Any discussion of the Manhattan (or the Martini for that matter) should start with vermouth. Vermouth, from the German word “wermut” or “wormwood,” is an aromatic wine fortified with grain or grape sprit. Like absinthe, vermouth in its infancy was made with wormwood but after the illegalization of this powerful substance, vermouth makers quietly removed its namesake from the recipe and just stuck with grape juice, herbs, roots and flowers.
Vermouth comes in two distinct styles, the Italian sweet, red variety and the dry white French type. Originally vermouth had its own cocktail consisting of vermouth, ice and a twist which was a common hangover cure or a drink for those who did not enjoy the strength of hard liquor. Perhaps the vermouth drinkers wanted more kick or the hard liquor drinkers wanted less because by the mid 1860s vermouth had found it’s way into many fashionable cocktails. The Manhattan is one of the original cocktails to feature vermouth even though the Martini eventually made it famous.
The Manhattan is obviously a New Yorker, but when and where the drink was actually created is often argued. Was it Winston Churchill’s mother at the Manhattan Club? Or a man named Black on Broadway? No one really knows, but one thing is for sure, when the New Orleans Times-Democrat Newspaper in 1885 called it “a juicy and delicious compound” they were right.
Glassware: Served on the Rocks or Up
2 oz Bulliet bourbon or rye
¾ oz sweet vermouth
1 bar spoon Maraschino liqueur
3 dashes of bitters
Shake well and strain up or stir over rocks and garnish with a Maraschino cherry
Notes on Execution:
The original Manhattan was typically made with rye whiskey but bourbon works fine so the choice is yours. Some prefer the taste of Angostura bitters and I sometimes use Peychaud’s as a nod to the absinthe taste in vermouth’s history, but try it with orange, that’s what they historically do at the Manhattan Club.
A toast to New York...