Number Ten Eleventh Symposium TalkTails: More Manhattan!

The first of the new season, Number Ten Eleventh Symposium TalkTails: More Manhattan!, was held on Monday, September 23, 2019, at Number Ten (10 Castle Street, Great Barrington, MA). We discussed the Manhattan and a couple of variants, although since the variants on the Manhattan structure are legion, we could easily hold numerous such Symposiums and enjoy each and every one of them!

Unlike the previous Spring’s Manhattan-oriented TalkTails, which looked at some of the variants that relate in terms not only in basic structure, but in taking on the names of other New York City boroughs and neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn, Greenpoint, Red Hook, and Bensonhurst. This TalkTails took a step back to explore both the Manhattan and its variants found on the Number Ten Cocktail menu and to explore (and taste!) how different whiskey and sweet vermouth and other ingredients make the difference.

The Manhattan cocktail is typically served “up” in cocktail glasses, but can be enjoyed “on the rocks,” usually in an Old-Fashioned or Rocks glass, with ice.  There are immediate and very close variants of the Manhattan, including the Perfect Manhattan, which dries out the flavor balance by using both sweet and dry vermouth. One bartender’s Perfect Manhattan can be different from another’s, such as using only dry vermouth, or changing garnish from cherry to lemon twist, and there are more distinct variants to the Perfect Manhattan as well, of course, including Royalist, long on the Number Ten house cocktail menu, which combines Bourbon whiskey with dry vermouth in a one-to-one ratio, and substituting a small amount of Benedictine liqueur instead of sweet vermouth, and peach bitters instead of Angostura Bitters; a nice peach wedge makes for a terrific garnish, although peaches are seasonal, so lemon twists are often substituted.

The Number Ten Manhattan uses either Bourbon or Rye, depending on the guest’s preference, along with arguably the best—and at our bar, always fresh—sweet vermouth, Carpano Antica. A splash of Grand Mariner is added, just for the luxury of it all, along with the usual Angostura Bitters and a dash of Number Ten Orange Bitters, and, lastly, garnished with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

A great group, a fun evening, an interesting and delicious consideration of Manhattan variants.

But the Manhattan cocktail form can be easily and effectively built on, with all the expectations of flavor that is a hallmark of a well-made Manhattan. The Manhattan is a great structure for seeing how other types of bitters and alternative vermouths and liqueurs shift flavor. For example, while the Number 10 Manhattan adds orange bitters to the Angostura Bitters, another surprisingly nice addition can be cocao bitters, which typically go with Tequila-based cocktails, and which add an earthier base note to the flavor balance of the Manhattan.

Manhattan was originally Rye-based, although Bourbon has become the more popular whiskey of choice.  There are also Manhattans made with other whiskey, and most often—and most often for those who started in on Manhattans many decades ago—Canadian blended whiskey (e.g., Seagram’s Seven), but there are still those out there—typically also from among the older generation—who choose whiskey liqueur, most often Southern Comfort, which makes a very sweet version of Manhattan, indeed.

Number Ten Manhattan

Number Ten Manhattan is the most frequently ordered house cocktail at Number Ten, and for good reasons: high quality liquor, top sweet vermouth, and a dash Number Ten Orange Bitters on top of the two dashes (or so) Angostura Bitters, plus a small splash of Grand Marnier for another little something extra.

The whiskey used—either Evan Williams Bottled in Bond Bourbon or Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey—are great choices, with the Bourbon a four Year Age and the Rye that old or older (there is no age statement on Wild Turkey 101 Rye, but cross-referencing reviews suggest that four-to-six year aged Rye is used), both strong proofed (100 proof and 101 proof, respectively), and both very highly regarded (i.e., these taste great).  A stronger proof and complexity in the whiskey is needed in order to balance with the flavorful Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, together with the other ingredients.  The match of whiskey to the sweet vermouth is the main thing that makes this Manhattan so good, although the orange-inflection, both from the Number Ten Orange Bitters and the splash of Grand Marnier, also contributes to the quality of this particular cocktail version.  The Luxardo cherry doesn’t hurt, either.

