The Mysterious Art of Mixing a Manhattan

In this era of lavishly composed cocktails, the simplicity of the Manhattan truly stands out–as does its colorful history.”>

Like DJs locked in battle pulling samples from the most overshadow records in their milk crates, many bartenders across the country try to one up one another by using the most exotic spirits and mixers they can get their hands on.

So in this day-in-age of ridiculously complicated cocktails, the simplicity and pure genius of the Manhattan truly stands out.

The drinka mix of American whiskey, sweet vermouth and bittersis more than merely the sum of my own part, and its depth and complexity would be hard to replicate with a recipe two or three times as long.

Perhaps thats why the Manhattan is now garnering renewed interest. Last summertime Albert Schmid published The Manhattan Cocktail: A Modern Guide to the Whiskey Classic and Philip Greene, writer of a fascinating Hemingway cocktail companion, To Have and Have Another, has just published his own take over the drink, The Manhattan: The Story of the First Modern Cocktail with Recipes.

The recent interest in the concoction is perhaps no amaze given the overall rebirth of American whiskey; from 2000 to 2015, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, sales of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey have climbed by nearly 32 percentage. And thats not to mention the sudden ubiquitousness of the Old Fashioned, which over the last few years has once again become one of the most popular whiskey drinks in America.( Ill chalk that up to Don Drapers insatiable thirst for the concoction .)

But while there is an accepted history for the Old Fashionedessentially its the original cocktail recipe, calling for spirits, water, bitterness and sugarthe Manhattans history is quite a bit murkier.

What we do know is that sometime in the late 1860 s vermouth became available in the U.S. and constructed its route into cocktails( essentially Old Fashioneds) and changed the scene for good. Its advent represents a watershed moment in cocktail history, writes Greene in his new book.

For the first time, an imported, fortified, aromatized wine known as vermouth modified the structure of the cocktail, adding balance, subtlety, sophistication, and sweetness to the base spirit. It completed the revolution and launched a new epoch.

But who first thought to combine vermouth with whiskey and bitterness has been lost to history. For years, there was a persistent legend that drink was dreamed up for a party thrown by Winston Churchills mom at the Manhattan Club. Sadly, that theory has been exhaustively debunked.

Greene explores a few other tales about the elixirs origins, including one that has a bartender named Black creating the drink in a bar on Broadway below Houston Street. Greene concludes after much sleuthing and without doubt countless hours of research as with so many cocktail narratives, the definitive answer remains elusive. Its enough to drive a man to drink.

While no one disagreements the basic recipe for the Manhattan, the type of whiskey being implemented in it will vary depending upon where you order it.

In a craft cocktail bar youll most likely get a Manhattan constructed with rye, since many believe thats more authentic. The spirit also dedicates the Manhattan a pleasant spiciness.

While in a standard bar the drink will be made with the more popular and widely available bourbon( the bourbon version will generally give the drink a softer and more rounded taste ).

The one problem with this practice is that, according to leading cocktails historian David Wondrich, writer or Imbibe and Punch, historic bartending handbooks dont seem to consistently call for one type of whiskey over another.

Seemingly even the most essential and accepted detail of the drink leads to yet another Manhattan mystery. Until, further research turns up definitive proof, the only thing to do is fix a drink and meditate its shadowy origins.

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