So, you fancy you some good old boy Rye whiskey – don’t cha? Well, the epitome of haute culture Rye drinks is, hands-down, the Classic Manhattan Cocktail. Even though many a bartender claim to be itimately familiar with the ingredients, I’ve seen tons of folks, calling themselves “bartenders,” completely screw this drink up. Knowing a cocktail’s contents does not equate to knowing how to prepare, proportion, mix, garnish and serve – even one as seemingly simple as a Manhattan.
It’s unfortunate, in NYC at least, that a large percentage – if not the majority – of bars you’ll frequent, really should not pass for “bars” at all. Rather, they are trendy nightlife establishments that happen to serve alcohol and are staffed, yet again, by eye-candy that are focused neither on customer service (in the traditional sense) nor speed – enough said. In contrast, thankfully, there are also dozens/hundreds of boutique, hipsterish, low-key venues that do focus on quality homemade ingredients, aesthetics, mixology, atmosphere, individuality, and proper preparation. Befittingly, they are almost always owned and/or staffed by some seriously OCD mixologists with a love of all things old school and classy. Some of them can be found in my Pub Crawl. Places like, Please Don’t Tell, Dram and Raines Law Room illustrate the point.
Back to the Manhattan… a classic Manhattan begins with a quality Rye Whiskey. Rye, if you’re new to it, is usually associated with American Whiskey and is distilled from – you guessed it – 51% or greater rye grain. Bulleit, Old Overholt, and Jim Beam are common. Lately, Whistlepig is gaining in popularity.
From our Neighbors to the North, Crown Royal, Seagrams 7, Seagrams V.O., and Canadian Club can be found in most bars, and are all very good bases as well. Now some will cringe and scream that these aren’t ryes. In the U.S., the composition of a spirit calling itself Rye is regulated by law. In Canada, that’s not necessarily the case. Those brands I just mentioned are all blends that incorporate varying amounts of rye, as well as corn and other ingredients in the distilation process. They are today, mistakenly or not, categorized as Rye in every bar I’ve ever worked in. They taste, look, smell and are distilled like just like Rye. Close enough. It’s all good.
Manhattans are very frequently ordered and made using Bourbon (51% corn base) – perhaps even more so these days than calls for Rye. Personally, I prefer Rye for the slightly more complex fruity notes and for the mere fact that I steer away from mainstream. Call me traditional I guess.
- 2oz of a quality Rye Whiskey
- 1oz sweet vermouth (I prefer Cinzano or Noilly Prat. Stock is crap)
- 2 dashes of your favorite bitters (I’m partial to Peychaud’s – maybe cuz it’s roots are from St. Domingue [Haiti and the Dominical Republic]).
Chill a cocktail (Martini) glass. Build the ingredients, as usual, in your glass shaker. Fill with ice, tamp on your large stainless shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into cocktail glass. For on-the-rocks orders, simply strain into a wide-bottomed High-Ball glass or larger’ish rocks glass, over fresh ice – preferably, a large, single, clear cube.
Screw the folks that claim this must be stirred to avoid “bruising,” a.k.a, dilution or cloudiness. That’s bullshit. You’re looking for a perfectly chilled cocktail that can only be achieved by the right amount of shake. Done right, it should also achieve 20 – 25% ice meltage – also part of the flavor profile and necessary proportions.
- Pickled cherry (or orange twist as a alternative)
NOTE: Do yourself and your customers a massive favor here and never buy chemical laden, pedestrian, Maraschino Cherry garbage again. So long as you shall be in the bar/restaurant business, you shall henceforth renounce your affiliation, and tear up your contract, with the evil empire of crap food products known as Sysco Food Distributors. Pickling your own Bing or Sour Cherries, is a minor investment that pays huge dividends. Combined with those other “little things,” it can make your bar a smashing success just via word of mouth. The difference in drink visualization, flavor complexity, and plain old street cred is massive. You’d be shocked.
- Rob Roy: substitute Scotch for Rye
- Perfect Manhattan: 1/2oz Sweet Vermouth and 1/2oz Dry Vermouth in place of simply Sweet Vermouth. Garnish with lemon or orange twist (rub a bit of oil on the rim and drop it in)
- Rye infusion bases such as Cinnamon, Bay Leaves, berries, Cloves and Rosemary
- Additions such as Sour Cherry juice, Sherry or Marsala