  • 2 oz Evan Williams Bottled in Bond (4 Year) Bourbon or Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey (~4-6 Year)
  • 1 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • splash Grand Marnier
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 dash Number Ten Orange Bitters
  • Dropped Maraschino cherry garnish

Perfect Manhattan

The Perfect Manhattan is one of the simplest Manhattan variations out there and differs only in its use of both dry and sweet vermouth (this is what “perfect” typically means in the cocktail world). It’s often garnished with a lemon or orange twist, and sometimes a maraschino cherry as well—but please, one of the good ones.

This makes for a slightly drier drink but blending the two vermouths does so without sacrificing the fundamental character of the Manhattan. The Perfect Manhattan is certainly worth a try, especially if your regular Manhattan comes across as a bit sweet (or you could change your bartender, or increase the ratio of the liquor, or try changing the sweet vermouth you use…).

  • 2 oz Rittenhouse Rye whiskey
  • 5 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 5 oz Dolin dry vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Lemon twist, Maraschino cherry (optional)

Add all ingredients except garnish(es) to a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Rob Roy

The Rob Roy is basically a Manhattan that uses Scotch instead of Rye. It’s believed to have been named after Robert Roy MacGregor, who was a Robin Hood-like figure in 18th century Scotland. Hence the Scotch.

  • 2 oz. Dewars White Label Blended Scotch whisky
  • ¾ oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with orange twist.

For best results, opt for a blended Scotch, such as Dewar’s White Label; single malt Scotch is overkill.

Royalist

Royalist, another of our current house cocktails, is a nice twist on a Manhattan style of cocktail, using dry vermouth instead of sweet, but the Benedictine provides the difference, along with some interesting extra character.  (Source: The Café Royal Cocktail Book, by W. J. Tarling, 1937)

A fairly big drink that packs less of a punch because of the ratio of lower-proof vermouth to base liquor, the Royalist shows off the versatility of the Manhattan structure by bringing in a more complex and interesting sweet note from Benedictine liqueur, and cocktails with peach bitters are rare, but a cocktail like Royalist makes you wonder why that is so.

  • 1½ oz. Dolin dry vermouth
  • 1½ oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
  • ¾ oz. Benedictine
  • 1 dash Fee Brothers peach bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optional garnish (especially dependent on the season), a twist of peach peel (helps if peach is slightly under-ripe) or peach wedge.

The Tasting

I went with only three pours so that participants could spend more time on each of the featured Manhattan variants.  One now popular variant, the Black Manhattan, carries on the surge of cocktail making that turns to amara. The second selection was an outlier, in that the White Manhattan uses unaged corn whiskey, a significant departure from the typical Manhattan whiskey choice. I saved what I thought was the best for last, a variation on our own Number Ten Manhattan, showcasing how the choice of liquor rules all.

Black Manhattan

The Black Manhattan is a simple Manhattan variation that was invented at the well-known craft cocktail bar in San Francisco called Bourbon & Branch, credited to bartender Todd Smith. It replaces the sweet vermouth with Amaro Averna, a classic Sicilian amaro that’s known for its bittersweet herbal and caramel flavors, and a bit of bitter orange.

  • 2 oz. Knob Creek Small Batch Rye whiskey
  • ¾ oz. Averna amaro
  • 1 dash Number Ten Orange Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with orange twist and/or cherry.

The Angostura bitters are optional, since the Averna Amaro is an Italian bitter digestif with its own strong bitter and very dark color (hence “Black” Manhattan) and a lot of bitter orange, supplemented by orange bitters.

Knob Creek Small Batch Rye is moderately high-proof (100) and the mashbill is high rye (95%) and the resulting spiciness and proof matches the distinctive and strong amaro flavor with good balance.

This is quite a lovely cocktail, despite my prejudice I’d gained against amaro in cocktails, a well-earned prejudice since any over-pouring of the amaro, with the characteristic powerful flavor so easily unbalancing the drink. The key is, of course, to not over-pour, and to use a sufficiently strong complex base liquor: this recipe works great.

