The Manhattan cocktail, like the Old Fashioned, has a variety of fans. Some, rabid purists, never tiring of historical debate of the cocktail. Until, of course, they tip back one too many!
It amazes me that a cocktail with a total of five ingredients can inspire such passionate debate as to the mythology of the formulation. While it may prove tiresome for some, it encourages others to experiment with subtle changes that make a vast difference in the final product.
The fundamental ingredients in a Manhattan are whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, ice, and garnish. I count ice as an ingredient because there is simply no way to make the drink desirable without it, and much of the technique rests in the amount of time you allow the liquor and garnish to interact with the ice.
The way somebody approaches making a cocktail gives a valuable insight into their character. From the nitpicky purist that dares not stray from “historically accurate” ways of making it, to the more relaxed individual that would serve it on the rocks, playing it loose with newfangled bitters, homemade vermouth, or some artisanal whiskey.
As with the Old Fashioned, I fall somewhere in the middle.
Whiskey choice should be the focus of your attention. I prefer rye whiskey for this drink, but a bourbon Manhattan is nothing to scoff at. Rye tends to be more spicy and fruity, although there is a broad spectrum of flavors to be had from brand to brand. If you are on a budget, try Old Overholt. It is a great value and a stable platform for the drink with nice spice and smoke characteristics that complement the sweet and herbal notes of the vermouth.
Overholt can be had for $15 or so, locally. It is not particularly good to drink on its own which is why we have cocktails. Other solid options include Bulleit Rye, High West Rye or Double Rye, and Wild Turkey Rye.
For Bourbon options, consider Knob Creek, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace. Some people like Canadian Whiskey, which is said to be the preferred prohibition era choice, but I find it too friendly.
As for Sweet Vermouth there are a few options worth exploring. My go-to vermouth is Dolin, which is reasonably priced and nicely balanced; neither too sweet nor herbal. Dolin is widely available, but also tends to be less concentrated. Other higher-end options will be more concentrated in flavor, which will change the calculations in terms of the desired result. Locally, you will likely find Martini & Rossi, Noilly Prat, and Dolin.
For the remaining ingredients, be sure to source good clean ice. Don’t settle for the opaque variety from the home freezer. Either make some fresh larger cubes with good water or find some block ice. Smaller ice can prove troublesome because it will melt faster and dilute the drink more quickly.
Garnish with either a maraschino cherry (Luxardo preferably) or a citrus peel. Orange is probably your best bet. Angostura bitters are the standard Manhattan option, but experimentation is always encouraged.
Now, down to mixing! In a mixing glass combine three dashes of bitters, one ounce of sweet vermouth, two ounces of rye, then fill with ice. Stir for at least thirty seconds, stir more if you are using a higher proof whiskey or prefer it more diluted. Strain into a chilled coup or martini glass and garnish with a cherry or citrus peel. Gently spritz the peel over the top if you go that route.
Be aware; this drink is rather potent, as is my love for it.