Whilst it has always been a staple on cocktail menus from high-end boutique bars to high street chain restaurants, the Manhattan has seen a resurgence in its influence and popularity, thanks to cult TV shows like Mad Men, and many bartenders would agree that it is outselling any other classic cocktail.
Arguably the classic of all classics, the Manhattan has a history that is as rich and smooth as the drink itself. Whoever it was that first conjured up the impeccably balanced beverage is, in my opinion, nothing short of an actual god. The skilfully integrated American whiskey – straight rye was more than likely the spirit of choice in the latter parts of the nineteenth century, though many bars now consider bourbon to be an acceptable substitute – aromatic bitters, and sweet vermouth, created a drink that is truly unrivalled.
If James Bond had drunk Manhattans instead of Martinis, who knows what the world would be like?
Whilst some mixologists will trace its history back even further, we know that the Manhattan had surfaced as a popular favourite by the 1880s and that it was one of the first cocktails to call for vermouth as a modifier. The Manhattan pre-dated not only the Martinez and the Rob Roy, but also the enigmatic Martini. If only James Bond had drunk dry Manhattans instead of shaken Martinis, who knows what the world would be like?
If you can’t trust a bartender, who the heck can you trust?
There is a truly brilliant story about the birth of the cocktail that many mixologists and drink historians always tell at parties. Reportedly it was Jennie Jerome herself – Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s mother – who organised a cocktail reception at the Manhattan Club and served the drink for the first time to a gathering of New York’s elite in 1874. Sadly, however, many agree it is most likely apocryphal, as Lady Churchill was pregnant with Winston at the time in England, and as such it would be very unusual for her to be partying in the Big Apple.
The best lead we have on the true birth of the drink is from a story written by William Mulhall, a bartender who plied his trade at New York’s famed Hoffman House for more than 30 years, starting in the early 1880s. According to Mulhall, the Manhattan was invented in the 1860s by a man named ‘Black’, who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway, and the cocktail was probably the most famous drink in the world at the time.
Even though Mulhall’s account comes decades after the drink appeared on the scene, we do know that the man was a bona fide bartender. And if you can’t trust a bartender, I ask you, who the heck can you trust?
It’s a rare cocktail that takes well to tinkering but the Manhattan is one – try toying with, say, a mojito, and you’ll get one that alternately tastes marginally different from the one you made earlier, or simply needs to go down the drain. Yet in the case of the Manhattan, ninety-five percent of the time the result of your seemingly haphazard experimentation will be revelatory payoff. Use rye instead of bourbon, swap Cinzano for Carpano, give some orange or Creole bitters a try, tweak the proportions, and the drink undergoes a transformation – it’s like liquid jazz. At first it will seem as familiar as a favourite pair of jeans, but after a few more sips it will feel like an alternate universe.
- 3 oz Bulleit Rye American Whiskey
- 1.5 oz Noilly Prat Rouge Vermouth
- Angostura bitters
- Lemon peel
Add ice and soda to a martini glass and set to one side.
In a mixing glass add 3-6 dashes bitters to taste, vermouth, and half the whiskey.Stir the contents gently whilst slowly pouring in the rest of the whiskey, continuing to stir until chilled.
Empty the martini glass, ensuring there is little water residue, and strain in the contents of the mixing glass.
Twist the lemon peel and coat the rim of the glass, and garnish with a cherry.