Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Happy Hour: A Perfect Manhattan

What was the first drink you ever ordered?

If you said "a Manhattan" then we have something in common.

Once upon a time, each of the boroughs of New York City had a famous drink named after it (except Staten Island). The only one left that people still order is the Manhattan -- although if you scratch the surface a little, you'll uncover how popular the Bronx was not too long ago into the past.

Maybe the Manhattan remains popular -- although a little grandfatherly -- because of its classic ingredients: bourbon and sweet vermouth. It can also be made with rye. Both bourbon and rye are venerable American spirits. Bourbon is a whisky made from at least 51% corn, a native North American crop. Rye, as you might suspect, is whiskey based on rye. George Washington, the father of our country, was a rye distiller.

The Manhattan is thus associated by its ingredients with Americana, by its name with sophistication and urbanity, and by its taste with clubby masculinity.

A Manhattan is 3 parts bourbon (or rye), 1 part sweet vermouth (a/k/a "Italian" vermouth), and a dash of bitters. It's garnished with a maraschino cherry.

Now let's talk about a "Perfect" Manhattan. A friend of ours tells a funny story about this: a lady at a restaurant orders a Perfect Manhattan. The waitress hustles back to the bar and orders "a Manhattan, and it has to be really good!"

The name Perfect Manhattan is misleading because it isn't a commentary on its quality, although it is really good. In a Perfect Manhattan, the 1 part sweet vermouth is substituted with half sweet vermouth and half dry vermouth. That's it -- that's the big secret behind a Perfect Manhattan. Maybe it's called "Perfect" because it's not too sweet, and not too dry -- maybe it's called "Perfect" because it is.

Perfect Manhattan

3 oz bourbon or rye
.5 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz dry vermouth
dash of bitters

Stir (or shake) and serve with a maraschino cherry.

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