The Manhattan is one of the “Six Basic Drinks” as espoused by David A Embury in his 1948 encyclopedia of drinking, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. As a lawyer turned dipsologist, it appears Embury was on to something.
A popular but highly unlikely story (although one I wish dearly to be true) claims that the Manhattan was invented for Winston Churchill’s mother, and named after the Manhattan Club in New York City, where it was first made, so legend has it, in the early 1870s. With Lady Randolph Churchill as its ambassador, the drink first took Manhattan and then (arguably) Berlin through the actions of her son some 75 years later.
History records the Manhattan as the first cocktail to contain vermouth, a dry fortified wine from France and Italy which was developed in the late eighteenth century. Traditionally a Manhattan calls for sweet vermouth, but you can make a dry Manhattan if you use dry vermouth, or a perfect Manhattan by using equal amounts of sweet and dry vermouth. The traditional Manhattan calls for equal parts rye whiskey and sweet vermouth with 2:1 and 3:1 also popular – feel free to experiment.
- Pour a large measure of whiskey, a small measure of sweet vermouth and two dashes of bitters into a shaker of ice.
- Stir well (a good 20 times) and strain into a martini glass.
- Garnish with a cherry and/or a twist of orange peel.
I perk up my Manhattans with a teaspoon of maraschino, a cherry liqueur from Italy that tastes reassuringly like Calpol. Technically this makes the drink a Red Hook, named for the neighbourhood of Brooklyn in which it was first made, but I think it is an admirable addition to the classic NY cocktail.
Aside from the dry and perfect Manhattans, the other main variation on a Manhattan is the Rob Roy which takes Scotch whisky instead of rye or the Brooklyn which is a perfect Manhattan with a bar spoon of Maraschino.