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02.18.10 by  

The Manhattan Cocktail. Practice Makes Perfect.

Melt away your little town blues with a Philly take on the classic. Cue the Frank Sinatra and call it a night.

Ordering a Manhattan is about as an exact science as ciphering genetic code: You’ve got perfect, imperfect, perfectly imperfect, a slew of combinations that are as infinite as the number of stars in the sky. We love the aficionados who saunter into their corner bar and call out their whiskey and vermouth combos with total cocktail confidence. We spoke with Keith Raimondi, bartender at Philadelphia’s Village Whiskey to uncover the art and science of the Manhattan — making sure they are of course stirred, not shaken. His version puts us in a New York state of mind.

Pull up a chair and call your favorite Manhattan. Photo courtesy of Fanny Allie

Manhattans are a classic cocktail, so you think they would be mixed the same everywhere — when ordered, they vary so much though — why?

Keith Raimondi (KR): Cocktails should be respected for where the come from, however Manhattans can be tailored to a person’s individual taste. Rye and bourbon are the most common spirit bases, and Canadian whiskey is also being used in some bars.

What characteristics should we look for in a whiskey when sipping Manhattans?

Bourbon is traditionally on the sweeter side. Rye is drier and spicer, I’m always a rye guy. My first question to someone ordering a Manhattan is: Do you like it sweet or perfect? If they tend to prefer sweeter drinks, I’ll make a sweeter version with bourbon; if they like it more dry, I’ll use rye.

What’s the secret to pairing it with vermouth?

Every vermouth has it’s own flavor profile. Carpano Antica is a sweet red vermouth that’s really rich and amazing. Carpano Punt e Mes is also a sweet red, but very different with a lighter, fruity, herbal flavor. It all depends on the person’s preference. I like contrasting flavors so the Punt e Mes with bourbon would contrast well.

We’ve seen many different types of bitters in Manhattans.

You can tailor a Manhattan to anyone’s liking, but just make sure it still has the essence of the classic cocktail. Orange bitters makes the cocktail more floral, brighter and adds a small bit of body. A change as small as just the bitters in a classic cocktail like the Manhattan is one that most may actually consider as a separate drink because it’s not going to taste traditional. A sister cocktail to the Manhattan is the Brooklyn that’s got orange bitters. It’s the cocktail that turned me on to drinks and is one of my favorites, it’s simple, basic and just good.

What about the serving the cocktail?

First, by stirring the cocktail, you can control the temperature and dilution. A Manhattan is all spirits so you don’t want it to go down in a sip or two, but at the same time it should not be watered down and should maintain it’s viscosity.

The martini glass you serve it in shouldn’t be huge. Again, you’re drinking a complex cocktail that is all alcohol.

The garnish must serve a purpose in the cocktail. I garnish my perfect Manhattan with a lemon twist, some may not agree. An orange peel would be softer citrus note than a lemon peel so people who drink a Perfect Manhattan with orange bitters might like an orange twist. Cherries are a staple, but you can do a lot better than maraschino. We love the Amarana cherries from Italy — their fruit is dark and the flavor is really rich.

Is it okay for bar patrons to “call” their Manhattans, or should they go with what’s on the menu?

Absolutely, if you know you like it one way, you should have it that way. By pointing out what you like, you’re also providing a basis for dialogue, and with that, I may be able to offer you something similar, and build out a flavor profile with whiskeys and vermouths that work for you — we want to gain your trust and want your cocktails to be as good or better than you’re used to. At Village Whiskey, we have the privilege of working with everything. I was once an opponent of mixing with quality spirits, now I feel completely different. Mixing great spirits together is a wonderful thing.

We prefer rye over bourbon so love your “Perfect Manhattan” recipe, but what if someone out there prefers a sweeter version?

I would definitely use something like George Dickel, a Tennesse whiskey similar to bourbon with the exception that it’s filtered through maple charcoal — that gives it a sugary type of sweetness. I usually like to blend the 100 proofs because they come out hot. I’d use 1 1/4 ounces of George Dickel to 3/4 ounce of an 80-proof rye to take away some of the heat.

Perfect Manhattan

Come here often? Hold an artfully crafted Manhattan and your dumbest pick-up lines seem cool.

*This Manhattan has a little dryness, and isn’t too sweet because it’s made with a combination of vermouths.

  • 2 ounces Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 6 year Rye
  • 1/2 ounce Dolin dry vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Garnish: lemon twist
  1. Stir rye and vermouth with ice then strain into a martini glass.
  2. Add bitters and garnish.