Classics. Pt 1 – The Manhattan

July 14, 2009

The definitive history of the word “cocktail” is, and has always been as far as I can see, quite a debatable subject.

I for one am I great fan of the Savoy’s explanation on the topic, detailing a brief encounter between a southern american general and a Mexican princess known as “Coctel” apparently so entrancing in her beauty that the general decided to etch her name in history so she would be forevermore remembered.

Bit far fetched I admit…

Other more logical explanations draw the comparison between the tail of a male rooster, and its connotations to jesting and light-heartedness, and the period of prohibition where the disguising of alcohol in various “bittered slings” to fool the officials was quite the new-age thing to do.

And one more entertaining story lies with the delightful Miss Betsy Flannagan

Betsy, a barmaid in a tavern in Hall’s Corners, NY, served Betsy’s Bracers. During the Revolutionary War, American & French soldiers frequented it. American soldiers stole some male pheasants from the British & a wild party was had. While drinking they toasted to Betsy’s drink “Here’s to the divine liquor which is as delicious to the palate, as the cock’s tails are beautiful to the eye.” To which a French officer replied, “Vive le cocktail!”. There is reference to a Betsy Flanagan. Who knows which Betsy, was Betsy Flanagan. One story goes something along the lines of decorating the out side of a glass with a tail feather from a rooster. Some say that this is where Washington and his officers frequented. Washington wore feathers in his hat, and one of his officers toasted to “the cock’s tail”

However which way you look at it, as long as so little written corrospondence on the topic exists, no one answer is set in stone. Although the possibilities for long and suitably entertaining stories are endless. And long may it continue I say.

Read up in detail here.

Back to the topic at hand though.

Classic Cocktails

“A Classic cocktail is defined as a cocktail which appeared after the publication of Jerry Thomas‘ 1887 Bar-Tender’s Guide but before the end of Prohibition in the United States in 1934. This is distinct from a traditional cocktail from pre-1887 or a modern cocktail from after the end of Prohibition but before 1990.”

This is a bit too strict for my liking but it sets the tone for what were touching on here. Drinks harking back to the pre-prohibition days of experimentation. I’m going to classify my classics here as drinks so deeply set in cocktail history it shall never be forgotten or skimmed over.

Each individual one of the classic cocktails is found worldwide on nearly every bar and restaurants drinks list, and each has its own long and winding history.

To begin…

The Manhattan

Popularised belief behind its origin is that it originated at the, suitably named, Manhattan Club, New York, in the 1870’s to celebrate a banquet hosted by Winston Churchills mother for a presidential candidate. It’s success led to a demand for it around the area, having requests named after its club of origin (the manhattan cocktail).

Three main versions exist upon its basic build of Bourbon, Vermouth, and bitters. Namely the Dry, Sweet, and Perfect Manhattans. The basic variation is the type of vermouth used and also the ratio of it to the Bourbon. The ratios have been changed through the course of time however now they usually lie as follows:

Sweet: Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, Peychauds (4:2:1)
Dry: Bourbon, Dry Vermouth, Orange Bitters (4:2:1)
Perfect: Bourbon, Dry Vermouth, Sweet Vermouth, Orange Bitters (4:1:1:1)

Also indisputable is the fact that the drink should most certainly be stirred down rather than shaken. Shaking imparts an unsightly foam upon the top of the drink and creates a dilutted taste far from the subtle bourbon notes it intends to impart.

The rationelle behind stirring a drink rather than shaking is to smoothly mix the ingredients together, chill all the constituent parts down to near freezing, yet to dilute the drink only slightly. Everyone has their own personal methodology to stirring a drink, however iv found the following to be the most effective;

First fill a boston glass half full with crushed ice and then add soda to it, filling to no higher than half-way. Then insert a boston tin into the resultant freezing cold water in the glass. Then add ice into the tin and proceed to build the drink.

This results in the fastest freezing of the liquid,without risking over-dilution. And also gives a recepticle for the discarding of any spare vermouth.

Using the above method is how I personally build the majority of my classics, and have also found it useful for the making of mint julips.

Here lies the specs for a perfect manhattan:

60ml Bourbon
7.5ml Sweet Vermouth
7.5ml Dry Vermouth
3 Dash Orange Bitters
1 Dash Peychauds

After building your boston glass and tin in the previously mentioned manner, 2/3 fill your tin with ice and proceed to add the vermouth. Stir the ice and churn to coat all the ice in it. If excess vermouth is left, discard it into the glass. Then add 40ml of the Bourbon to the mixture along with the bitters, begin to stir the drink down in the tin. Taste and add the remaining bourbon taste. Serve in a frozen martini glass and garnish with a curled orange rind.

The colour should be a beautiful mahogony-browny red.

Notes. Strong bourbon notes throughout sit on the tongue. An underlying spice from the bitters and orange rind is present on the intial taste and returns at the end. The vermouth’s almost medicinal notes should only be found in the background, adding just the correct balance to the bourbon’s fiery texture.

The Manhattan is these days most commonly served in a martini glass, however originally it wasn’t uncommon to found it served  in a rocks glass. Served short on ice is in fact my prefered way to serve a dry manhattan as I have found the dry vermouth to be overpowering without the addes gradual dilution from the ice.

Also looks mint if you ask me.


One Response to “Classics. Pt 1 – The Manhattan”

  1. drthrottling said

    Why don’t you have a new page with your recipes listed on them? That way, eventually, your blog will end up having a cocktail list attached for easy reference? I’ve done something similar but I’m focussing more on the cultural development and context of historical drinks…. obviously a long road ahead in terms of recipes mind you…

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