Thursday, January 14, 2016

Make mine a Manhattan

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2016 at 9:27 AM

click to enlarge JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa

With an actual chill in the air, winter has arrived in Arkansas. When the weather dips down like this, I often find myself craving cocktails that are richer and heavier on the tongue. Enter my recurring winter drink, the Manhattan. And if you'd like to share one with me, here are a few short steps that will have you making the most of the cold in no time.

Never shake a Manhattan.

A Manhattan is a simple cocktail composed of two parts whiskey to one part sweet vermouth with a few dashes of bitters. It's served up with a silky texture and beguiling complexity of flavors. With an ingredient list that short, it is easy to see how a multitude of variations can proliferate, and how the specific choice of whiskey or sweet vermouth used can change the entire drink.

Never shake a Manhattan.

The drink is believed to go back to the 1860s, a time when sweet (or Italian) vermouth was gaining popularity. In the past decade or so, sweet vermouths have been making a comeback in the United states as part of the classic cocktail revival—Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes, and Cocchi Americano are all premium sweet vermouths with rich and complex flavors to be savored. They are not, however, required for a Manhattan. My everyday, workhorse sweet vermouth is Cinzano brand sweet vermouth, a brand that is available in most liquor stores for a reasonable price. Getting a bottle of Carpano Antica to sip on its own is certainly a lovely thing, but also not for everyone.

Never shake a Manhattan.

The whiskey component is classically rye whiskey, but every variation has been used, especially the Canadian blended whiskeys that gained popularity during Prohibition. I prefer using rye whiskey in my Manhattans because I enjoy the spicier flavor profile of rye in general. Rye works especially well when paired against the contrasting sweet and herbal vermouth flavors—it’s like adding that sprinkle of salt to chocolate. Bourbons can certainly work wonders, but you may want to look for a higher proof Bourbon to make the Manhattan sing. The other reason I will often make my Manhattans with rye is to complement the less assertive vermouth being used.

Never shake a Manhattan.

The final two ingredients are very much about personal preferences—the bitters and the garnish. Angostura bitters are the default bitters, available everywhere including your local grocery store, to enhance your cocktail but liquor stores now carry dozens of variations. These powerfully flavored tinctures are like salt & pepper in a cocktail—they add depth, let flavors play against each other, and offer a bridge to bring different ingredients harmoniously together. If you are a fan of New Orleans, pick up a bottle of Peychauds Bitters to use instead for an extra-crimson-hued drink with a distinct anise flavor. The garnish is a cherry most often, but I implore you to avoid the day-glo neon cherries commonly available and look instead for a quality cocktail cherry. In collaboration with the Little Rock Foodcast, we looked at different cocktails cherries on the market as well as how to make your own. You can also do what I do more often than not, which is just use a lemon twist as garnish instead.

Never shake a Manhattan.

With regard to the refrain you have been seeing, Manhattans are meant to be stirred. Stirring creates a crystal clear drink with a heavier mouthfeel. This is  contrasted with a cloudy shaken drink that is aerated and dances on your tongue. The ingredients don't need to be shaken to be combined, and while we may have honest disagreements over how best to prepare a Martini, the Manhattan does not benefit from the lighter mouthfeel. A proper stir will get the drink just as crackling cold. For the love of a good Manhattan, send it back if the bartender shakes it

click to enlarge JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa



*2oz. Rye whiskey (or bourbon, or Canadian whisky or whatever you have handy)
*1oz. Sweet Vermouth
*2-3 Dashes of Bitters (or if you are like me 4-5 dashes)
*Cocktail cherry or lemon twist to garnish


1. Combine the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass 2/3 full of ice.
2. Using a bar spoon, or an iced tea spoon, stir the cocktail by moving the spoon around the glass pressed up against the glass itself instead of agitating the contents constantly.
3. After approximately 40 turns around the glass, strain your cocktail into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe.
4. Garnish and enjoy the rich whiskey cocktail coating your tongue.

click to enlarge JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
Around Town

109 & Co.

I always knew that when I covered the Manhattan, I would put 109 & Co. on this list. 109 is a straight up cocktail and mixology bar that is all about high quality, classic cocktails made with the best ingredients and the most care. It is a little more expensive, but I think you'll find the Manhattan here exceptional: 109 uses rye and cocchi americano, leaving a smooth and indulgent drink that is heady in its crystal clear execution. Garnished with a house made cocktail cherry, there is just enough spice to keep your mind playing through the drink.

I cannot tell you how enjoyable it is to have this cocktail unfold in your mouth—the rye and vermouth are a pleasing spicy combination, but the cherry with hints of brandy and Becherovka makes truly demonstrates how this drink can be greater than the sum of its parts. If you are up for a truly heady experience, ask about the year-long barrel-aged Midtown Manhattan for a special drink, or stop in for a happy hour Manhattan when they are $8, a deal available all day Monday or 5 p.m.-7 p.m. the rest of the week.

click to enlarge 109 & Co. Manhattan - JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
  • 109 & Co. Manhattan

Big Orange

Big Orange may have taken the Manhattan off of the regular menu, but this foundational cocktail is always available at both the Midtown and West locations. The bar program for Big Orange is built around classic cocktails, and the Manhattan is no exception. Here, the standard Manhattan comes with bourbon, but a big smile and a small upcharge will convince the bartender to use the Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon with its high rye mashbill and assertive profile.. When the Four Roses is coupled with an extra dash of orange bitters, the result is a well-balanced Manhattan with just a little bit of spice coming through loud and clear. The smooth richness of the bourbon added to the drink playing off the sweeter flavors of the vermouth while the added orange bitters gave it just the right amount of lightness and “pop.”

click to enlarge Big Orange Manhattan - JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
  • Big Orange Manhattan

The Butcher Shop

Manhattans pair wonderfully well with red meat, and for that reason my mind goes to The Butcher Shop. The steakhouse doesn't have a written cocktail menu, but this classic cocktail is right at home with the dark wood paneling and classic steakhouse atmosphere. While The Butcher Shop bar has both rye and bourbon, I went with a straight bourbon.

This Manhattan has a tried and true taste, with the bourbon giving the drink a much more sharp taste that isn’t as rich as some of the others. This is a Manhattan that will pair well with a nice steak, and provides you a feeling like slipping into a comfortable old coat—not unlike the warm and welcoming feel I get in The Butcher Shop in general. When you make it in, tell Shannon I sent you and enjoy a classic steakhouse drink. 

click to enlarge Butcher Shop Manhattan - JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
  • Butcher Shop Manhattan

Do you have a favorite Manhattan around town? Do you have a special twist you use at home? Sound off in the comments! 

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