitters are an underappreciated component of many cocktails. Even though one only uses a small amount, bitters can have a tremendous impact. I’ve only recently begun to learn about them. If you want high quality and exotic ingredients that are reasonably priced (keep in mind it probably will take you a very long time to go through a bottle), I recommend Bittered Sling. I was introduced to its products at the recent Tales Of The Cocktail conference, and its people were genuinely helpful.
Speaking of Manhattan (the borough of New York City, not the cocktail), I recommend the following cocktail bars – Dead Rabbit and Employees Only. The former is in Lower Manhattan, the latter is in the West Village. My wife and I had wonderful experiences at both places. It’s no accident that both bars have received awards and rave reviews.