manhattan2New York City (1870s)

The Manhattan is where we start to get all fancy and what-have-you. Break out the cocktail glasses. If you don’t like whiskey, you’ll hate this one. And it could care less. Take it or leave it. The Manhattan is commonly made with bourbon, but the real authentic style is with rye. Check out how just two ingredients (whiskey and vermouth) take a couple dashes of bitters for a ride and create an amazing depth of flavor. Here’s where you’ll see why stirring spirits-only drinks makes a difference versus shaking. If you’re curious, try one shaken really hard so you can see the difference – and so you’ll know why to send one back if it’s made wrong.

Like many of our favorite drinks, the origin of the Manhattan cocktail is murky. I’ve heard stories:

  • 1846: Created by a bartender in Maryland to aid a wounded duelist (bullshit, vermouth wasn’t imported to the US prior to 1870)
  • 1860: Created by a bartender named Black near Broadway & Spring (bullshit, see above)
  • 1874: Commissioned by Winston Churchill’s mother at a Manhattan Club party celebrating the election of Governor Tilden (bullshit, she was in England at the time, eight months pregnant)

What we do know is this: vermouth hit the streets of New York City around 1870, and by 1880 it was the hot ingredient in cocktails. Taking the idea of the “improved” basic cocktail of spirit with sugar, bitters, and a touch of something extra, savvy bartenders nixed the sugar and “something extra” in favor of vermouth. They found the dry French kind paired well with gin (Martini, Turf Club) and the sweet Italian kind got along great with rye whiskey (Manhattan).

Vermouth is simply wine that’s been spiked with a spirit, usually brandy (“fortified”) and enhanced with a mix of botanical ingredients (“aromatized”). These botanicals may include wormwood, cinchona bark, gentian, cinnamon, citrus peel, lavender, saffron, vanilla, or dozens of others. Each vermouth maker has their own special blend. If you’re interested, read more about vermouth here.

The Manhattan most likely began as a 1:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth, but I’ve also seen 2 vermouth to 1 whiskey in recipe books from that time. Somehow, over the years, the Manhattan has dodged a bullet and retained its respect, only occasionally dipping to a 2 whiskey to .5 vermouth ratio. That’s still the recipe most dive bars and restaurant bars use (they also will use whatever “well” bourbon is on hand – you really need a good rye here for spicy balance against the sweetness of the vermouth).

A properly-made Manhattan is truly a thing of beauty, capturing balance and brevity in four quick sips and priming your appetite for a great meal.

THE KIT

Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon, Cocktail pick, Hawthorne strainer, Fine-mesh strainer
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Rye whiskey – overproof (100 or 101) stands up well (recommended: Bulleit, Rittenhouse 100, Old Overholt)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Italian vermouth (recommended: Dolin, Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi, Carpano Antica)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Angostura bitters, Cherry (recommended: Filthy amarena, Luxardo maraschino)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a mixing glass, add:

2 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Italian vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Add a mix of ice cubes and cracked ice to cover well above the liquid level. Stir well to blend and chill, then double-strain (to catch small bits of ice) into the prepared, chilled glass. Garnish with a cherry pierced on a cocktail pick.

New York City (1911)

Here’s a drink that almost went extinct because of Prohibition – in its original form, anyway. Early 20th-century trendsetter Hugo Ensslin‘s Aviation owes its dry, sweet, tart, and floral balance to a key ingredient: crème de violette – a liqueur made by steeping violet flowers in neutral grain spirit with sugar to extract their perfume and color. In the bottle, it’s a deep violet; Mixed in a drink, it adds a pale sky-blue tinge (hence the name “Aviation,” no doubt). When Prohibition came along, many companies stopped importing their products to the US or just went out of business altogether. Such was the case with the original supplier of crème de violette – and that’s why recipes for the Aviation printed after 1920 simply omit this crucial accent. Without the violette, this cocktail just tastes like a Pixy Stix. Not nearly as interesting (or as eye-catching) as it should be. Thankfully, as the craft cocktail movement picked up steam, we started to see a revival of previously-lost ingredients, including crème de violette, reintroduced in 2007 by Rothman & Winter.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Cocktail pick, Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker)
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo), Crème de violette (recommended: Rothman & Winter)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Maraschino cherry

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 1/2 oz London Dry gin
3/4
oz lemon juice
1/2
oz maraschino liqueur
1/4
oz crème de violette

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry pierced on a cocktail pick.