Food & Drink, Libations

Write drunk; edit sober: The Manhattan

Classic cocktails all seem to have long, elaborate histories. There are endless accounts of how the Manhattan, Martini, Sazerac and Old Fashioned came to be, but the Manhattan has one of the most disputed back stories. Some say it was created for Winston Churchill’s mother at the Manhattan club in 1860. Others say a bartender named Black created it near Houston and Broadway in New York City. There are even those who insist the drink didn’t come from New York at all. All that can be said for sure is that the Manhattan originated in the mid 1800s and is one of five drinks named for New York’s Burroughs.

The Manhattan is generally made with two parts whisky, one part vermouth, a dash of aromatic bitters and garnished with a cherry. It is either drunk on the rocks in an old fashioned glass or like a martini. Plenty of variations have emerged with different combinations of whiskeys with white, red and dry vermouth. A “perfect” Manhattan has equal parts sweet and dry vermouth.

Nowadays Manhattans are made with either Rye or Bourbon. Rye will give the cocktail a spicier finish while Bourbon keeps it sweet. At Bistro 7 1/4 we make our Manhattans with an ounce of each to balance out the differences and serve it on the rocks.

Bourbon has become the de facto spirit in most Manhattans and Angostura brand bitters are most commonly seen. The classic cherry garnish also calls for either Amarena, a sour cherry from Italy or Marasca, a Croatian cherry. But most bars end up serving it with a Maraschino Cherry.

Manhattans are always stirred because shaking can make it bubble and froth as it is poured. Because the Manhattan is entirely based of spirits it should have uniform clarity while still being ice cold. Stirring it gives the Manhattan a smooth, elegant texture and a clear pour.

If you want to brighten up the drink a little bit, try adding a dash of orange bitters as well.


Manhattan Cocktail

2 oz rye or bourbon

1 oz sweet vermouth

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

Garnish: cherry of your choice.

Combine the rye or bourbon, vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled martini glass or old fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry.