Some things never go out of style. There's a reason the classic Manhattan cocktail is still around today, because it tastes damn good. I love how sophisticated and full of flavor a simple drink made up of only three ingredients (whisky, sweet vermouth, and bitters) can be. Though simply constructed, drinking a Manhattan never fails to take my taste buds on a journey as complex and diverse as the city it's named for. To me, it tastes "old", like it's had a hundred years to settle and age in the depths of the glass, until you take one sip and suddenly wake it up. Intrigued by this alluring cocktail, I decided to find out how it began and when. After all, every good cocktail tells a story.
I found quite a bit of information on the drink, referencing old cocktail books such as, The Savoy Cocktail Book, but also the first edition of Edible Manhattan, which devoted an entire article to the history and lore of this popular drink. Just recently, The Wall Street Journal featured an article on the Manhattan, including some inspiring new variations.
As you might expect for such an old famous drink, its origins remain elusive. The only thing that's certain is that it was extremely popular at American bars in the late 1800s. Before long, the drink spread to Europe and became popular in bars such as the Savoy in London, and the New York Bar in Paris. To quote Edible Manhattan directly, "To many foreign visitors during that era, American cocktails represented everything that fascinated them about American urban society during the Gilded Age: ingenuity, creativity, self-indulgent excess and a swaggering disregard for convention." Thankfully, due to the Manhattan's appeal overseas, the drink was not forgotten during Prohibition, and waited patiently across the Atlantic until 1933 when Prohibition ended. By then, the martini had taken the lead as America's favorite cocktail and its popularity still endures to this day. While trends go in and out of style, for me, the Manhattan will always remain the quintessential cocktail.
2 oz. rye (traditionally used) or bourbon whiskey (see notes below)
1 oz. sweet Italian vermouth
2 dashes bitters (or more to taste)
A stemmed maraschino cherry (optional)
Combine the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass. Add 2 to 3 ice cubes and quickly stir the ingredients, until well chilled. Strain into a 4 oz. stemmed cocktail glass. Toss in the cherry.
- I usually use 3 oz. whiskey, even though the traditional recipe calls for 2 oz. Taste them both and see what you prefer. I've also been known to use just a splash of sweet vermouth to coat the glass before adding the chilled whiskey and bitters depending on my mood.
- This cocktail will taste dramatically different depending on which ingredients you use, so experiment will various bitters, whiskeys, and vermouth. I prefer The Bitter Truth brand of bitters because of the nuances of clove. I also find myself using Bulleit Bourbon or Templeton Rye (Prohibition era whisky), for the thrill of defiance. There are many vermouths and obviously whiskeys on the market, so experiment to find a combination that works for you.