Cocktails Food & Drink

A More Perfect Manhattan

By Eric Twardzik

2024년 3월 7일

A More Perfect Manhattan

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Manhattan couldn’t possibly be improved upon. For many drinkers, it is their first “serious” cocktail, and unlike its mercurial cousin the Martini, is difficult to truly mess up. Hence its presence everywhere from the highest echelons of mixology to the open bar at your cousin’s wedding. 

And yet, there exists an alternative to its classic preparation that makes it… perfect. But before we get there, a little background. 

Like many of the classics, the Manhattan’s history is obscured by the mists of time and the foggy recollections of the morning after. One popular account traces its genesis to an 1874 political banquet held at New York’s Manhattan Club, and names the socialite Jennie Jerome as its author. It’s an amusing tale but undone by the fact that Jerome—by then married to Lord Randolph Churchill—was in England at the time of the supposed invention, about to give birth to baby Winston.

What’s not in dispute is that the Manhattan marks the first encounter of spirits and vermouth, a marriage that would birth cocktails as we understand them today. Before there had been the Old-Fashioned, which was little more than whiskey cut with sugar and a dash of aromatic bitters. The Manhattan built on this basic profile, initially with a blending of sugar syrup, liqueurs and sweet vermouth, but by the turn of the century had begun to crystallize into the formula we recognize today.

That formula, two parts rye or bourbon whiskey to one-part sweet vermouth and a few dashes of aromatic bitters, is tough to beat. It matches the tannic, woody hit of America’s two signature whiskey categories (use whichever you prefer but try to find something 100 proof to ensure it still sings) to the mellow richness of sweet vermouth with a spicy dash of aromatic bitters to keep things interesting. Full-bodied and boozy yet sweet enough for after-dinner duty, there’s a reason why it’s a drink of choice among great aunts and John Cheever protagonists alike. 

But here’s the thing: if you dare mess with the stone tablets upon which its recipe is inscribed and use both sweet and dry vermouth in that same 2:1 ratio, you end up with a superlative drink. I honestly can’t remember who first gave me the tip, but I recall being told that “Once you’ve done it, you can’t go back.”

Which has proven true. Crossing this particular Rubicon results in a Manhattan that’s as smooth and approachable as ever yet enhanced by the greater herbaceousness of the dry vermouth, which in turn leaves more room for the whiskey to shine. After you’ve partaken, a standard-issue Manhattan, while still enjoyable, may start to feel sweet. Which isn’t a put-down on the standard preparation: it’s just hard to measure up to a Perfect Manhattan.

Perfect Manhattan

60ml rye or bourbon whiskey (preferably 100 proof)

15ml dry vermouth

15ml sweet vermouth 

2 dashes aromatic bitters 

Add all ingredients to a stirring glass filled with ice and stir for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled coupe glass. And if you happen to have a Luxardo cherry at hand then, by all means drop it in.

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