The Bronx and Staten Island, too…

In previous posts, I have waxed upon such cocktails as the Sazerac, the Old Fashioned–these two are similar enough to be almost interchangeable, and both argue the place of the “original” cocktail, the Sazerac being a more localized choice until recent years–and the Martini. I would like to speak of another cocktail, a classic, one that forms a cornerstone of the compendium.

A town so nice, they named it twice

A town so nice, they named it twice

Although the Manhattan had its genesis in the 19th century, it reached its zenith during the time of Prohibition, as did most cocktails, their very illegality perhaps being an inspiration.

Start with a dash of bitters and a generous dollop of vermouth. I prefer shaken to stirred

Start with a dash of bitters and a generous dollop of vermouth. I prefer shaken to stirred

It has always had an American whiskey as its origin, most commonly Rye (the whiskey of the American northeast, composed of over 50% rye grain, as opposed to bourbon, which is composed of over 50% corn (the xenophobe inherent in us all would like me to declare that ALL bourbon must be made within the boundaries of the state of Kentucky–just as all Champagne is made within its own particular regions of France, but I have sampled utterly delightful Bourbons made in California and Texas, and so must admit to a newfound embracement of geography as far as that particular whiskey is concerned, though I stick to my guns as far as Champagne is concerned. Cavas, proseccos, and American sparkling wines can be magnificent–and even a better choice than a common Champagne as an everyday beverage–but if the wine isn’t bottled and fermented within a specific region of northeast France, it just ain’t Champagne.) But I’ve managed to get off topic.

A Manhattan is named for the most famous borough of New York City, arguably the most famous island in America, if not the world. (Maybe Britain’s better known, and I’m sure the Australians would argue in their favour. As a California native, I favour Catalina as far from the California coast as Manhattan is long.) But Manhattan, a bargain bought for a bundle of beads, will forever hold, apocryphally, the world’s heart as the island that is the heart of America.

How ironic, then, that the height of the Manhattan’s popularity occurred during Prohibition, when the cocktail was made from Canadian Whisky (note the absence of the e) which is a close cousin to rye; when Manhattans were made from illegally sourced whiskeys, such palliatives as sweet vermouth (also smuggled) and bitters became an ever more important component to the cocktail.

Bulleit Rye is a mellow flavoured, delightul addition to the Bulleit family of Bourbon.

Bulleit Rye is a mellow flavoured, delightful addition to the Bulleit family of Bourbon.

Cocktails reached their nadir during the late 60s and 70s, as Julia’s Gallic influence reached the nation (though she was always a fan of a not particularly dry Martini) and the rise of the American wine market, California wines outjudging French in the ME decade.

Today, an authentic Manhattan is composed of Rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters, garnished with a Maraschino cherry. My own particular recipe is composed of 3 oz whiskey, 1 oz sweet vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi Rosso–whenever I called out that name, it made Myrtle crazy)

If you're making a Martini go for Noilly Prat or other small house made Vermouth, but Martini is marvellous for a Manhattan

If you’re making a Martini go for Noilly Prat or other small house made Vermouth, but Martini is marvellous for a Manhattan

and a generous dash of bitters. I can’t even with the bitters tonight: Angostura or Peychaud’s are easiest to find, but specialty stores will give you a rainbow assortment that will subtly (or gaudishly) affect the flavour of the Manhattan. I prefer Luxardo cherries to the traditional Maraschino–they are pre Red 40,  and flavoured with Maraschino liqueur–and taste less like plastic. They don’t come with stems, though, so you can’t enjoy the tongue tying experience Audrey Horne had in Twin Peaks.

Absent the artificial colours and flavours, the Luxardo is the patient zero of the maraschino cherry.

Absent the artificial colours and flavours, the Luxardo is the patient zero of the maraschino cherry.

Today Manhattans are made with Bourbon as often as they are Rye Whiskey (note the “e”) or Canadian Whisky. I have to admit that I prefer Bourbon to Rye in a Manhattan. There’s something about Rye in a Manhattan that reminds me of Ruth Gordon’s Academy Award winning performance of Minnie Castavet in Rosemary’s Baby (set in the iconic and infamous Dakota Building on Manhattan Island) in that it’s what I’d imagine Tannis root would taste like with its chalky aftertaste, a sensation absent in a Sazerac or an Old Fashioned. I know that many cocktail enthusiasts would recoil at these words, but I must remain true to who I am. (I also think that ABBA is the world’s best rock band, by the way. I may have said that before.)

Whether you choose to use Rye or Bourbon as your source whiskey for a Manhattan, it can be varied with other liquors. (There is, in fact, a cocktail known as a Dry Manhattan, which is made with dry vermouth instead of sweet, and is garnished with a twist–or in the most extreme of homes, a Pimento Stuffed Olive!!) There is also the Rob Roy, where Scotch is substituted for American whiskey, and bitters are usually eliminated. One of my favourite variations (which I may have invented–I’ve never seen it in a recipe or bothered to research it) is what I’d like to call a Dublin: substitute Jameson’s for the American Whiskey and use Lavender Bitters (no other kind is acceptable) instead of Angostura/Creole.

The Manhattan, shaken into submission

The Manhattan, shaken into submission

Isn’t it fun to speak of cocktails? Whether it’s how you choose to begin the morning or end the day, cocktails are a quintessential and imperative part of the American day. Wine and beer can be made anywhere in the world, and we Americans have learned from the origin of the beverage, and often improved upon it.

Sometimes you stir, so it retains the clarity of one of John Hammond's amber in Jurassic Park

Sometimes you stir, so it retains the clarity of one of John Hammond’s amber in Jurassic Park

What do you think, Dear Reader? Do you agree with my assessment of the cocktail? Are you offended by my opinions? Please respond… I will reply…

About What would Julia do?

Being timid and meek like Dorothy Gale, I have surprised myself by starting this blog. But a few people have suggested I do so, so there it is. I love to eat and I love to drink, so although this blog could be about almost anything I choose to type, there's likely to be a lot about what you put in your mouth. Why the title? Anyone who knows me knows my reverence for Julia Child. I don't think it's hyperbolic to say that our country's interest in the culinary arts would be all but non-existent but for Her. I would not attempt to count the number of people who have cited Her influence in their lives and careers. What Atticus Finch is to lawyers, Julia Child is to the cook, be s/he servantless or professional. Honesty demands me to say that it is not simply Her advocacy of GOOD FOOD that has immortalized her; She had the happy circumstance of coming into her own at a time when media was in her favour. We can all be thankful for that. I would name Julia Child as the patron saint of second starts, but I'm a happy heretic. Julia's dogma goes beyond the kitchen: She has famously stated that "[y]ou've got to have the courage of your convictions..." Her statement applies as equally to any part of one's life as it does to flipping a potato gallette. I will conclude by noting I have my own personal trinity of Js--Julia, Judy Garland, and Joanna Rowling. Please refer back to that part about my being a happy heretic.
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4 Responses to The Bronx and Staten Island, too…

  1. Pingback: Mixology Monday LXXIV Cocktail: The Baur Au Lac « Putney Farm

  2. Tayreze says:

    They all sound tantalizing, even though I’m much of a whiskey drinker (unless it’s Mother’s Whiskey Sours). Tell me about my favorite cocktail – the gin and tonic.

  3. Tayreze says:

    insert the word “not” between I’m and much…

  4. Pingback: Remember the Maine | The Straight Up

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