Ya know, on a day like today when I’m feeling cranky/unmotivated/surly/yadda yadda, a nice cocktail might be just the spark to get me going. Unfortunately, I don’t have any bitters in the house, and my bourbon is years old. Irish whiskey makes a nice substitute, in my experience, but I drained my last drops a couple weeks ago, and haven’t bothered replacing it. So, more coffee it is.
At first glance the Manhattan looks like such a simple affair – whiskey, sweet vermouth and a few dashes of bitters. I’m the first to admit that it’s not too hard to make a halfway decent version of this cocktail, but a truly great Manhattan can be made only by someone who truly understands the magnitude of what’s at hand. Indeed, the mark of a bartender who is truly worth his or her salt lies solidly in his or her interpretation of the Manhattan.
It is virtually a San Francisco tradition to knock back a Manhattan at the well-worn bar of the Tadich Grill, a restaurant with roots that stretch back to the Gold Rush. Mike Buich, Tadich’s owner, allows his bartenders to personalize their Manhattans to a certain extent, but they must be made with three parts bourbon, one part vermouth and just one dash of Angostura bitters. (Although I’m more likely to make my Manhattan with two parts whiskey to one part vermouth, and I’m known to be a hog on the bitters front, the ratios used at Tadich can work, providing the right whiskey is used, and providing it’s married to the correct vermouth.) Buich also mandates that his bartenders stir their Manhattans over ice long enough for them to be very cold when they reach a customer’s lips. That’s another piece of the equation – stirring the drink for a minimum of 20 seconds is mandatory if it’s perfection you seek.
Consider the Rob Roy, for instance. It’s just a Manhattan made with Scotch as opposed to American whiskey, but with the right Scotch this can be a glorious quaff. Peychaud’s bitters, by the way, work very well indeed with Scotch, and I often add just one dash of these to the mix when I make a Rob Roy. The Paddy cocktail is a Manhattan made with Irish whiskey; with the right bottling and with liberal dashes of Angostura, this, too, is a desirable dram. Add Benedictine to the Rob Roy and you have yourself a Bobby Burns, a drink created at the Waldorf Astoria in the days prior to Prohibition.