The Manhattan Project
A guide to stirring, experimenting with and drinking up the leanest, meanest and jazziest of classic cocktails
Source: The Wall Street Journal - By KEVIN SINTUMUANG
Take a sip. It's not a race-just a sip. Now savor. Cinnamon. Oak. Vanilla. Mint. Cornbread. Dark cherries, even. The flavors of the Manhattan seem to go on forever. Crazy good, huh? Amazing for a drink that really only has three ingredients: whiskey, vermouth, a dash of bitters. That's the beauty of the cocktail. It's gimmick-free.
The Manhattan is a boozy, sophisticated drink that embraces the energy of the city after which it's named. But unlike its cosmopolitan brother in arms, it is dark and moody: If the Martini is James Bond's drink, the Manhattan is Bruce Wayne's.
It's a rare cocktail that takes well to tinkering-try toying with, say, a mojito, and you'll get one that tastes marginally different from the one you shook up earlier, or one that needs to go down the drain. Yet in the case of the Manhattan, 97.8% of the time the result of your seemingly haphazard experimentation will be revelatory payoff. Use rye instead of bourbon, swap Cinzano for Carpano, give some orange or Creole bitters a try, tweak the proportions-it's like liquid jazz, man!-and the drink undergoes a transformation. At first it will seem as familiar as a favorite pair of jeans, but after a few more sips it will feel like an alternate universe.
For the drink-maker, the Manhattan serves as both training wheels and merit badge. It teaches you the fundamentals of cocktailing with little frustration-so long as you're following the rules, it's hard to make a bad one. Yet it's the mark of the great cocktail to be able to yield distinctive variations within a Spartan framework. That's the reason it's the darling of the craft cocktail world.
Whether your bartender starts making a Manhattan before you even take a seat or you're just stocking the new bar cart from your wedding registry, the following tips and recipes will help you discover, and continually rediscover, the king of all cocktails.
The Manhattan Experimentation Guide
The beauty of the Manhattan is that it only calls for three ingredients-a framework that allows anyone, be it a home bartender, spirits nerd or pro cocktailian, to experiment with confidence. Following the classic recipe above, play with different types of whiskey, vermouth or bitters, and you'll be sipping an entirely new concoction each time. Here's a breakdown of products you can use to stir things up.
1. Pick Your Whiskey
It's the heart of the drink-choose wisely. Fortunately, as long as you stick with American whiskeys, you really can't go wrong. (Scotch, Irish and Japanese whiskeys, which aren't as sweet, are a little trickier to get right.)
What the Manhattan was originally made with. Rye is spicier and more angular than bourbon. It's for those who like their Manhattans on the rich side.
Generally a sweeter whiskey than rye, with round notes of corn and vanilla.
Most bourbons are made with a mix of corn and rye. Wheated varieties replace the rye with wheat, for a result that's supremely smooth. Nothing makes an easier-drinking Manhattan.
Higher proof means more kick-perfect for the winter months (or the self-loathers). Pair this stuff with a bold vermouth.
2. Choose a Vermouth
Vermouth helps tame the whiskey with just the right amount of herbaceous sweetness and a touch of bitterness. You'd be surprised by how drastically a different vermouth can change the drink. If you think you don't like Manhattans, it's very possible you just didn't like the vermouth it was made with. A tip: Vermouth has a short shelf life. Keep it refrigerated and use it up in about a month.
3. Throw Some Bitters in It
There are too many bartenders who neglect to add bitters to a Manhattan, which is a shame. It's like salt on eggs-you only need a titch of the stuff, but it's crucial. Without bitters, a Manhattan is incomplete and a little flat.
4 Tips for a Better Manhattan
1. Always stir. Never shake. There's a lot of debate about this, but stirring's better. Shaking may get it colder yet over-dilutes things most of the time.
2. Invest in better cherries. They don't add much flavor-wise, but they're pretty, and if you get good ones (i.e. not neon-colored) they make a great snack.
3. Give it a twist. First, make a twist-free Manhattan. Take a sip. Then twist a lemon rind over it so the essential oils kiss the surface of the drink. Take another sip. Taste the difference? You won't make it any other way now.
4. Chill your glasses. Stick them in your freezer or fill them with ice for a few minutes. It'll help keep your drink cool until it's time for another round.
I'll Take Manhattan
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