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Sep 5, 2007 11:54 AM

The ULTIMATE Manhatten?

I'm looking into getting my groomsmen gifts for being in our wedding and the brother of the bride loves Manhattens. I thought it'd be fun to give him a gift bag with all the makings of an awesome second-to-none (or few?) Manhatten. I've got the cocktail shaker and martini glasses taken care of, now onto the good stuff... booze. What would your choices be for a great Manhatten bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters? I'm looking to spend a little over $100, other than that, all suggestions are warmly welcomed.

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  1. First of all, it's a Manhattan. Second of all, a true Manhattan isn't served in a martini glass (which is more accurately called a cocktail glass), but it is served in a Manhattan glass. (This one is one of my favorites: Traditionally a Manhattan would be made with a rye, thus I'd suggest either Rittenhouse or Old Portrero. Vermouth I'd suggest a combination of Vya's sweet and dry vermouth (combined to make a perfect manhattan). Bitters, well you can do a lot with this, but I'd stick to some classics: Peychauds, Angostura, etc. If you are in New York or you can have the stuff shipped to you check out lenell's to soruce all of this stuff at one spot.

    8 Replies
    1. re: jpschust

      Wow, awesome glass. I love the idea of a double-walled glass just to keep the condensation away, and the look is great.

      1. re: jpschust

        How many ounces is that glass? Is it oversize or classic 4-5 ounce?

        1. re: JMF

          Not sure off te top of my head. I love the design of that one but I use a more classic glass rather than the double walled.

          1. re: jpschust

            Based on your suggestions here I bought a bottle of Vya sweet vermouth last night. Holy cats. Best tip off of chowhound yet for me. That stuff is remarkable. I'll be heading back to the store this evening to pick up the extra dry version. I didn't have it in a Manhattan, but rather in a Long Tree (equal parts gin - Plymouth in this case - sweet vermouth and dry vermouth with a dash of orange bitters, shaken and served in a cocktail glass). Best drink I've had in a very long time. Thanks!

            1. re: ccbweb

              Try the Vya sweet straight chilled in a wine glass- it's insanely good.

              1. re: jpschust

                Will do. And, kenito, That's pretty close to what I do already, I totally believe you about the dry and look forward to trying exactly that drink this evening.

              2. re: ccbweb

                the Vya dry is so good you will make your Plymouth martinis 2:1 gin : vermouth...small dash orange bitters and please forget the olive! A twist is much better for the subtle flavors you will enjoy...

            2. to be honest, most men who prefer Manhattans also have a specific taste in what they prefer. I found if you want to know what a man drinks, invite him out and buy him a drink and see what he orders. (Tell him you are buying and you are sure he won't get the cheap stuff.. LOL!!!

              7 Replies
              1. re: gryphonskeeper

                He lives in Chicago and won't be back here before the wedding, so that's going to be a tough one! So, if you were going to make a ManhatTAN for yourself or for a discerning customer, what would you use?

                Also, I'm not looking for "traditional" but rather contemporary... i.e., something that would be commonly drank today. Very few people have a taste for rye over bourbon these days, so I'm sticking with bourbon. Also, if someone gave me a gift bag to make a ManhatTAN with and it contained dry vermouth I would think they don't know what goes in a ManhatTAN, even if it just meant they perfered both sweet and dry in theirs. The "contemporary" recipe for a ManhatTAN is bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters and maraschino cherries. I'm looking for recs on those 4 components. Thanks!

                1. re: heWho

                  Even a contemporary Manhattan shouldn't use maraschino cherries. If you're in Chicago I'd suggest hitting up The Violet Hour or Matchbox to see how they make theirs and take some pieces from that.

                  1. re: jpschust

                    What do you use for garnish in yours?

                    1. re: heWho

                      Brandy soaked cherries (can't stand that fake counter junk) or a twist

                      1. re: jpschust

                        Maraschino doesn't necessarily equate to fake counter junk. A quick search found sources for brandy soaked maraschinos actually


                  2. re: heWho

                    Amarena Fabbri cherries (and a bit of the syrup too)
                    For bitters, you might substitute a generous splash of Nonino Amaro

                    1. re: heWho

                      There are plenty of places and plenty of people who still make Manhattans with rye. My mom has been a lifelong Manhattan drinker and stuck to Bourbon until we made her one with rye and she realized how much smoother it is. In a lot of ways, rye is more contemporary as people begin a return to really classic cocktails, made properly.

