Good drinks tell a story, and this is the story of those drinks. Each week, we'll be serving up a remedial cocktail lesson for bartending beginners to help you get the most out of your glass, with recipes, interviews, and histories coming right up.
Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), a notable drinker with a serious writing habit (see: Lucky Jim), wrote that "You can produce something in the same range as the Old-Fashioned with less trouble by knocking out a Manhattan, once one of the great standards, now rarely seen and overdue for a revival." If Amis were himself revived today, he'd need a drink at once and would highly enjoy the resurgence of classic cocktails that has buoyed the Manhattan right along with it.
The Manhattan's place in cocktail history, however, has never been in question. As the anonymous 1898 volume Cocktails: How to Make Them claims, "The addition of Vermouth was the first move toward the blending of cocktails." The Martini, then, makes for a shimmering example of a cocktail, but the Manhattan is likely its antecedent. Both drinks are made in the same proportions: a Martin of gin and dry vermouth, a Manhattan of whiskey and sweet vermouth.
One apocryphal history of the Manhattan maintains the drink originated at — and borrowed its name from — the Manhattan Club of New York City. In the 1870s, the story goes, it was devised for a banquet hosted by Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, in honor of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. Supposedly, the success of the evening led to orders all around town of "the Manhattan cocktail" in an allusion to its point of origin. But here's the rub: Lady Randolph was in France at the time, and pregnant to boot. Nonetheless, the club's 1915 official history claims that "The celebrated Manhattan cocktail was inaugurated at the club," and who knows for sure or can really blame them.
For a more modern taste on the classic subject, a trip to Smokestack was in order. At the Magnolia Brewing spinoff that debuted last year in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood, whiskey (and no small selection of it) plays first violin, rather than second fiddle, to the establishment's abundance of barbecue and beer.
But which whiskey is fit for a Manhattan? I admit I had to ask. "I think that the sweetness of bourbon is a little too much for a Manhattan," Sarah Fallstrom told me from over the bar, gesturing to the sweetness of the vermouth. "I prefer rye, to make sure there's a little spice coming through."
Fallstrom also pointed to the many possible variations of the classic Manhattan. One notable example the bar calls a "Crying At Daybreak." It's the same ratio as a Manhattan, but in place of vermouth, Fallstrom uses Averna, an italian amaro, as well as Byrrh Grand Quinquina a mild, wine-based apéritif with just a little quinine. But for this week's recipe, here's her take on the classic. The last dash of bitters, says Fallstrom, is "my own little thing."
1 oz Carpano Antica vermouth
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
5 dashes Angustura bitters
1 dash Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters
Stir over ice, strain into a chilled glass, garnish with a maraschino, and serve straight up.
Learning To Drink Vol. 1: Shaken Or Stirred?
Learning To Drink Vol. 2: Punch Drunk
Learning To Drink Vol. 3: Bubbly
Learning To Drink Vol. 4: Bitters
Learning To Drink Vol. 5: Sours And Daisies
Learning To Drink Vol. 6: French Brandies
Learning To Drink Vol. 7: Who Is Tom Collins?
Learning To Drink Vol. 8: The Martin(i/ez)
Learning To Drink Vol. 9: Mezcal Y Tequila
Learning To Drink Vol. 10: Call Me Old Fashioned
Learning To Drink Vol. 11: Sessionable Cocktails