Thursday, October 20


All this time I've been posting and I just came to realize that I have never written about my favorite, the Manhattan. What a travesty...

What can you say about the Manhattan except that it is a fundamental standard classic cocktail that when all is said and done is probably in the top five of nearly all cocktailians. The silky smooth texture of a chilled Manhattan flows over the tongue filling the mouth with flavors that is greater than the sum of its ingredients. The blend of the charred oak, spiciness, of Bourbon; the sweet, herbal, and slight caramel flavor of Sweet Vermouth; and the indescribable flavor of bitters combine to make a cocktail like none other.

The Manhattan was first made with American Rye whiskey and is said to have been invented in New York's Manhattan Club in 1874 at the request of Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie, pictured right), to celebrate the newly elected governor Samuel J. Tilden. (7) The name of the bartender who concocted the new drink is unknown and unfortunately the Manhattan Club, which stood at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 26th Street, is no longer in existence. (8) Like many stories of cocktail origins the validity of this tale of the Manhattan's beginnings has been brought into question, but I like this story the best.

The Manhattan's whiskey changed from Rye to Bourbon during or shortly after the time of prohibition when the production of Rye whiskey was scarce or non-existent. (9) During prohibition (1920-1933) (6) Canadian whisky was primarily used because it was what was available. After the glorious repel of the Eighteenth Amendment bars wanted to serve American whiskey again but Rye was unavailable due to the distilleries being shutdown and its long aging process. Bourbon distilleries were able to get back up to production faster and distribute their product by way of the Mississippi river and thus Bourbon found its way into the Manhattan. Some say Bourbon distilleries never stopped producing and sold by prescription from doctors to stay in business. Over a million gallons of whiskey was consumed each year during prohibition for "medicinal purposes." (6) To this day there are not many producers of Rye whiskey, but there are a few brands worth trying out. I recommend Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye if you can find it.

One last note on the whiskey used in a Manhattan, it is the still popular to use Canadian whisky in northern United States. This I believe is because Bourbon spread faster in the South due to river distribution method of the Kentucky distilleries. Then there came the misconception that Canadian whisky was a substitute for Rye whiskey, which is not the case at all. Rye whiskey must be made from at least 51% rye; Canadian whisky has no such restriction and is often a blended whisky. However if in the North don't be surprised if the Manhattan is served with Seagram’s or Crown Royal.

Although the Manhattan is an icon of cocktails right up there with the Martini it is very difficult to find an establishment that will serve up this beloved cocktail correctly. The five major flaws I encounter are as follows:
  1. Lack of bitters – Bitters is an essential ingredient in a Manhattan. I don't care what you may have learned at Bartending School or from a fellow bartender, the Manhattan has bitters. There is a large misconception that bitters is only used for another wonderful Bourbon cocktail the Old Fashioned and not in Manhattans, but the fact of the mater is bitters belongs in both.
  2. Vermouth is not a scary radioactive substance – Vermouth is not scary and is a completely potable liquid, I even drink it straight at times. Unlike the Martini where it unfortunately became common place to put little if any vermouth in the cocktail, Manhattan drinkers actually expect Sweet Vermouth in their drink. Don’t be shy pour a good ounce or more, we will actually drink it and thank you for it. We promise to not come hunt you down after we become radioactive. Between 3:1 and 2:1 Bourbon to Sweet Vermouth is expected.
  3. Stirred not Shaken – Manhattans are intended to be a smooth drink. Shaking cocktails adds tiny air bubbles to the that change the texture of the drink. I know it sounds hard to believe that it can make a difference, but it does. The first sip of a well stirred chilled Manhattan with the proper proportion of ingredients is like drinking silk. The bubbles produced by the shaking do go away after a few a little while, but by then the drink has warmed. The Manhattan should be stirred between 15 to 20 seconds.
  4. Dusty Vermouth – Vermouth is like wine; once you open it, it goes bad. I've seen bottles of Vermouth pulled out to make my Manhattan coated in dust... I usually change my order to something else. For home bars or bars with low volume Vermouth use it is better to buy the small bottles of Sweet and Dry Vermouth for freshness.
  5. Cherry Juice – The adding of cherry juice is meant for a Manhattan that is ordered with the modifier of Sweet. Cherry Juice is only added when a Sweet Manhattan is ordered. I believe many bartenders add the cherry juice in an attempt to cut the strong whiskey taste when in fact just stirring the cocktail the proper amount will do just that.

I apologize if my bluntness offends anyone on this matter, but I am passionate about the subject. The following is the ratio of ingredients and brands I use in my Manhattan. Feel free to experiment with the ratio and brands and drink what you like.

2.5 Parts Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 Part Noilly Prat Red
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters or Fees Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters
Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice for 15 to 20 seconds. Then strain into a well chilled cocktail grass. Garnish with a cherry if you're hungry.

  Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Saturday, October 8

Rum Cocktail Recommendations

Read Developing Favorites before going on...