White Manhattan

The White Manhattan is another simple Manhattan variation made with unaged Corn Whiskey, and created by Tuthilltown Distillery for their own Hudson New York Corn Whiskey, but any decent “moonshine” or “white dog” will do. The other difference is that this cocktail substitutes the classic sweet vermouth with Lillet Blanc, a famous quinquina (bitter aperitif) perhaps best known for its use in James Bond’s original cocktail, the Vesper.

  • 2 oz. Hudson New York Corn Whiskey (unaged white corn whiskey)
  • 1 oz. Lillet Blanc
  • 3 dashes Number Ten Orange Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon or orange twist.

So, a word about “white dog”: umm, better not say anything.  That not said, the unaged whiskey is surprisingly well-balanced by the Lillet Blanc.  This cocktail will never be a go-to for me, but I’d be happy to make it for a guest, since it actually is pretty good tasting, is certainly interesting, and it does make unaged whiskey drinkable.  You’ll still get that gasoline character that moonshine carries, but that flavor rides below the other flavors (including the generous orange bitters and big orange twist) as an interesting flavor aspect, not the enjoyment-killing flavor many people are likely otherwise to conclude.

Number Eleven Manhattan

As great as the Number Ten Manhattan is, I love even more a different whiskey in my otherwise identical Manhattan: Pikesville Rye. I call this variant Number Ten Manhattan Ultra, but the funnier Adam Johnston, a colleague at Number Ten, has named this Number Eleven Manhattan, alluding to, of course, the great Spinal Tap.

  • 2 oz. Pikesville Rye whiskey
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 dash of Number Ten Orange Bitters
  • 1 splash Grand Marnier
  • Maraschino cherry

Add all ingredients except garnish(es) to a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, or in Rocks glass, with large cube; garnish with Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

Although I usually have my Manhattan served up, in the case on Number Ten Eleven Manhattan, I prefer it in a rocks glass, with one of the big ice cubes that we refer to around the joint as “hipster cube.”

Pikesville Rye, 110 Proof, but better yet, amazing flavor and complexity that plays well with the other ingredients of the Number Ten Manhattan… to make the Number eleven Manhattan!

But the main difference is Pikesville Rye. Here’s what Josh Peters, in his December 28, 2015 review in The Whiskey Jug says about Pikesville Rye:

NOSE

A dollop of rye spice accompanied by notes of caramel, vanilla, citrus peel, brown sugar, red licorice, wood, fruit and a light herbal quality. This… is… fantastic.

 PALATE

Velvety layer of rye spice followed by notes of caramel, marzipan, pepper, wood, red licorice, herbal notes and citrus frosting. Light bits of earth, leather and fruit add nice accents to an already multi-dimensional whiskey.

 FINISH

Long, spicy and accented by notes of wood, toffee and citrus spiked chocolate.

 BALANCE, BODY & FEEL

Perfectly balanced, rich full body and a heavy oily texture.

 OVERALL

Pikesville Rye is an absurdly delicious rye whiskey and is among my new favorite whiskeys. Both the aroma and flavor are bold and multifaceted carrying spicy, earthy, sweet and rustic tones with them. Everything works in harmony and the only thing I want more of is oak and spice. Yes the rye notes are heavy and straight forward, but it’s a one noted spice, not a complex spice like you can get in ryes with a higher rye quantity in the mash… but that’s really just being nit-picky.

 In addition to being an absurdly tasty sipper, Pikesville rye is an insanely good cocktail whiskey. The bold rye spice and high proof ensure it doesn’t get drowned out, which makes for a sensational Manhattan, and at about $50 a bottle I don’t feel bad about using it. Bold, complex and versatile, no wonder everyone is raving about the Pikesville Rye and now I can say, without hesitation, that it’s a well-deserved reputation.