                  3. OK, let's start over....

                    This guy likes bourbon.

                    He enjoys sweet vermouth.

                    He has a taste for bitters.

                    And when ordering a ManhatTAN, he likes a cherry in the bottom.

                    What would you recommend for these 4 components?

                    I'm sure some people (especially on a site like this) prefer Rye to bourbon, like sweet and dry vermouth in their ManhatTAN, and serve theirs with a twist. But, if you were an average, ordinary, everyday person and received a gift bag with Rye, Sweet and Dry Vermouth, bitters, and lemon peels, you probably wouldn't think "How nice, he bought me everything I need to make a Manhattan!"

                    Here's another line of reasoning... do you know of any bitters that work particularly well with a certain brand of bourbon? Same question for sweet vermouth. Have you ever had some over-the-top, awesome preserved cherries that you thought were great in a drink?

                    Thanks for all of your help!

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: heWho

                      Like I suggested before- give Lenell's a call, though if you are in Chicago I'd head up to The Wine Cellar in Palatine if for no other reason than the owner is a HUGE Manhattan drinker.

                      If I were to drink a Manhattan combination using what you suggested I would drink as follows (assuming you wanted something much nicer than a run of the mill manhattan made with basic woodford, martini and rossi or cinzano, ang. bitters, and a cherry):

                      Bourbon Choices
                      Black Maple Hill 16 Year (this stuff is so freakin good)
                      Pappy 20 Year
                      Woodford Reserve VIP
                      Bulleit (on the much less expensive side)

                      The first 3 of these lean sweeter more than spicier
                      Bulleit and Bookers lean way spicier and hotter, bookers being one of the hottest bourbon's I've tasted- it's also one of the highest proof bourbons out there.

                      Sweet Vermouth- I'd go with Vya, no doubt. I seriously think it's the best sweet vermouth you can readily get your hands on and you'll find it readily available in the Chicago area.

                      Cherries- finding good cherries in Chicago is difficult, so I just make my own. I'm sure someone else can help you here. If you want to make your own you can just get cherries which are in season right now, pit them, get a really nice glass jar and soak them either in brandy (my favorite) but if you want to be a real genious and combine your cherry and bitters, soak them in a bunch of Borsci bitters.

                      Bitters- You can go old school with Angostura- they're the bitters with the yellow top you're going to see at every single bar. I don't like them, but if that's all that's there, that's all that's there. They are pretty cheap too. Note: stay away from Sam's bitters- I've had every item they sell in bitters and they are all bad. Binny's might be a better choice.

                      The Fee brothers old fashioned bitters will work better with the sweeter bourbons. They aren't my favorite bitters, but they are pretty solid. It's more a taste thing to me than a style of making- they are well made bitters in my book, just don't fit my flavor profile as well as I'd like.

                      Peychaud bitters are my favorites and they go very well with your hotter bourbon's I listed before.

                      If he likes the Angostura bitters, see if you can track down some Van Wees Angostura bitters. Unlike that stuff in the yellow capped bottle, the Van Wees actually uses real angostura bark.

                      1. re: jpschust

                        Now you're talking, thank you! Good call with the bitters and the home-made cherries. I might be a little short on time, the wedding is 2.5 weeks a way and I've got a million things to do!

                        ps - I like Bookers, but I think I might put him in the hospital if he doesn't read the label first ;)

                        1. re: heWho

                          2.5 weeks is fine if you want to make homemade cherries. Do you live in Chicago?

                          1. re: jpschust

                            Nope, I live in Boston. The groomsman I'm buying the gift for lives in Chicago though.

                            1. re: heWho

                              I'd highly suggest calling up Lenell's in new york as I suggested or if you want to do this when you get in town to Chicago I'd go to Binny's. (Skip Sam's, they will be incredibly unhelpful)

                        2. re: jpschust

                          excellent advice. I would say spot on.

