Our house cocktail is a Manhattan. If you are not familiar with it, think of a martini made with whiskey instead of gin or vodka, sweet vermouth instead of dry, with an added dash of bitters for panache, and a cherry instead of an olive. Somewhat similar proportions, served in a cocktail glass, modified to personal preference, shaken or stirred based on extensive research, experimentation, and deliberation. But well thought out, and with well-earned opinions.
The Manhattan is not a cocktail for amateurs. If you like Manhattans, and have decided how you like them, made your way, I salute and respect you.
It’s quite possible that your favorite Manhattan won’t be mine; and that’s okay. The ideal Manhattan is a question of subtleties, of refinement. But it is not open to gross variation.
How to make a Manhattan
- Chill a cocktail glass
- Fill a mixing glass one-third full of ice cubes
- Add two ounces of whiskey—rye, bourbon, or Canadian
- Add a half ounce sweet vermouth
- Add two or three dashes of orange bitters
- Stir vigorously until you can see the ice cubes begin to melt
- Strain into the chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a really excellent cocktail cherry
When I make a Manhattan I use four parts whiskey to one part sweet vermouth, and a couple of generous dashes of orange bitters. I like to chill the cocktail glasses as the first step. But while camping we usually don’t have enough ice for that, so I’ve come to think of it as a luxury.
I fill a big mixing glass one-third full of ice, then add the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. I prefer rye whiskey, with bourbon a close second choice, and Canadian whisky third. Then I stir the drink vigorously with a long mixing spoon, until I can see the ice begin to melt. I want some of that icewater in the finished drink.
Then I strain the drink into a cocktail glass, add a really good cocktail cherry, and get ready to enjoy a really good cocktail.
Some folks prefer their Manhattans shaken instead of stirred. I’ve tried both methods, even going so far as to make one of each with exactly the same proportions of identical ingredients. I know that I strongly prefer my Manhattan stirred.
So I have strong opinions about Manhattans. I used to try to politely explain to bartenders exactly how I like them. Fortunately, I gave up on that early on. Now I just ask for the drink and hope I get a good one. I usually do.
A few years ago, Val and I were staying at the Panamint Springs Resort, inside Death Valley National Park. It’s a funky and charming old place, with small cabins, RV and tent camping, a gas station, a convenience store, and a restaurant with a tiny bar. We’ve been there many times and we like it a lot.
I hope you like them.—The well-intentioned bartender
I made them a little stronger for you.
After dinner in the restaurant we moved to the bar for cocktails. It was an incredibly busy evening and the bartender was also waiting tables. He was really struggling to keep up but he kept his cool, kept smiling, and stayed friendly.
When we ordered Manhattans I saw him turn around and get his copy of The Bartender’s Companion and start to look up how to make the drink. I thought I could save him some time and trouble.
“It’s just bourbon and sweet vermouth, four-to-one, a dash of bitters if you’ve got some, and a cherry,” I said. He thanked me as he put his guide book away and got back to waiting tables and serving drinks.
He reappeared after some time, apologized for the delay, thanked us again for our patience, and then whispered as he served our drinks, “I hope you like them. I made them a little stronger for you.”
We looked at each other and didn’t quite know what to make of this. I think the most popular whiskey drink at Panamint Springs is probably a Jack and Coke. So adding a little extra Jack Daniels is a way to thank a customer for being patient.
Our drinks were served in highball glasses. I don’t think the resort owns any cocktail glasses. And they had ice in them. That’s not the first time I’ve been served a “Manhattan” over ice, but it’s not a very good way to serve one.
We clinked glasses and took our first sips.
The proportions were in the ballpark. But they were backwards. Upside down. The drink was mostly sweet vermouth, with a bit of whiskey mixed in. Instead of four-to-one, it was one-to-four.
An Inverse Manhattan.
The bartender continued dashing about, serving food, drinks, and impatient customers. We tried to be open minded about the drinks, tried to enjoy them, tried to think of the experience as another adventure in travel.
Then we remembered that we always travel with our own supply of bourbon so we left the bar and retired to our cabin for the evening.
One quiet evening we told this story to our favorite bartender, Chris, at Js’ Old Town Bistro, in historic Dayton, Nevada. He makes an outstanding Manhattan. He was horrified that we hadn’t corrected the bartender’s mistake at Panamint. He told us we were responsible for all the Inverse Manhattans that would be served there from that evening on. And Chris was right. We should have said something.
And I’m pretty sure that in the years since we first encountered the Inverse Manhattan at the bar at the Panamint Springs Resort, two—possibly three—people have ordered a Manhattan there.
I hope for everyone’s sake those two or three people were bolder than I.
Want to start refining your own favorite Manhattan? Here’s an affiliate link to buy Luxardo cherries. And here’s one to get a copy of The Bartender’s Companion. Both will take you to Amazon.com. If you buy something there, we’ll get a small commission, at no extra cost to you.