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Cocktail of the Hour — the Manhattan

manhattan drink 2After researching a lot of cocktails with contentious origins, it comes as no surprise that the ever-popular Manhattan has many origin legends. The drink was definitely a bar staple by the 1860s, but the details of where and when it was created are largely lost to history. One of the most interesting stories was that it was invented for a party thrown by Winston Churchill’s mother at the Manhattan Club. Unfortunately, the historical record indicates that she was across the pond giving birth during the time of this party.

Other sources give credit to a bartender named Black who worked in another bar in Manhattan. If this was the case, it’s likely that this libation was created to be one of the five cocktails named for New York City’s five main boroughs. Despite its lack of historical figures, this tale is likely the most true.

Interestingly, putting together an original Manhattan is almost as ¬†impossible as piecing together its backstory. The oldest recorded recipe calls for a few dashes of Boker’s bitters in equal parts rye whiskey and sweet vermouth. A few decades ago, the original Boker’s bitters went out of production, so unless you’re willing to shell out some serious cash for a vintage bottle, you’re unlikely to ever taste the most historic Manhattan.

As well, modern palates (and bartenders) favor spirit-heavy drinks over vermouth-heavy drinks. As a result, the most popular recipe for a Manhattan calls for a 2:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth. Thanks to a few marketing campaigns featuring the Manhattan, bourbon has largely eclipsed rye in common recipes. Though this substitution doesn’t affect the presentation, it gives the drink a much smoother, sweeter taste overall than a rye Manhattan.

manhattan spread 4The rye Manhattan is a dark, slightly sweet cocktail with a hint of spice from the whiskey. An orange peel garnish adds a citrusy nose that compliments the wine and dark fruit of the first sip. Garnishing with a maraschino cherry, by contrast, adds a very sweet finish to a sweet, but balanced drink. Though the origins of this practice are unclear, written records would seem to indicate that the orange peel garnish came first.

Choosing complimentary vermouths and whiskeys is one of the biggest parts of making a delicious Manhattan. For example, a more bitter vermouth like Punt e Mes won’t necessarily compliment either the boldness of Rittenhouse rye or a smooth bourbon. However, a more rounded, earthier vermouth like Cocchi Vermouth di Turino or Carpano Antica Formula can bring out the best qualities in either liquor.

Since no two people have the exact same taste preferences, experimentation is the best way to find our your favorite drink recipes. Try out different combinations and see what works for you.

Recipe:
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Heering cherry liqueur
1 oz sweet vermouth

2 oz rye whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well incorporated. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel or maraschino cherry depending on your preference.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Negroni

Image c/o Angel Negrin

Image c/o Angel Negrin

Despite all of the amazing alcoholic products exported from Italy, it’s not a place known for its cocktails. Since the country didn’t have to get creative to make illegal spirits palatable, few recipes have emerged. However, a few Italian cocktails have become critical parts of cocktail history.

One that has inspired endless variations is the Negroni. Like many other cocktails, this one doesn’t have a clear cut backstory. Its origin is traced by some back to 1919. At that time, Count Camillo Negroni is said to have ordered an Americano (equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth) with gin and no soda.

The result was and is a cocktail with a beautiful ruby tone. Taste-wise, the Campari adds a bitterness and sweetness that plays around the gin’s herbaceous bite. Sweet vermouth balances these flavors with a smoky, wine-y earthiness. Though many bartenders have rebalanced this cocktail to please modern palates, others argue passionately that these variations are not actually Negronis.

For that reason, I’ve included the original recipe. By what I can tell, it’s also the most historical, so it’s the best suited for my purposes. Other interesting variations to try include the Boulevardier (sub bourbon for gin), a 1794 (sub rye for gin) or a Boulevarista (sub tequila for gin). With one Google search, I uncovered more than twenty variations, and scores of others exist in books and bars all over the world. With the number of possibilities available, it’s just a matter of finding one that’s to your taste.

Recipe:

1 oz Campari

1 oz sweet vermouth

1 oz gin

Combine in a mixing glass and stir for 12-15 seconds or until combined to taste. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

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