                          1. re: jpschust

                            all good chouces but I would suggest Amarena cherries over brandy soakes. they IMHO are the perfect cherries for a manhattan. If your buddy really likes bourbon, try making him a dry manhattan. Woodford's or Booker's 5 to 1 with Vya or Noilly Pratt dry vermouth with a twist or olive. It's a pleasant change and let's the bourbon really show through. If I'm drinking Pappy Faily 20, I'm drinking it straight with 1 ice cube. Nothing to distract from the lovely stuff.

                          2. re: heWho

                            I'm going to offer a counter-proposal to jpschust's, just to be contrarian. That's mostly b/c I just sent a Manhattan kit to a buddy for his birthday.

                            I wouldn't discount the rye. After all, there are a lot of bourbons out there that have a rye component (Wild Turkey is the most obvious one, IIRC Pappy does too). And a straight rye like the Rittenhouse bonded is a fabulous bargain. Besides, it'd be historically correct. But if you want to drop a bunch of cash on Black Maple Hill or Pappy, I wouldn't stop you (it is a very special occasion gift, after all).

                            The recipe I've been making lately is based on one from Gary Regan's column in Malt Advocate a while back. His was for a "perfect" Manhattan (equal parts sweet and dry vermouth), but I like mine a little sweeter so I call it "almost perfect."

                            The Vya vermouth isn't on the shelf in ATL that I've seen, so I use Noilly Prat (and like it a lot). Regan's recipe has you adding 1/2 oz of maraschino liqueur (I use Luxardo) to the chilled glass, swirling it around and dumping the excess.

                            The other ingredient I don't see here are the brandied cherries. And GA isn't close enough to MI to get the fabulous selection of cherries I've seen in Chicago. But, honestly, I just about do without the garnish, though it is a nice touch. On eGullet, I've read about folks buying dried cherries and re-hydrating them with a long soak in the Luxardo maraschino. For DIY, that'd be pretty cool.

                            And on the bitters- I've been reading Regan's Joy of Mixology, and I think there's actually a different name for the drink if you aren't using Angostura. Not that it won't be a good drink, but I'd go for classic.

                            It's a great gift. Have fun with it. If I try to recite my recipe from memory, I'm going to goof it up, so I'll look at what I sent to my buddy and post later.

                            1. re: ted

                              Here's my modified version of Gary Regan's recipe:

                              -Chill glass; fill shaker about half way w/ crushed ice

                              -Add to shaker:

                              • 2.5 oz. Rittenhouse rye- that’s 1 jigger, plus one fill of the smaller end; note that for lower proof rye/bourbon, you should use 2 jiggers
                              • 1.5 oz (1 jigger) sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat)
                              • ~3/4 jigger dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)
                              • ~4 dashes angostura bitters

                              -Stir 20 seconds
                              -Add ~1/2 oz maraschino to chilled glass, swirl, and dump excess
                              -Strain into glass and garnish w/ cherry or lemon twist

                              1. re: ted

                                This serves two or is one super-gigantic drink!

                                  1. re: jpschust

                                    at least 7oz after dilution. Try it...old-time cocktail glasses hold about 2.5-3oz. Cocktails have (like every other thing in America) gotten much bigger in recent times. I could certainly enjoy that much Manhattan, but the obvious argument against making such big drinks is that they get warm before you finish them (unless you are pounding them faster than is healthy)

                                    1. re: kenito799

                                      Hmm, maybe I'm a lush.

                                      That combination comfortably fills our martini glasses (i.e. not in danger of overflowing). And I'll take 15-20 min to finish one. Having two is a big night for me, though, since I'll definitely feel it.

                                      I definitely see your point about it warming up, but I also wouldn't want to serve a half-full glass.

                                      1. re: kenito799

                                        As a collector of vintage cocktail shakers sets, many from the 20s and 30s, I can tell you a more typical size for home use was about 3.5 to 4 oz. This makes sense, since the typical Martini recipe of the day (the so-called "Nick and Nora Charles" proportion) called for 2 oz of gin and 2/3 oz of dry Vermouth. With diluted melted ice from shaking and a garnish, that might overflow a 3 oz glass.

