What can be said about this posterchild cocktail that hasn’t been said before? It’s a beautiful expression of its components that have and will continue to withstand the test of time. However, do not allow the simplicity of this cocktail to fool you; It's deceptively easy to both over and under dilute. The trick to mastering this drink is using ice that is fresh from the freezer as well as tasting the drink as you stir to ensure you've brought balance to each of the following components:
- 2 dashes of angostura bitters
- 1 oz of sweet vermouth
- 2 oz of whiskey
The Manhattan's main spirit is whiskey, but this actually isn't enough information as you have to decide from here if you want a comparatively sweeter base spirit in bourbon or if you prefer a drier and spicier option in a rye. The supporting role, sweet vermouth, also asks that you sift through the various iterations different brands have brought to market. My personal opinion regarding these questions is to find a relatively cheap ( $20 - $30) bottle of base spirit as well as a similarly priced bottle of sweet vermouth. I've listed a few of my favorite bottles below that are both affordable as well as readily available. No sense in falling in love with a bottle that you can find only once in a blue moon, if that.
- Rittenhouse Rye
- Old Overholt Bonded Rye
- Old Forester Rye
- Old Forester Signature Bourbon
- Old Forester Bourbon
- Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
- Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
- Martini and Rosso Sweet Vermouth
- Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino
Depending on where you live, you’ll have access to local vermouths that are not easily acquired in other states. I highly recommend shopping around and looking for sweet vermouths that you are not familiar with as this is one of the easiest ways to bring a fresh twist on a classic drink. Once you've made your selection of ingredients, it's now time to start adding them to your mixing glass. A bar trick that I learned was to add your ingredients into a glass or tin in the order of least expensive to most expensive to minimize the amount of money lost if you made a mistake and needed to start over. For this drink, the order of operations would be:
Add all ingredients to your mixing glass, followed by enough ice to fill your mixing glass to the brim. From here, you will place your bar spoon into the glass and begin to stir the contents of the mixing glass until the preferred amount of water has been added to the drink. Oftentimes 60 revolutions, or 60 full stirs, is a good rule of thumb that will consistently create a properly diluted drink. Other measurements include stirring for 20 to 25 consecutive seconds, or until the mixing glass is well chilled. Ultimately, you want to incorporate enough water to keep any one of the ingredients from taking over or getting lost in the mix. A properly diluted drink will have anywhere from 20% to 25% total volume of water, which for this drink, looks like .6 oz of water.
Once the proper amount of water has been added, strain your mixture through a julep strainer to prevent any ice from making it into your finished product. From here, it is tradition to garnish with an expression of orange zest oil over the drink and a Luxardo Maraschino cherry to complete the drink.
Once you’ve found the ratio and ingredients that resonate with you, you can continue to make this drink as your go-to for the foreseeable future without any modifications necessary. However, should you seek to find new ways to enjoy the same formula, you can adjust the type of bitters, vermouth, and spirit to find new flavors. Even before changing the types or brands, you can adjust the amount of each ingredient to land on a variation that might suit you better than the traditional. Personally, I’m a fan of flipping the ratio (2 oz of sweet vermouth to 1 oz rye) or splitting the difference (1½:1½ vermouth to rye) to bring the overall ABV down to a more session-able level.
There you have it! The Manhattan is now in your repertoire of reliable classic cocktails and can be deployed at a moments notice for a nightcap or even at scale while entertaining friends and family. Please leave a comment or a question regarding your experience with this drink! Our community is at its best when we are all sharing ideas and helping each other grow!
Happy Hour Contributor