Guests, Manhattans and Bitters

Darcy O'Neil :: May 5, 2006 8:17 AM

Well last night was a good night at the bar. I had some guests from out of town, unfortunately I didn't get their names, but we had a good discussion on cocktails, some history, bitters, Manhattans and a beer called Waterloo Dark. A question was asked for a good recipe for a Manhattan, and I said I would post the one I use here. Also, it seems everyone is making their own bitters. Jamie Boudreau, who writes at Spirits & Cocktails has created his own house bitters. Gary Regan, has his own bitters and Robert Hess (aka Drinkboy) has his own bitters and I'm sure Ted Haigh (aka Dr. Cocktail) and Dale DeGroff have their own secret blends too. That means I should create my own bitters. Why? Just because I can.

Now for the Manhattan recipe. I like my Manhattans made with a real Canadian rye whisky. Most Canadians are blends, but Alberta Premium (aged 5 years) and Alberta Springs (aged 10 years) are true 100% rye whiskies. Jim Murray, author of The Whiskey Bible 2006, gave this whisky a rating of 95 out of 100, which is pretty high praise for an affordable whisky. But, Alberta Premium is a good smooth whisky with a nice bite of rye. If you don't have Alberta Premium, Crown Royal would suffice and if bourbon is more your style, a Markers Mark Manhattan is great also.

As for the vermouth, Cinzano is a readily available sweet vermouth that works nicely. However, if you can find Vya sweet vermouth, get a bottle and your Manhattans will be that much better. Vya is a boutique vermouth from California and was the "secret" ingredient used in a Manhattan to win a cocktail competition (I'll get the source for this later). The only reason I have a bottle of Vya is because on a trip to Milwaukee, I made a detour through Chicago to Sam's Wine and Spirits to pick up a bottle. I'll go to great lengths to get good ingredients. Now I wish I had picked up an extra bottle or two, plus a bottle of the white vermouth. Oh well, Chicago is only a six hour drive.

For bitters, I lean towards Angostura bitters. I've tried Regans' No.6 Orange bitters and I'm not sure they are the best for a Manhattan. I love Regans' bitters in lots of drinks and they are the one's I use at the bar, but Angostura is the classic for the Manhattan and the strong cinnamon notes compliment the whisky really well. I wouldn't turn down a Manhattan made with either though.

To prepare a good Manhattan, I usually do 2 Parts Rye to 1 Part Vermouth with a dash of bitters and one cherry. Now, I stir my Manhattans at home because I'm too lazy to break out the fine strainer. But, you can shake the hell out of a Manhattan if you want, you can't "bruise" the rye, but you'll want to strain out the little ice chips. Serve in a Manhattan glass (cosmo glasses work well too).

As for my "house bitters" I will get started on my formulation. I think I'm going to barrel age them in a 20L oak barrel used for wine. I also have an interesting angle that many people in the cocktail world will appreciate. Hopefully they will be ready for December 2006 and I'll send bottles out as Christmas gifts.


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