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The Manhattan – A Week of Deliciousness

Posted by Reese on 2008-07-25 @ 06:12pm

I came in to this week not knowing anything about the Manhattan.  I had never had one, nor had I had any other cocktails that use Sweet Vermouth.  To some extent I had a very twisted picture (or is that taste) in my head as to what the Manhattan would bring to the table.  From the previous week’s experience with the Martini I was expecting a very sharp herbal bite from the Vermouth that simply isn’t there in Sweet Vermouth.  Yes, there is a nice herbal flavor but it seems almost deeper and darker in some ways.  Add to that the wonderful flavors of whiskey and you’ve got a total winner.  Aaron decided not to participate this week, so I’m going solo on this wrap up, but I think I have some interesting stuff to share with you.

A Manhattan with Brandied Cherries

A Manhattan with Brandied Cherries

I started the week in Grand Lake with my Stepdad (Ken) and two of my Stepbrothers (Pete and Tom).  We had a very long day of working in the forest on Saturday cutting down and removing dead trees.  So, when it came time for happy hour everyone was ready for a Manhattan.  Seeing as I had never had one I started with a recipe I had seen in a number of places.

The Manhattan:
[Ingredients]
2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
[Directions]
1) Combine ingredients over ice
2) Stir to combine and chill thoroughly
3) Strain in to a chilled cocktail glass
4) Garnish with a maraschino cherry

After our first installment we decided that this drink, referred to as “Brown Mumblers” by Pete’s coworkers, was a recipe that needed sampling several times.  Thankfully I had brought sufficient ingredients to make such an endeavor possible.  We tried both Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye and Eagle Rare Bourbon for the base spirit and found both to be fantastic.  I prefer the Rye personally as it gives the drink more of a spicy bite, but I assure you, you won’t be disappointed with either choice.  As for Vermouth I brought bottles of Noilly Prat and Cinzano.  They are more or less on par, but I think my house Sweet Vermouth will likely become the Cinzano as it has more depth of flavor.  I also brought along both Angostura and Fee Brother’s Barrel Aged Bitters, both are great but lead to a different end cocktail.  I’d recommend trying both as you will likely have a preference for one or the other.  Or, if you want to get super crazy, do what I do and combine them.  More on that later.  As I discussed in my previous post this week I don’t much like abnormally colored and deathly sweet maraschino cherries, so we passed on those entirely.  The drinks soothed our aching bodies and lead to a very pleasant evening.  There was even some drunken fishing involved, which I must say is a good time.  Pete caught three fish, I caught none, for those keeping score.

I also sampled a number of other recipe variants throughout the week.  For each of the following I used Eagle Rare Bourbon, Noilly Prat Vermouth and Angostura Bitters to be consistent.

Embury's Manhattan:
2 1/2 oz American Whiskey
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
Dash Angostura Bitters

This drink was good, but very strong on the bourbon, which is great when you have a good bourbon.  However, if the bourbon you’ve got isn’t top shelf this isn’t the recipe I’d choose.  Also, the bitters, being such a small amount, don’t really come through as much as I’d like.  Same holds true for the amount of Vermouth.  The drink is not particularly sweet as a result and little of the herbal notes shine through.  Overall, not my choice.

Difford's Guide Dry Manhattan:
2 1/2 oz Bourbon
1 oz Dry Vermouth
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters

A tasty combination overall, but not what I would call a true Manhattan.  The flavors of the Vermouth (Noilly Prat Dry) and Bourbon come through nicely but this drink lacks the sweetness I like in a Manhattan.  Onward!

Difford's Guide Perfect Manhattan:
2 1/2 oz Bourbon
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters

My guess as to the “plan” with this drink is to keep the sweetness at a low level while bumping up the herbal flavors.  This is definitely accomplished.  The resulting drink has a deeper herbal smell than the Dry Manhattan while keeping the sweetness level low.  A very good cocktail to be sure, but not my cup of tea (or glass of Manhattan), I’m still looking for that additional sweetness of the Sweet Vermouth.  Which is a nice segue to…

Difford's Guide Sweet Manhattan:
2 1/2 oz Bourbon
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/8 oz Syrup from Maraschino Cherries
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters

I really like this recipe and it’s very near my preferred recipe.  The Vermouth adds the sweetness I crave and the bitters are there in sufficient quantities to bring a lot of flavor to the party.  Since we believe if full disclosure here at Cocktail Hacker, I should mention that I didn’t have any maraschino cherry juice at the time which would have bumped the sweetness level up even further.

Reese's Manhattan - Minus the Cherries - D'Oh!

Reese's Manhattan - Minus the Cherries - D'Oh!

My favorite Manhattan recipe for the week is very similar to the Difford’s Sweet Manhattan, with a couple small twists.  I change up the bitters by using both Fee Brother’s and Angostura.  I really like the additional cinnamon and clove notes that the Fee Brother’s adds.  I also don’t use the cherry syrup but bring up the Vermouth ratio to maintain the sweetness.  Furthermore, I go with Rye Whiskey over Bourbon as it brings the spicy flavor I mentioned above.  That said, this recipe works very well with Bourbon too.  For the garnish, use a maraschino if you must, but I would really encourage you to try making your own brandy soaked cherries.  They are truly fantastic.  I used dried bing cherries for my batch but I think I’ll use dried (or frozen) sour cherries next time for some added twang.

Reese's Manhattan:
[Ingredients]
2 oz Rye Whiskey
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
1 Dash Fee Brother's Old Fashioned Bitters (Barrel Aged if You Can)
[Directions]
1) Combine ingredients over ice
2) Stir to combine and chill thoroughly
3) Strain in to a chilled cocktail glass
4) Garnish with a Cognac macerated cherry

That’s all I’ve got for this installment.  I hope you enjoyed your Manhattans this week as much as I have.  Next week is our last Embury cocktail, the Old Fashioned.