Manhattans, or why I don’t hate Fall (so much)

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I welcome fall kicking and screaming. I love summer and actually enjoy fall, but I know fall portends of winter. Fall is a season I used to love, but as I get older, the grumpy old lady comes out in me. I hate, in no particular order, the cold (especially when there is a bitter wind when I walk to work), the difficult of driving in snow, and the astronomical amount of money I spend on fuel oil.

The good news of the night’s cooler weather is that it is once again Manhattan time. Now, I know there are people out there who contend that Manhattans, even all cocktails, can be consumed any time. I disagree and would argue that summer calls for sangria, gin and tonics, and icy cold beer. And I am not against all whiskey cocktails in the summer. A good whiskey sour is on my list of all time best summer sippers.

However a Manhattan is a heavier drink with richer, more complex flavors and it is why I don’t hate the colder nights coming on.  It warms you going down and lingers with a strong finish.  If your only experience with Manhattans comes from pre-mixed bottles of it from your youth or from ordering it at your local sports bar, please give it a second chance.  The Manhattan is a drink that really needs quality ingredients to shine.  And a bad one isn’t worth drinking.

A Manhattan is made with three ingredients, either rye or bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters.  The choice between rye or bourbon is a personal one.   And while I wouldn’t use my good sipping $80-a–bottle, Whistlepig rye in a Manhattan, I have used 10 year ryes in my Manhattans, and I will tell you why.  As opposed to whiskey sours in which the lemon juice and simple syrup have such a strong presence and obscure the nuances of a high-end aged whiskey, Manhattans are very balanced with the individual flavors shining through.  Now, that said, use what you have, I mostly make mine with a $25-$30 bottle of rye or bourbon and am very happy.  (For those looking for some advice on where to start, I recommend Redemption or  Rittenhouse rye and Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare bourbon).  But here is what I will also tell you, my very favorite, top-of-the-line cocktail bars use Old Overholt as their house rye.  It is cheap, but their drinks are amazingly good, so don’t let price keep you from buying a bottle of rye. For well under $20, get Old Overholt for your mixed drinks.

Sweet vermouth, however, I have a very strong opinion about, and for me, it makes or breaks the cocktail.  Antica Carpano is an imported Italian sweet vermouth.  It is definitely WAY more expensive than the cheap ones you will find at your average liquor store.  I am blessed with an amazing liquor store with people who really know cocktails. When I went to buy my first bottle, “Nate” told me Antica Carpano was the only way to go and he promised, at $40 for a liter bottle it would be well worth it.  It is a sweet vermouth that you can also drink as an aperitif while you are cooking dinner, by throwing it in a wine glass with ice, a splash of soda and an orange twist.  An $8 bottle of sweet vermouth would never be drank straight, take my word for it.  The good news is that it will last you for quite a while.

The bitters are where the fun/creative part of Manhattan’s comes in.  Everyone has heard of Angostura bitters, and they are fine in the Manhattan.  But if you want to elevate your Manhattan to an ethereal plane, buy orange bitters.  And even within orange bitters there is variation.  And if you do a side-by-side comparison of Manhattans made with Reagan’s orange bitters to Manhattans made with Fee Brother’s orange bitters, you will definitely note a difference.  Reagan’s has more “bitter” to it, while Fee Brother’s has more orange flavor.  I have read recently about vanilla bitters, and if I can get my hands on some, I promise you, I will test it out and see if it is as delicious with vanilla bitters as it seems it would be.

The last important thing you need is a good sized swath of orange peel for a garnish.  Use a vegetable peeler and peel a good sized wide piece, being sure to avoid as much of the white pith as possible.  Take a sip of your Manhattan before you twist the orange rind over the drink, and then after you have given it a good twist to spray a light layer of orange oil over the top of your drink.

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Okay without further ado/lecturing here is the recipe:

Fill a shaker or jar partway with ice

Add:

2 ounces of rye or bourbon

1 ounce of sweet vermouth

3 dashes of orange bitters

Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe glass, martini glass, (small wine glass, whatever you’ve got!)

Twist a good-sized swath of orange peel over top of the drink and then use as a garnish.

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4 thoughts on “Manhattans, or why I don’t hate Fall (so much)

  1. I feel really smart because that’s the vermouth I buy. And your notes on drinking it on the rocks bring me back to Spain, so thank you for that. (Across Spain but particularly in Madrid, vermouth and soda is a common late afternoon drink.)

    A question on bourbons and ryes: Do you usually keep a couple on hand? One for mixing and one for drinking straight? I think I tend to make my mixed drinks with good stuff simply because I’m leery of having two bottles of everything on hand.

    • I usually keep up to three on hand, my two standards, the Redemption rye and the Buffalo Trace bourbon, and then another bottle of whatever I’m trying out. So far I have only kept whiskies in the house that I would drink straight. However, after watching bartender after bartender in San Antonio make high end cocktails with Old Overholt rye, I may buy a bottle just to see if I could be happy using it in mixed drinks.

  2. Came in to say that Old Overholt and George Dickel Rye are worthy substitutes to spendy spirits. I have been on the bottom shelf for a while due to financial constraints and would rarely spend more than $20 on a handle. So now that I am able to spend a bit more, I will occasionally venture up to those other shelves to make key purchases in a different price range.

  3. I love Fee Brothers bitters… SO many to chose from. I’ve been trying to find a nice fall beverage, besides the old “cinnamon stick in a warm rum drink”. This makes me especially happy that it is, once again, that time of year!

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