Classic Manhattan

Since I think I’m the Recipicitor closest to Manhattan, and I know I’m the one who’s mixed the most, here’s a basic Manhattan guide.

A Manhattan cocktail is bourbon whisk(e)y, sweet vermouth and aromatic bitters. Since bourbon and sweet vermouth are both, well,¬†sweet, the bitters is an important part of composing the cocktail. The cocktail “cool kids” (not to be confused with the law library “cool kids”) are all a-twitter about bitters, so that’s something you can play with once you have the basics worked out.

The unsung, and unphotographed, hero of our cocktail is the ice which chills the drink but also serves to provide water to the mix. Shaking and resting after shaking before pouring for different lengths of time will change the nature of the drink. If your water is nasty, please buy ice or make it with filtered water.

I know I have some mid-South / Bluegrass colleagues, so I’ll set aside discussion of which bourbon to use. And what counts as bourbon. And which is best. I’m a card-carrying Marker’s Mark ambassador, so I’ll say I use (the admittedly mild and sweet) Maker’s for Manhattans and you can use what you prefer. Since the bourbon is the base spirit, changing it up will change the drink quite a bit – please experiment.

The recipe:

  • 1/3 sweet vermouth
  • 2/3 bourbon
  • dash bitters

Shake vigorously with ice, strain into cocktail glass. Add stemmed Maraschino cherry.

So you can see I use Noilly Pratt vermouth. This is another thing that can radically change your cocktail. Try several – like dry vermouth, if you don’t like the sweet vermouth straight, don’t put it in your cocktail.

I like Angostura bitters generally, and it’s definitely the thing to use in a classic Manhattan. It’s also the easiest to find – probably in your supermarket, definitely in your liquor store. I have experimented with orange bitters and it works well in this drink. Anise-y Peychud’s, a must for any well stocked bar since it’s required for a Sazerac, doesn’t work with this one, in my opinion.

The cherry is really part of the drink – even if you don’t like them – it adds some sweetness, so drop one in. If you hate it, put the rest on your sundaes.

A word about measuring and servings

You wouldn’t make most (any?) recipe for the first time without measuring. Don’t mix cocktails by “eyeballing” them. Use a proper measure of some sort.

Since I have your attention, I’ll also comment on the disturbing size of modern cocktail glasses. The ones shown here are 8 oz. capacity. That’s to say that if filled with a strong cocktail like a Manhattan or Martini, you’d have about 3.5 oz. of pure alcohol – over 8 units (a pint of 6% beer is 1 unit). I usually mix two doubles of an evening – 1.5 oz vermouth and 3 oz bourbon – I shake and let rest long enough for the melt to make up two 3 oz pours, which fill the glass “half-way” (triangles, cones, geometry, fun!). That still means 3*40% + 1.5*16% / 2 servings = 0.72 oz of alcohol each, or 1.8 units – a true double for each of us. Please, as the lawyers make the advertisers say, drink responsibly.

“Foamy. Beer Foamy”
Buffy is right. Beer is foamy. Cocktails can be too: intentionally in the case of foams, flips and carbonated concotions, or as a side-effect of shaking, as here. A Manhattan should not be foamy when served – let it sit for a minute or two and the drink will clear.