Cigar smoke wafts through the open patio window at Three Boars Eatery and comes to rest around the bar. It has travelled far enough to lose the smell of ash, leaving only the scent of chocolate – a perfect accompaniment to whiskey, cherry and vanilla, the primary flavours of a Manhattan.
“It’s one of the most gendered cocktails of all time,” says Evan Watson, co-owner of craft cocktail service, The Volstead Act, and a Certified Specialist of Spirits. He adds that some think it’s a drink for “a man’s man,” but that notion is “foolish and antiquated.”
Three drinks grace the bar. They vary in hues, but each sports a brandied cherry. Each also uses the same ratio of two parts whiskey to one part Italian vermouth, with bitters to meld the taste together. But each is its own unique experience.
First Try? Go with Rye
The Manhattan was invented in the late 1800s in New York. While many attribute its origin and name to the famous Manhattan Club, there are others who say it was first mixed by a bartender named Black. Regardless, the original recipe calls for rye, and many fans of the drink take a staunch if-it-ain’t-rye-it-ain’t-a-Manhattan mentality. As one sips it, the rye Manhattan starts with a bright tartness, with a silky mouth feel that leads into the whiskey. “The vermouth should soften the edges of the whiskey without covering the flavour,” Watson explains, adding that the vermouth accentuates the spicy nuances of the whiskey while adding its own.
How Sweet It Is
The bourbon-based variant comes next. Since bourbon is made from corn, it has an implied sweetness – along with flavours like vanilla and caramel as a result of long barrel aging – so your tongue doesn’t bounce back and forth against the flavours, but floats in a unified, smooth taste that stays together until the slight whiskey burn at the end.
The Other Brother, Rob
The third drink, which includes Scotch, is traditionally called a Rob Roy. After a taste, it becomes apparent why it was given a different title: The flavour doesn’t bounce between the vanilla and spice of the vermouth and the complexity of the whiskey. The Scotch is the loudest guest at the party – present at the front of the drink, and all the way through to the end.
“I find a Rob Roy tastes unfinished if what I desire is a Manhattan. … It is a classic cocktail in its own right,” Watson says.
Courtesy Evan Watson, The Volstead Act
2 oz. American rye
1 oz. sweet vermouth (red)
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Add rye, vermouth and bitters to a chilled mixing vessel. Add ice and stir. Strain into chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with brandied cherries.