Want to test the skills of your favorite bartender? Ask him (or her) to make you a Manhattan. If he ducks behind the bar to consult a bartender’s guide, leave while you still can. Or better yet, learn how to make this classic cocktail yourself!
Don’t do an eye roll. In case you didn’t know, the Manhattan is one of the most classic of cocktails, along with the martini, the old fashioned, the sidecar, the daiquiri, etc. Problem is, like many drinks, the old favorites have been replaced with new, fancy-sounding libations that are often more parts juice than alcohol. A Manhattan, like its cousin, the martini, packs a wallop because it’s all booze — and a pleasant-tasting combination at that.
Legend has it the first Manhattan was concocted in the 1870s for Lady Randolph Churchill, (Winston‘s mom) in New York during a bash for presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. After the election, Tilden was forgotten, but the drink caught on and took its name from the Manhattan Club where it originated. (Of course, like most lore, this is probably not the entire truth, but it makes for an interesting story).
To make a Manhattan, start with a good rye or bourbon. I personally favor Maker’s Mark, but you can use any other good quality whiskey. Partially fill a cocktail shaker with shaved ice and combine the bourbon with sweet vermouth at a two-to-one or three-to-one ratio. Shake in a dash of bitters (preferably Peychaud’s, a New Orleans favorite, rather than Angostura because it’s lighter in taste). Although most bartenders make a show of shaking the mixture, purists insist it’s better to stir it lightly so there’s no foam at the top when it’s poured into the glass.
Chill a stemmed martini glass and add a cherry to the bottom. Here’s another variation: If you really want to create a signature drink, use a brandied cherry instead of the bright red Maraschino variety. They might not look as pretty in the glass, but they taste great and won’t stain your tongue. If you plan on having more than one, let the cherries collect at the bottom so you can count them. That’s because with a really good Manhattan, there’s a tendency to have more than one and to lose count!
Now all you have to do it is sit back and enjoy. Lady Randolph would surely approve.