Project Manhattan … Gentlemen, start your engines

by KeithP on March 17, 2010

As this is the real kickoff to my modest chronicle it seems fitting that I should lead with this little thing I’m calling Project Manhattan.  The Manhattan is not only my favorite cocktail but in my humble opinion the most sublime of cocktails – simple and complex at the same time, the Manhattan affords the mixologist a wonderful canvass by which to experiment. I’m a fan of the classic rye combination but also believe (warning … sacrilege alert) that bourbon, the right bourbon, also has a place.

Before we go further, let me lay some ground rules that we’ll try to follow.

Project: to make and try as many different types of “Manhattan” cocktails as possible. Let’s see how good or bad they are.

Rules:

  1. If making at home, there’s not many rules. Just make, drink, enjoy (or throw down the drain)
  2. If having out, default to the menu selection (i.e. if a Manhattan is listed as a cocktail menu item, give it a shot, drink and report)
  3. If having out and it is not a menu item then order …

-         simply ask for a Manhattan and see what comes back

-         if pressed on spirit leave it to the bartender/mixologist; if pressed further ask for rye and if not rye ask for bourbon of choice

-         if asked as to style (up or on the rocks) same as above, leave it to discretion or else specify that it be served up

4. If it is being made at home by another home mixologist, then same rules as ordering out apply

The Manhattan Cocktail – The Speakista’s House Recipe

  • 2 ¼ oz rye whiskey (Rittenhouse Rye, bonded)
  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)
  • 2-3 dashes of bitters (Peychauds is standard for me *)

Garnish: 1 cherry (Luxardo cherries are a must)

*Note: I also like to use two drops of Fees Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters in place of the Peychauds when using this particular rye as I find it compliments the taste nicely.

Stir ingredients well in a mixing glass with cracked ice for about 20 seconds until the glass is cold to the touch.  Strain into a cocktail glass or coup and add the cherry.

WOW!  Now that I’m done patting myself on the back I must say this tastes great.  As with all well made cocktails, the proper proportions of the ingredients is key. Standard recipes call for 2 ounces of the spirit against 1 ounce of the vermouth but I find a slight tick up on the rye and slight down tick on the vermouth to work quite well.  They rye clearly forms the structure in this drink.  While somewhat ubiquitous I like to use Rittenhouse as its peppery and subtle woody/charred taste provides great structure to the drink.  It is also quite accessible in NYC in terms of availability at a reasonable price. This version is not as overtly sweet as many Manhattan’s often seem due in large part to the more floral aromatic taste that is the Carpano Antica vermouth. As Paul noted in this post from a while back, the use of bitters in this cocktail is not a foregone conclusion. I like using Peychauds as it adds an interesting, subtle sorta “hey, there’s something else there” type of twist in the background that isn’t essentially just about tasting something “bitter”.

The Manhattan Cocktail – Bar Artisanal’s Version

Where made: Bar Artisanal, a bar and restaurant in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood

Why this place: post work adult beverage consumption with colleagues

The ask: employed the project’s rules upon sitting down and asked for a Manhattan. Our server, who happened to be the manager filling in for the waitress, asked me if I wanted bourbon or rye (well done); response was for rye and was told they only had Sazerac rye (I assumed the 6 year).  Was not asked how I wanted it served (i.e. up or on the rocks).

Well, how was it:  actually, not too bad.  It came in a standard martini glass served up with no garnish.  The drink appeared to have been stirred as the tell-tale signs of a drink being shaken, shards of ice floating on the surface and a ring of tiny bubbles lining the rim of the drink, were not present. The taste was somewhat on the sweeter side, which was expected. I find that most restaurants or bars in the city that are not “cocktail focused” tend to serve a sweeter tasting version of the Manhattan.  I didn’t ask what sweet vermouth was used but by the taste it clearly wasn’t my go-to Carpano Antica brand.  The Sazerac rye was a nice base but some what muted behind the sweetness of the vermouth.

*Note: I was unable to take a picture of the drink sampled.

Overall:  Good job Bar Artisnal – the server knew enough to ask if I preferred rye or bourbon (without defaulting to bourbon) and without prompting served it up versus on the rocks. Other then being a little on the sweet side, it was a well made/well drank effort.

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