Kevin Sintumuang had an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal recently on one of the best, most enduring cocktails of all: the Manhattan.
Take a sip. It's not a race—just a sip. Now savor. Cinnamon. Oak. Vanilla. Mint. Cornbread. Dark cherries, even. The flavors of the Manhattan seem to go on forever. Crazy good, huh? Amazing for a drink that really only has three ingredients: whiskey, vermouth, a dash of bitters. That's the beauty of the cocktail. It's gimmick-free.
You wouldn't think that it would taste so good. Whiskey mixed with aromatized wine? Sounds kinda gross, doesn't it? But the combination is magical, especially when the flavors are bound together with the addition of bitters. (Adding bitters to a cocktail is like adding salt to french fries. Sure you can eat them without it. But why would you want to?)
So how do you make a Manhattan? It's one of the easiest drinks around.
2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Whether you use rye or bourbon whiskey is a matter of personal preference. Bourbon makes for a slightly sweeter, smoother drink. Rye gives it a touch of zing that is very nice. If you prefer to shake this drink, you can shake it. If you prefer it on the rocks — like I do — you can serve it that way. You can also omit the cherry if you don't have any. It's not essential.
As you can see, the Manhattan is a flexible cocktail. Perhaps the coolest thing about the Manhattan, the feature that makes it different from so many other cocktails, is its potential for experimentation. As Sintumuang points out, the Manhattan is endlessly variable — and what's more, it can easily be altered by even the least imaginative of mixologists and still produce a fine libation.
The beauty of the Manhattan is that it only calls for three ingredients—a framework that allows anyone, be it a home bartender, spirits nerd or pro cocktailian, to experiment with confidence. Following the classic recipe above, play with different types of whiskey, vermouth or bitters, and you'll be sipping an entirely new concoction each time.
He includes a guide for Manhattan experimentation, with suggestions for different types of whiskeys, different types of vermouth, and different types of bitters. But even beyond that, you can mix up variations on the Manhattan that take its flavor in bold new directions, while still remaining true to the essential nature of the drink.
One of the most common of these variations calls for replacing the vermouth (some or all of it) with amaro, one of the myriad varieties of bitter Italian liqueurs. Probably the best known of these is the Black Manhattan, which omits the vermouth and instead uses Averna. (This is a good drink, as long as you don't mind the bitterness. Averna has strong accents of orange flavor that work nicely in the Manhattan.)
Other variations call for the addition of a small amount of another spirit, such as orange curacao, Cherry Heering, maraschino liqueur or Fernet Branca. The possibilities truly are endless. As long as you keep as your foundation the essential nature of the Manhattan, you can experiment with discovering the flavors that you like best.
The article shares several recipes for variations on the drink from top bartenders around the country. As if that weren't enough, it also includes a guide to where you can find the best Manhattans in Manhattan. It's a veritable cornucopia of Manhattan-y goodness! Bravo, Wall Street Journal.