I’m not a big cocktail guy. With the small capacity I have for alcohol these days I like to save my allotment for wine, but every once in a while I like to go to the Crunkleton in Chapel Hill or make a drink at home – my choice at either venue is a Manhattan. This weekend we had two couples visit from Boston and I made cocktails for our guests.
There are many ways to prepare a Manhattan, the original being a mix of American Whiskey, Italian Vermouth and Angostura bitters.
Other references to a “Manhattan” have it being served in the city by the same name as early as the mid-1800s, where it has been described as a drink made with two dashes of gum (gomme syrup), 2 dashes of bitters, 1 dash of absinthe, 2/3 whiskey and 1/3 vermouth. (William Schmidt’s “The Flowing Bowl”, 1891)
Here’s how I do it:
2oz Rye Whiskey
1oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
a dash of bitters (I like orange bitters)
1-2 real Maraschino cherries from Luxardo
The key to a good Manhattan is using good ingredients. My ratio of 2:1 is influenced by really good Vermouth from Northern Italy.
The Manhattan has been damaged in the same way the true martini has – in the case of the martini I blame James Bond. If a minuscule amount of Vermouth was James’ recommendation then the macho American male decided no Vermouth at all was even better. But straight gin does not make a good drink, and banishing the Vermouth from the martini led people to abandon the gin martini and switch to a vodka “martini” altogether. In my opinion a “martini” without gin and vermouth isn’t a martini at all.
The best martini I ever experienced was at the Drake hotel in Chicago, which was served in an ingenious two-piece beaker, which allowed you to pour what you wanted into your martini glass while also keeping the whole thing cold. If you’re ever in Chicago I recommend you try a martini at the Drake.
In the case of the Manhattan, bartenders have been making it too with less and less Vermouth. If you use good Vermouth – and I do – I think the right ratio is two parts Whiskey to one part Vermouth, you can even go as light as one part whiskey and one part vermouth.
Now for the real Maraschino cherry – not the abomination given to kids in Shirley Temple’s all over America.
A while ago I read this article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/nyregion/30bigcity.html?_r=0) about a strange mystery indeed. An amateur beekeeper in Brooklyn, New York went up to the roof of her building to check out the results of one of her honeybee hives, expecting to find the golden reward of her bees’ labors. Instead she found that her bees were producing a sickly red, cough syrup sort of substance, something that was not only frightening, but also downright mysterious. It turns out, while foraging, the honeybees had discovered a Maraschino cherry factory, and were sneaking in through a window to dine on sugar water and Red Dye Number 40.
I bring up this story, because it points to the appalling result of a counterfeit industry. These days most people’s conception of the Maraschino cherry is the same as the experience of those Brooklyn honeybees, sugar water and Red Dye Number 40. But, contrary to general supposition, the Maraschino cherry has a royal history and the genuine article still exists.
It may be hard to believe, but a true Maraschino cherry starts out sour and bitter. Marasca cherry trees grow wild along the Croatian coast (former Dalmatia), and in the late 18th century, a Venetian merchant by the name of Drioli refined a distillation process of the cherries, gaining renown for his Maraschino liqueur. The cherries and the liqueur became so wildly acclaimed that courts and rulers all over Europe sought after it, with royal households of Austria, Great Britain and Italy even giving the Drioli factory legal rights to the use of their coats of arms. From the beginning of Drioli Maraschino’s success, however, there were counterfeiting operations all over Europe, a legacy that, as alluded to earlier, still exists in abundance today.
That’s how good these cherries can be. They’re worth counterfeiting, after all. While the Drioli factory no longer exists, there are a couple of serious producers still making quality Maraschinos. Luxardo is one of them. In the 1820s Girolamo Luxardo and his wife began distilling cherries in the same town as Drioli. Today Luxardo grows 22,000 marasca cherry trees in the hilly region of northeastern Italy between Padua and Venice. The company harvests their fruit by hand with all the care of a great wine or olive oil producer and then distills it for two years in pot stills. The maraschino liquor is aged for two years before bottling. The fresh cherries are macerated in the aged liquor and packaged in glass jars.
You can’t buy a jar for $1.98. It’ll cost you almost $25. But they’re worth it. And it only takes one or two of these cherries to make an ordinary Manhattan into one you’ll dream about.
You can go on Amazon to buy these cherries, or even better go to my friend Ari Weinzweig’s mail order at Zingermans.com.