Sunday, February 3, 2013

Over-thought-out thoughts on Manhattans

What can I say about my favorite drink? Last night, I mixed up some of these classics. They were perfectly balanced with the right amount of heat AND sweet, served at an excellent temperature in the perfect glassware. You can't go wrong by learning to make this one.  It's the one (in my opinion) you should have in your wheelhouse.  Like perfectly roasting a chicken and tying a Windsor knot, just learn it.  Trust me. 

So what can I say about this drink, well, maybe a lot.

I'm a purist when it comes to the Manhattan. I'm somewhat hesitant to share my recipe because it's so damn easy and I'll be outed like the Great OZ.  But, here goes.
First off there are only 3 ingredients in a Manhattan.
Whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. 
Whiskey:  The whiskey should be rye or bourbon. (If you need to know the difference please google.  Basically rye is made from rye and bourbon is made from corn, and rye is more potent, and there are tons of varieties of BOTH out there)  I like Knob Creek small batch rye but there are lots of ryes out there and you can choose your favorite. Whatever you use make sure it's over 80 proof.  It makes a difference! That heat you feel on the back of your throat when you sip, that's the alcohol! And it's required.

Vermouth: The vermouth should be the red kind.  Sweet.  (again google if you need more info, but in a nutshell vermouth is a fortified wine, made from grapes - so some is white and some is red, surprise!)  Some people make a Manhattan with a mix of half sweet and half dry vermouth.   There is a trend in bars to call this "Perfect" hence you'll see "Perfect Martinis" and "Perfect Manhattans"  Again, I'm a purist.  I'm all about sweet.  If your liquor store doesn't carry sweet vermouth, switch stores.  It's everywhere.

Bitters:  I often say "I know how to drive a car but I don't know how to build one." So I fall on my sword here with the bitters.  I have no idea why, but the bitters are angostora. If you find out why, please let me know in a comment. Buy the small bottle (on the right side of this picture wrapped in paper just like your Worcestershire sauce) and keep in in your liquor cabinet.  It's like club soda and a cork screw. It just should be there.  See note on liquor store and availability above.

Putting the drink together requires only a little love and the tiniest bit of time.  I use a measuring cup if I'm somewhere that has one.  If I'm making them at a cookout on someones back porch (umm, David?) I use my eyes and good judgement.  By the third or fourth round, sometimes judgement slips.  That's another post altogether.  You need some implement to stir and some ice.  And of course, a glass. 

So let's talk glassware.  When I googled Manhattan Drink and looked at the google image results I was disturbed.  Look at all the triangle glasses here.  Only one rocks glass on the bottom row and that isn't even a Manhattan in there (I'll explain later.)  So I've put it out there MANY times that I hate on the triangle martini glass.  They are clumsy and sloshy and spilly.  I've been known to ask a bartender what type of glass he's intending on using and then asking him to change,. You are allowed to do this you know!  If I'm at a bar and I'm suspicious, I'll just add to my order, can you please pour that in a rocks glass? It's not a huge deal.  (It's like getting your salad dressing on the side maybe)  The downside of a rocks glass is that they are often too big.  You're looking for a 5 oz glass or so.  My preference is the COUPE glass.  If you see champagne being poured, and it's not in a flute, it's probably in one of these.  They are rumored (I don't think this is true) to have been molded from Marie Antionette's breasts.  Isn't that something?  Again, that's stuff for another post.  Besides the breast thing, I like the coupe because its the perfect size and holding the stem doesn't warm up the drink too fast.     

Put your glasses in the freezer before you start to assemble the drink.  I won't hate on you if all you have is a martini glass, but maybe for Christmas, put some nice coupe glasses on your Santa list?
Now the recipe:
  • 2 oz of whiskey
  • 1oz of vermouth
  • Three good shakes from the angostura bitters (I don't mean 3 drops, three SHAKES)
Put these ingredients into a pint glass, measuring cup, or cocktail shaker and add 4 or 5 ice cubes.  STIR
Do NOT SHAKE. A Manhattan is never shaken!  It may get the drink to the same coldness as stirring, but it will be cloudy and ugly.   I use these chopsticks that I have (they are in the picture above) but use whatever. If you own a bar spoon that came with that cocktail kit from Brookstone, use that. Just stir with your wrist about 50 times.  It's ok to count, or not.  Then strain that good & cold stuff into the coupe that you've just retrieved from your freezer.  Add a maraschino cherry and you are done.  (you will sometimes see a lemon rind twist come out from behind the bar too, but usually that's when dry not SWEET vermouth is used.  I already said, I'm a purist.)  

Some helpful maybe tips when bar ordering. 
Depending on where you are, there are some things you may want to do when you order these out.
First, look at the bar.  Do you see the brown liquor?  Do you see something you know or like?  Are the options very limited? You can call out your base.  I'd like a Makers Mark Manhattan please. Totally acceptable.

You MAY want to instruct your bartender that you want the drink served up.  (strained into glass with no ice) A good bartender will know this. Remember that picture with the google images?  The rocks glass had ice cubes in it, Manhattans are not served on the rocks.  (I don't know what that drink is, but if it's served on ice, it's not a Manhattan) This is also where you may want to think about what glass he/she is grabbing off the shelf.  Maybe you like like the triangle? (bleck)  It's your drink AND your call.

And remember, if you see that term perfect, it usually means the ratio of sweet to dry vermouth. If the bartender responds with a shrug and  "I'll try" and thinks you meant "perfect quality" you may want to stop him/her in his tracks.

And if your bartender is wearing a nametag (or a button that says Please tip the Bartender) you may want to just order a Heineken instead.

Happy cocktail-ing, in moderation of course.  

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