Nov 172010

About time, dammit. Close to a year after the first Manhattan Project. This one was scheduled for National Martini Day 2010.

The last one was variations in bitters and vermouth. This one was some change up in the base liquor (a couple bourbons and a rye), aromatic bitters, and cherries.

The cast is was a little bigger this time – myself, Duke, Ben T. Smith, Adam Nelson, and Gabriel Kra. So each round saw five variations on the recipe. Stayed with 2 parts base liquor, 1 part vermouth, 2 dashes bitters, and a cherry.

First we tried an array of bourbons – Bulleit, Maker’s 46, Woodford Reserve, and Redemption Rye. Vermouths were either Martini & Rossi or Punt e Mes. Stayed with Angostura bitters and bing cherries that had been cured in sugar and brandy.

Only the fifth manhattan used Punt e Mes – I had suspected before that the vermouth would be to aggressive and flavorful and would overpower the liquor (as I mused previously). That was the consensus among the tasters – Punt e Mes is delicious, but not in this drink at this proportion. Maybe cut in half…

So among the first round drinks – I didn’t get Gabriel’s vote here, but three of us (myself, Ben S, and Adam) all preferred the Redemption Rye. Duke liked the Woodford Reserve, but Redemption was a close second for him.

That result skewed the second round a bit. Went with Maker’s 46 for two manhattans and Redemption Rye for 3, each with Martini & Rossi, but this time with some house made aromatic bitters (I’ll see if Adam will divulge the recipe) except for one that stayed with Angostura, and the cherries were either sugared and brandied, or brined and brandied.

The easiest to record is the cherry – everyone preferred the saltiness of the brined cherries. If I am recalling correctly, I added the whole fruits (pits and stem and all) into nearly boiling heavily salted water. After soaking them overnight, I removed them and cured them in a spiced brandy mix (cinnamon, allspice, citrus rind) for several months.

Duke and Gabriel both preferred the Maker’s 46 manhattan by a little bit, while Adam and team Ben all went for the Redemption manhattan. The choice was pretty clear between the Angostura bitters and Adam’s “60 First Street” bitters as well – Adam’s balanced things out the best.

Thanksgiving dinner will be preceded by Redemption manhattans with brined cherries and Adam’s bitters. Looking forward to that.



Dec 142009

Mmmm. Love the Manhattan Cocktail.

Chance came on Thanksgiving Day, 2009, to try a couple variations on the basic bourbon manhattan. I had two companions in the tasting – my brother in law Rob, and his friend Dean. Forgive me if I cannot recapture in words all the subtle nuances of all the flavors, but we did sample six different recipes.

The classic recipe:
2 oz bourbon or blended whiskey (that night, all Maker’s Mark)
1 oz sweet vermouth (Martini & Rossi)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 maraschino cherry for garnish

Round 1

A set of simple variations:

  1. The classic manhattan
  2. The perfect manhattan (substitute 1/2 oz of the sweet vermouth with 1/2 oz dry vermouth (Noilly Prat here)
  3. The classic but with 1 dash Angostura bitter and 1 dash of Peychaud’s bitters

Between these three, it was a very close race. I had a slight preference for the classic  recipe’s balance with this bourbon, with the perfect manhattan coming a very close second. The Peychaud’s added a bit of an unfamiliar twist – one most welcome in a Sazerac, but not quite right with the manhattan.

We each tasted each of the three options, then each chose one to drink.

Round 2

Three slightly more creative recipes:

  1. The classic, but replace all the bitters with Blood Orange Bitters from Stirrings.
  2. A recipe described in Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology – “Kentucky’s Best”. See below.
  3. One that I dreamed up, splitting the vermouth to 1/2 oz sweet vermouth and 1/2 oz Campari

These three all drifted much farther afield from what my mouth was prepared for. Not quite bad drinks, but not “to style”.

The one that, to me, bordered on unpleasant, was the 3rd. 1/2 oz of Campari was too much in there. I loves me the Negroni (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari – we’ll talk about this drink in another post), but it destroyed the balance here. I’ll try again using a dash or two of Campari to replace the bitters at some other date.

The second was also a little unusual. In fairness, I did use a “vintage” port instead of a ruby, and Maker’s Mark instead of Knob Creek. Both Maker’s and Knob are on the sweeter side for bourbons, so kinda comparable. There was just too much going on in this drink.

Finally, the orange bitters didn’t quite taste right in this. I’ll mix it up again some time, but Round 1 recipes all were preferable to the Round 2 drinks.

The variables that we left for future testings:

  • Bourbons – Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, and so many others…
  • Blended Whiskies/Whiskeys – Canadian or not, with varying amounts of rye
  • Sweet Vermouth balances – reducing by 1/4 or 1/2 an ounce when mixing with sweeter Bourbons or increasing

So, as you may have guessed by the “Part 1” in the header, this will be an recurring project, with time to “clear the palate” (i.e. recover from the hangover) in between.

Finally, that recipe for “Kentucky’s Best” Manhattan recipe – it’s available through Google books, but here it is directly:

2 ounces Knob Creek bourbon
1/4 oz maraschino cherry juice
3 dashes ruby port
3 dashes Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
2 dashes creme de cassis
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 maraschino cherry, for garnish
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.