 SCORE: 94/100

Other Manhattan Variants

As mentioned earlier, the Manhattan cocktail structure is solid, which means that it can take many small variations and still provide an excellent drink.  Here are some of my favorite variations.

Derby

2 oz Bourbon whiskey, 0.25-0.50 oz (1½ to 3 barspoon) Benedictine liqueur, 1 dash Angostura Bitters. Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with lemon peel.

Benedictine liqueur is one of those products which often gathers dust on bar shelves across the country. Derby is a simple Manhattan form cocktail that shows off the Benedictine well, subbing for the sweet vermouth to delicious effect. Vary the amount of Benedictine to taste.

Remember the Maine

2 oz Rye whiskey, ¾ oz sweet vermouth, 2 barspoons Cherry Heering, Absinthe, Cherry, stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish.

The Remember the Maine is a classic rye cocktail, and a bit of a play on the Manhattan recipe. The introduction of Cherry Heering and the dash of absinthe adds a lovely, layered complexity with just a touch of sweetness.  The Remember the Maine recipe first appeared in The Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker, Jr., in 1939. As Baker wrote: “REMEMBER the MAINE, a Hazy Memory of a Night in Havana during the Unpleasantnesses of 1933 is when Each Swallow Was Punctuated with Bombs Going off on the Prado, or the Sound of 3″ Shells Being Fired at the Hotel NACIONAL, then Haven for Certain Anti-Revolutionary Officers.”

History typo alert: The actual dates of the Spanish American War turn of the 19th Century: the cocktail’s name—Remember the Maine—is a reference to the USS Maine, which kicked off the Spanish-American War after being sunk in the waters around Cuba in 1898.

The absinthe is used to coat the glass. I do this using a mister, with a chilled cocktail glass or Old-Fashioned glass (for “on the rocks”) with absinthe (2-3 pumps), and then finish with one or two pumps of absinthe over drink, garnish is a drop cherry

Remember the Maine varies from the standard Manhattan by replacing the aromatic bitters with Cherry Heering, which brings a dry fruit flavor that is expanded by the hint of absinthe. Pikesville Rye is a high proof and complex Rye that holds up well to the added dry fruit flavor of the Cherry Heering.

Deshler

1½ oz. Rye, 1 oz. Dubonnet Rouge, ¼ oz. Cointreau, 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters, stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish: orange twist.

 Deshler is a terrific cocktail that has long been ignored. Deshler is similar to a Manhattan, but the use of Dubonnet and triple sec instead of sweet vermouth gives this drink a much fuller feel and the substitution of Peychard’s Bitters adds that little something that only Peychard’s can add.  Twisting up the peels in the shaker adds a bit of fresh citrus bitter notes, which is why you want to use a very big orange twist and lemon twist in mixing glass, well-expressed, which acts like bitters, but fuller range in flavor. (Recipe first appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks, 1917)

Fancy-Free Cocktail

2 oz. Bourbon, ½ oz. Maraschino, 1 dash Angostura Bitters, 1 dash orange bitters, shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish: cherry and/or orange slice.

Fancy-Free is another Manhattan variant, but the small amount of Maraschino liqueur and the two bitters add excellent notes to the drink, while adding a bittersweet note drier than sweet vermouth, and allowing the bourbon to shine, so choose the bourbon well.

Monte Carlo

 2 oz. Rye, ½ oz. Benedictine, 1 dash Angostura Bitters, shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish: cherry.

If you find an almost exact recipe match between Derby and Monte Carlo, you are paying attention.  The only difference is the suggestion in Derby that you go a bit lighter with the Benedictine liqueur, and garnish with an expressed lemon peel instead of a cherry.  As Robert Hess, of Drinkboy.com, says, “If a drink is a Manhattan, call it a Manhattan, if it isn’t don’t. Case in point, the Monte Carlo. This drink is essentially a Manhattan in which you have simply switched out the sweet vermouth, for something a little sweeter, and a little more complex, Benedictine. If you like Manhattans, you’ll probably like this drink as well.”

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