Like a real legendary figure, the Manhattan cocktail has a story with just enough fact checking holes to fall somewhere between urban myth and reality. Multiple books on the cocktail become catalogs of theories, and even the best are never completely verifiable.
The framework for our story generally remains the same – Manhattan-made, post-Civil War era – but even that gets challenged. One of the most cited stories is that Lady Randolph Churchill created the drink in honor of New York’s incoming governor, Samuel Tilden. It was December 29, 1874, during a dinner party at the Manhattan Club in New York, and they were all celebrating a Tilden’s work that stopped a notorious political scandal called the Tweed Ring, giving us a plausible story with just enough fame to make it sparkle. Alas, that was the night Lady Randolph gave birth to Winston Churchill – in England.
While different Manhattan stories intertwine and become muddled, the cocktail itself remains timeless and pure. Phillip Greene, author of The Manhattan: The Story of the First Modern Cocktail, places it in the pantheon of cocktails along with the Martini and the Daiquiri. And yet, the Manhattan holds a special status, even among these greats.
“In our lifetimes,” Greene writes, “the Manhattan likely will remain a blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. If a bar stocks only one bottle of bitters, it’s likely to be Angostura, so you’re more likely to get what you ordered. Because the name never took on additional meaning beyond the drink itself, perhaps the Manhattan survived in a way that the other three could only envy.”
-Lianna Matt for DRINKS Magazine
2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
½ ounce dry vermouth
½ ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes aromatic bitters
lemon peel or cherry for garnish
In a mixing glass, stir all ingredients with large ice cubes, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon peel or a cocktail cherry.
Note: For a traditional Manhattan, use 1 ounce of sweet vermouth instead of splitting the amount between dry and sweet; likewise, for a Dry Manhattan, only use the dry vermouth.
Find this, and other recipes in the Fall DRINKS Magazine, available now at Surdyk’s.