                                        For many years, the standard bar cocktail glass held about 4.5 to 6 oz, the size I typically use at home. My biggest home ones hold about 10 oz, though I rarely use those.

                                        Nowadays, 14 oz cocktail glasses, what I call the "birdbath" size, aren't uncommon. In Boston bars that use these, I often see the bartender topping off the shaker with water to make sure the drink fills this glass -- with a predictably negative impact on the drink's flavor and appearance.

                                        I wouldn't mind seeing a return to smaller cocktail glasses as long as the level of cocktail craft were high, the recipes interesting, and the prices adjusted appropriately. Gaslight, a new brasserie in Boston's South End, appears to be taking this approach, with cocktails strained into 6 oz glasses at $5.50 to $8.50. I've heard Hounds complaining about their small drinks, but I don't mind them at all. It's the kind of place I expect to use on weeknights, which I don't need to kick off with gigantic $14 cocktails.

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          14oz for a cocktail glass is absolutely rediculous. Not only is it extremely difficult to make a well made 14oz drink, but in a drink like a martini or a manhattan where the entire drink is basically alcohol, it's simply not safe.

                            2. At the risk of rubbing some traditionalists the wrong way... here's what I enjoy for a contemporary Manhattan that squares with some of the conditions you've laid down, with the benefit of some relatively easy-to-secure ingredients:

                              • Knob Creek bourbon (the best top-shelf out there? Nope, but I'll get to that...)
                              • Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters (, or in upscale liquor stores
                              )• Brandy steeped cherry (increasingly available in specialty food stores)
                              • Sweet vermouth (I'll defer to anyone who has a brand suggestion here...)

                              Baker's and Booker's are fantastic premium bourbons and would make handsome bottles as gifts to boot -- but IMHO I think they're a little too hot for a Manhattan, and are best appreciated on the rocks. The nouveau (or blasphemous to the rye crowd) twist here is of course the Blood Orange bitters and brandy cherry, which I HIGHLY recommend paired with Knob Creek, the now-ubiquitous small-batch aged. It's a great value, with nice oakiness and a level of heat that won't crowd out the sweeter notes of the more novel ingredients.

                              In short, for a contemporary, easy-to-gift spin on the Manhattan - this recipe features a widely-available quality bourbon that won't break the bank, paired with some trend-conscious indgredients that complement it very well.

                              FYI: Deep Ellum, a relatively new bar just outside Boston proper skirts the rye vs. bourbon vs. whiskey debate and offers up four specialty recipes, organized chronologically -- I'm eager to go back and try the rye recipe before I plunk down for a bottle myself:


                              Also, the best non-traditional Manhattan I've EVER had was at the Enormous Room in Central Sq. in Cambridge. They used to steep Maker's Mark with Madagascar vanilla beans in an infusion cask - unreal, and unfortunately, no longer on the menu...

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: AbeFroman

                                Abe Froman, you are not only the Polish Sausage King of Chicago, but you hit the nail on the head with some of these suggestions!

                                I'm from Boston, and love the Enormous Room (both for drinks and atmosphere), but I never had that Manhattan. It's a shame it's off the menu.

                                Since you're local to this area, do you know of any liquor stores in Boston/Boston Metro that sell Stirring's Blood Orange bitters?

                                1. re: heWho

                                  If you have ever gone to 9 Park in Boston for cocktails (which I would rank well above Enormous Room for mixology), they use the Amarena Fabbri cherries which i mentioned above. And Nonino Amaro (try Prezza in the North End, for example) is much smoother and more complex than the usual bitters , in fact some like to drink it straight, it's that good. YOu can get the cherries on and the Nonino Amaro at Blanchards in Allston, or on the internet.

                                  1. re: barleywino

                                    Thanks as well! The Enormous Room is great, but they certainly don't make the best cocktail in the city. Though I hate to say I haven't gone to No. 9 Park yet... though I have a feeling I'll be there sooner than later.

                                    I miss living near Blanchards. They have such a great selection and their prices are the best I've found in the city.

                                    1. re: heWho

                                      9 Park has drinks you won't find anywhere else (keep an eye out for their foam drinks especially). Get there *early* to grab a seat at the bar and start with one of their mini-cocktail flights to wet your whistle...The suggestion of Punt Y Mes posted below is a good one, Punt Y Mes is similar to Nonino Amaro, Averna etc.

