The perfect cocktail for Fall’s arrival

A MANHATTAN will feature good bourbon including Knob Creek and a half-and-half mixture of sweet and dry vermouth.


As sad as I am to see the summer end, I always look forward to the fall. The fall season brings cooler evenings that lead to extended time on the back porch, and a chance to revisit a few whiskey cocktails that seem to be a perfect fit for the fall and winter.
There is not a rule against consuming a Manhattan on a hot July day, but many of us Manhattan fans enjoy them seasonally. This is the beginning of “Manhattan season”, and I wanted to make sure that you are ready.
The Manhattan is one of those classics that never really went away, although visibility for the drink is at an all time high as interest in whiskey, bourbon in particular, is also at an all time high. With so many whiskey and vermouth options available, where do we begin our journey to a great Manhattan?
Let's start with the whiskey.
Originally, the Manhattan would have been served with rye whiskey as rye was the most common whiskey in the Northeast circa 1870 when the Manhattan was invented. Whiskey production in the US was shut down for a number of years as a result of prohibition, so Canadian whiskey was used in the Manhattan and many other whiskey cocktails during this time. Over the last 50 years, bourbon has become the most commonly used whiskey in the Manhattan.
Most Manhattans served in commercial bars use bourbon, unless the customer requests rye, Canadian, or something different. By the way, when Scotch is used in this recipe the drink becomes a Rob Roy.
I wouldn't dare lead you into Manhattan season without a few whiskey recommendations. My favorite all around bourbon is Woodford Reserve, but I also like Knob Creek, Bulleit, Makers Mark, and Old Forester. Speaking of Old Forester, don't overlook their standard “signature” bourbon which can be had for around $20 depending on state and local taxes.
If you wish to try a rye Manhattan, go with a quality rye. Rittenhouse Rye is my favorite rye for mixing, Bulleit and Sazerac by Buffalo Trace are also excellent.
When it comes to vermouth, start with a standard sweet (red) vermouth. The sweet, fruit-forward fortified red wine is an excellent compliment of flavor notes to the oak and vanilla notes in bourbon. When you hear “Manhattan”, do you picture the brilliant amber/burgundy hue in your mind? That classic deep, dark red color is made possible by a healthy dose of sweet vermouth.
Unlike the Martini which only uses a negligible amount of vermouth per 2 oz. pour of gin, the Manhattan relies on a 2:1 ratio of whiskey to sweet vermouth to obtain both the proper color and flavor that we have come to expect from a classic Manhattan. The 2:1 ratio is ideal, any less and you'll miss the sweetness of the vermouth or the color will be off. If you go a bit heavy on the vermouth you will begin to overpower what is likely a solid bourbon.
Once you have a feel for a standard Manhattan, you may want to experiment. If you prefer dry vermouth over sweet vermouth, you may use dry vermouth in your Manhattan. A Manhattan prepared with dry vermouth is known as a “dry” Manhattan.
What if you can't decide between sweet and dry vermouth? In this case, you could do both. In fact, you should do both. The vermouth content will remain the same at 1 oz, but you will use 1/2 oz. of each vermouth to prepare the drink. A Manhattan prepared with both sweet and dry vermouth is known as a “perfect” Manhattan.
If you are visiting a bar that serves a high volume of Manhattans and Rob Roys, the bartender may ask “dry, sweet, or perfect?” when you place your order. All three terms refer to the type of vermouth.
A note for all of you home bartenders: Once opened, vermouth must be refrigerated as it tends to spoil quickly. Discard any unused vermouth after a few days in the refrigerator.
With all of the excitement around the nice bottle of bourbon and the vermouth that you recently purchased, it's easy to overlook the bitters and the garnish.
A proper Manhattan is garnished with cherries, and I mean real cherries. Do not use the bright red dyed cherries as they will not add anything in the way of flavor.
The best option for a Manhattan garnish is brandied cherries, or bourbon cherries. They are not cheap, but once you have had a Manhattan garnished with a few (I use 3) brandied cherries you will understand. Many bourbon distillers also produce their own line of cherries, Woodford Reserve, Makers Mark, and Evan Williams all produce excellent bourbon cherries for use in cocktails. Luxardo also produces high quality brandied cherries that are right at home in a Manhattan.
Preparation is straightforward, and as long as the drink is stirred you will not run into trouble. Never shake a drink with a high vermouth content as you will be left with a cloudy drink under a frothy film. Presentation is big part of the appeal of the classic Manhattan, and the color must be on point if you are going to turn out a good Manhattan.
Start by combining the ingredients in a mixing glass, I use a pint glass with a Hawthorne strainer as my mixing glass. Once you have your bourbon, vermouth, and a few dashes of bitters in your mixing glass, add some ice and stir for about 10-15 seconds. Strain into a chilled glass, then add your garnish.
If you do not have brandied cherries to use as a garnish, the next best option is a twist of orange.
Here's to fall! I haven't heard any Christmas music yet, nor have I had to shovel a driveway. Let's enjoy this.
The classic Manhattan is built in a mixing glass and served in a chilled coupe glass.
Combine in mixing glass:
2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir with ice, strain into chilled glass
Garnish with brandied cherries or orange twistU
ntil next week, enjoy responsibly.