Rum cocktails have a reputation of being on the sweet side and having a tropical connotation to them. There are some very good sweet rum drinks but one of my favorite is the Hemingway Special.

Sweet and Strong
Hurricane *
Mai Tai *
Daiquiri * (try the non-frozen variety)
Planter's Punch
Bahama Mama *
Missionary's Downfall
A Day At The Beach *
Blue Hawaiian *

Sweet and Weak
Green Eyes
Pina Colada *

Tart and Strong

Tart and Weak
Mojito *

Balanced and Weak
Cuba Libre (Rum and Coke with Lime) *

Balanced and Strong
Hemingway Special
El Presidente
Beachcomber's Gold
Long Island Iced Tea *

* these drinks are the more popular and you will probably have an easier time finding them in most bars.

See Webtender or Dale DeGroff's Site for recipes.

Sunday, October 2

Bottled Cocktails

So you are having a party and you want to serve mixed drinks, but you don't want to be behind the bar all night and your budget precludes the hiring of a bartender.

What to do?

One possibility is the serving of bottled cocktails. This is not those RTD (ready-to-drink) beverages that you get at the grocery store. Bottled cocktails are simply a large batch of a mixed cocktail that is pre-mixed and chilled in a bottle.

Bottled Cocktails were first written about by the Professor himself, Jerry Thomas in How to Mix Drinks published in 1862. In his book he explains how to make a bottle of brandy cocktail and proclaims that cocktails are generally used on fishing and other sporting parties, although some patients insist that it is good in the morning as a tonic. His recipe is as follows:

Bottle Cocktail
2/3 Brandy
1/3 Water
1 pony-glass of Bogart’s bitters
1 wine-glass of gum syrup (simple syrup)
1/2 pony-glass of Curacoa

So what cocktails can we serve as bottled cocktails? I would say any cocktail that does not call for some type of carbonated ingredient would be a candidate to be bottled and served at your party. Cocktails with carbonated ingredients would most likely go flat because they are not being stored under pressure. The process is fairly simple…

First find a clean bottle. This can be a used liquor bottle, coke bottle, or just any plastic container. Next fill the bottle with water and then pour out the water into a measuring cup to figure out how many ounces or milliliters the bottle holds. For our example lets say it measured to be 25 ounces.

Now let’s say you want to make a bottled Manhattan. The following are the ingredients for my recipe for a single serving of a Manhattan:

2 oz Bourbon
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes of bitters

At first glance you might think, “Okay just pour in twice as much Bourbon than Vermouth in the bottle, chill it, and I’m done.” But if you did this you would be missing a major ingredient… water. This is because we are not putting the ingredients in a mixing glass, stirring it, and getting the melted ice water in the drink. Instead we are just chilling it in a cooler. So, we have to add the water to the recipe.

Depending on how strong you like your drinks 1/4 to 1/3 of mixed cocktails are comprised of water. See this article for more information about water in cocktails: Hey, There is water in my cocktail!

So, in our 25 ounce bottle 8 ounces will be water. (25 x 1/3). That leaves us with 17 ounces for the other ingredients (25 – 8). Of the 17 ounces 2/3 is Bourbon and 1/3 is Sweet Vermouth.

Math lesson:
To get the ratio of ounces for the remaining ingredients… add
up the total number of ounces in the drink (2 + 1 = 3) this is your bottom
number. Then use the number of ounces for an ingredient as the top number. So,
for the Bourbon in our recipe is 2/3 is the ratio.
Now for the bitters... Because the recipe calls for 2 dashes it is difficult to scale it up in the same way. So, what I do is think about how many 6 oz servings the bottled cocktail will make. In this case about 4 (25 divided by 6). So I will add 8 dashes of bitters to the recipe (4 x 2 dashes).

All this calculation has gotten us to the following recipe for a 25 oz bottled cocktail:

8 oz Water (25 x 1/3)
11 oz Bourbon ((25 – 8) x 2/3)
5.5 oz Sweet Vermouth ((25 – 8) x 1/3)
8 Dashes of Bitters ((25 divided by 6) x 2)

Pour ingredients in a 25 oz bottle, cap the bottle, shake a few times to mix up the ingredients, and put in a refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours.

You can double check your math by adding up all of the ounces. They should total close to the size of your bottle, minus some rounding. This same process can be repeated for just about any cocktail you would like to serve at your party. Just use the same ratio of ingredients and don’t forget about the water.

Now that you have one or two different chilled bottled cocktails in the refrigerator and your guests are due to arrive soon… The last piece of the puzzle is presentation and you will be ready for your party.

One idea is to fill a large tub with ice and then place your bottled cocktails in the ice and then arrange your cocktail glasses upside down in the ice. This will cool your cocktail and you glasses for your guest.

Now your guests can serve themselves and you can enjoy their company without having to mix a drink every 10 minutes.

Another party option is to mix a punch, but that is a post for another day.