I’m old-fashioned, I admit, and this is another Friday cocktail post devoted to classic cocktails. It’s not because I’m nostalgic (though I am). It’s because classics are classics for a reason: they’re good. There’s a reason you don’t have a Swanson’s TV dinner in your freezer but will never tire of a well-made Martini. My dad was a Martini man. He was also an Ad Man (who actually looked a lot like Don Draper), a creative director at a Cleveland ad firm where I interned the summer after my freshman year of college. He was a gin drinker. I still remember my first revulsion at gin. I asked him what he had in that plastic cup of his. He told me it was a Martini. Go ahead, he said, taste it. I did. How on earth could he drink that stuff? I thought. Tasted like the worst medicine you could invent. He chuckled, had another sip, the light turned green, and we headed up Cedar Road toward Fairmount in the new 1972 convertible Ford Mustang.
His brother Jon, eleven years his senior (my dad was a “gift” to his 39-year-old mother, both of them born on FSF’s birthday, I’m happy to note—thanks, Rose and Mike! Glad you didn’t take precautions!), Jon was a Manhattan man. But like my father’s martinis, Jon’s Manhattans were made with the cheap stuff and always on the rocks. I’m pretty sure it was a practical decision. They simply drank too many of them to make it practical to serve them straight up in a chilled glass. Jon would have wavered his hands around his ears and called that kind of drink something for fairies. That was his generation.
He was a big, bellicose man, CEO of an engineering company, a sailor who loved to race, brilliant, difficult, and fiercely loyal to and proud of his family. I never went in for the sweetness of the Manhattan when I began to have actual cocktails. I loved the austerity of my father’s gin Martini.
So it was my dear Uncle Bill, Jon and Rip’s Uncle Bill, actually, Rose’s brother, the man who taught me the supreme value of a potato, quoted in The Making of a Chef, the man who guided my literary leanings and showed me by example what a genuine intellectual was made of, it was he who made me my first Manhattan, at his home in Santa Barbara. Donna and I had arrived terribly hung over after a late, late wedding celebration south of Los Angeles, and that Manhattan was nectar from the gods.
The Manhattan is indeed a superlative drink when made properly. I ordered one earlier in the week at Nighttown, a Cleveland Heights, walking-distance bar that features some of the best jazz in the country. The bartendress made it with Bulleits. I didn’t ask about the vermouth. The person I was meeting asked have you had the Manhattan at Velvet Tango? No? Then you haven’t had the best Manhattan.
I bought a new vermouth, just to try, pictured above (I didn’t have time to drive out to Solon for the preferred Vya vermouth, sorry Paulius). He, Paulius, owner of the VTR, also recommended Amarena Fabbri cherries. The only place he knew to get them in Cleveland was Gallucci’s, but they were out! So we had to go with the crappy ones that are better on ice cream. Here they are made palatable by the lovely metal skewer that belonged to my father and was part of that whole sixties cocktail. I love it. I was able to buy the most important ingredient though, Old Overholt rye whiskey (Jon drank VO, most of his 74 years). And given the cherries, I’m going with the good, if ubiquitous, Angostura bitters.
I’m in Manhattan now, so a Manhattan it is, and I raise it to you, Jon and Bill, with great lasting memories and thanks.
The Perfect Manhattan
- 60 grams rye whiskey (preferably Overholt) or a good bourbon (2 ounces)
- 30 grams sweet vermouth (preferably Vya)
- 5 sturdy shakes of Angostura bitters (2 grams or so)
- 1 to 3 Amarena cherries (or those candy-like ones in the sundae aisle of your grocery store)
- In a 2-cup measuring glass, combine the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters.
- Fill the measuring glass with ice and stir more or less continuously for 90 seconds (I hate the shaken drinks with all the shattered ice floating in them). It’s fine to pause while you retrieve your glass from the freezer.
- When the ice and alcohol have commingled for the appropriate time—you want about 30 to 40 grams of water to melt into the Manhattan—garnish it with the cherries.
Yield: one 145-gram Manhattan
If you liked this post on the Manhattan, check out these other links:
- My recent posts on the Berkshire Martinez.
- Is rye whiskey back in fashion in the United States?
- Learn how to make your own maraschino cherries.
- Headed South? Then visit the bourbon trail in Kentucky.
© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.