                                      1. re: barleywino

                                        I quite agree on the virtues of the bartending at No. 9 Park.

                                        It's worth noting that Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth (a fortified, aromatized wine) that happens to be aromatized a bit more strongly than most Italian vermouths. I compare its flavor to being halfway between a typical sweet vermouth and Campari.

                                        By contrast, amari ("amaro" in this context means "potable bitters") like Averna, Nonino, Campari, Cynar, Ramazotti, Meletti, Fernet Branca, and dozens of others, are distilled spirits. They're usually based on grain neutral spirits or unaged, flavorless brandy.

                                        Vermouths usually clock in around 30-35 proof, amari in the 50-80 proof range. Just something to remember before you order your second one.

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          MC, thanks for clarifying! I always thought Punt y Mes and Averna to be pretty similar in taste, but looks like i'll have to do a side-by-side comparison to re-evaluate ;)

                                          1. re: barleywino

                                            Plenty of similar botanical complexity. I think the face-scrunching bitter note of the Punt e Mes might come partly from grapefruit peel, as I've heard it does in Campari. Definitely big differences in mouthfeel: Averna seems much sweeter and more syrupy to me. I tend to drink Punt e Mes as an aperitif, Averna as a digestif.

                                            No. 9 does a number of terrific cocktails using Punt e Mes. They are incredibly talented.

                                  2. re: heWho

                                    I scored the Blood Orange Bitters in the South End, at a corner liquor store on the odd-numbered side of Tremont. With the aid of Google, I'm 90% sure it's:

                                    Sheffield Wine & Spirits
                                    607 Tremont Street

                                    Of course, call ahead and ask :) -- While you're there, check out the surprisingly good selection of high-grade liqueurs too for a place that's so unassuming. They've got 4 or so flavors of Mathilde french liqueurs, including Poires and Cassis -- they do some nice things with both on the cocktail menu over at The Lenox's CityBar, including a Hendrick's-based bramble that features the latter, a fantastic Spring/Summer cocktail.

                                    Also, if you've got time to spend in the neighborhood, it might be worth taking a jaunt a few blocks north to visit the fine folks at Brix Wine Shop on Washington St. They feature a monthly "Brix Mix" set that includes everything you need to make a cocktail of the month that pays homage to both the old and the new. They might make a good place for idea gathering (i.e. the scroll with the history of the cocktail is a nice touch) if not actual shopping, since they're featuring a margarita set this month.

                                    And oh hell, not to throw this whole scheme into disarray -- just saw that Brix appears to carry a bourbon I'm dying to get a bottle of.... "Diabolique", produced by Robert Fathman, the chef at The Lenox's Azure. His bourbon is Maker's Mark infused with dried figs, vanilla, and cinnamon. He also does a tequila and rum... all three are incorporated into some beautiful recipes at the aforementioned CityBar, adjacent to his restaurant. You can also find them on the bar at handful of like-minded establishments and now at excusively at three liquor stores, Brix being the only Boston location!

                                    Happy hunting!

                                    Brix Wine Shop:
                                    Diabolique/Anglelique infusions:

                                    1. re: AbeFroman

                                      I just moved from the South End a couple of weeks ago, so I'm very familiar with Brix and the Wine Cellar (which might be properly called Sheffields.

                                      I stopped into Brix very quickly (left the car running) a few weeks ago, but before that I hadn't been there in months. I didn't realize they do the Brix Mix now, that is excellent. Their Brix Pix are always fantastic. I'll look into a bottle of Diabolique, it sounds like it would be awesome. Actually, I'll probably get a bottle for myself for *ahem* research, then buy my groomsman a bottle if it passes muster.

                                      Great advice again Abe, thank you!

                                2. Manhattans can be made so many ways and this discussion is excellent. I haven't yet tried Vya sweet vermouth yet but I love their dry so that's a great choice. But if it isn't available, consider Punt e Mes by Carpano, I love it.

                                  Even if you go for a special bourbon, consider throwing in a bottle of Rittenhouse bonded rye, it is so cheap and a perfect rye to start with...then he can compare.