By Ashley Bode | September 30, 2011

Photo: star5112

Being that it is one of six true classic American cocktails, society has been sipping on one variation of the Manhattan or another since at least the 1860s. Like a centuries-old game of telephone, the history of the drink has morphed over time; some bartenders like to tell the story of its emergence at the old Manhattan Club. Supposedly, it was invented by a bartender at a banquet hosted by Lady Randolph Churchill for a presidential fundraising event in honor of candidate Samuel J. Tilden. This story has been debunked by historians who can prove that Ms. Churchill was actually not witnessing the birth of a timeless cocktail, but in Paris participating in the birth of another historical icon, her son, Winston. Other bartenders tell the story of the cocktail’s inception down in a bar on Houston and Broadway by a man named Black, at a time when there was a cocktail for each of New York’s boroughs (I bet you can’t name the other four!) While neither story can be confirmed, one thing known for certainty is that this is a true New York cocktail.

During the 1860s and 1870s, New York State was known for producing rye whiskey, which to most mixologists is the true base for the drink. After Prohibition, rye whiskey lost popularity and until recently, was quite hard to find. It was almost always absent in liquor stores and cocktails, especially Manhattans. Often times, people will order bourbon Manhattans or even brandy Manhattans. What’s the difference? While rye is made with at least 51% rye giving a spicier, drier flavor, the 51% corn used in bourbon offers a sweetness the average drinker might prefer. Once again, historians look to the poor liquor quality during prohibition to explain the shift in a taste for sweeter cocktail.

So what’s a great way to update your Manhattan, keep it true to the recipe with a rye whiskey, and perhaps also add a touch of sweet to your palate? Mix up that vermouth! With the resurgence of mixology, there are many great products that are more accessible to the home-bartender than ever before. For a Manhattan, I prefer a spiced Italian vermouth, like Carpano Antica Formula, which is traditionally referred to as vermouth alla vaniglia, or a red vermouth with vanilla. The flavor turns out to be reminiscent of spice cake, blending well with your rye whiskey and adding a hint of extra flavor that a maraschino cherry can’t replicate. And about that maraschino cherry, why not trading it in for some brandy soaked cherries anyhow? Some bars will offer them as a garnish, but should you be hosting a cocktail party at home, make a batch and keep them refrigerated. You never know when you’ll be craving a cocktail from New York’s finest borough!

To read a recipe of another classic cocktail, check out my recipe for the Old Fashioned.

To read Ashley’s original post, click here.

For more great recipes, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

  • 2 fluid ounces rye whiskey-- Try r (1) by Jim Beam
  • 1/2 fluid ounce Carpano Antica Formula
  • 1 dash bitters, optional
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • Drunken Cherries, see recipe below
For Drunken Cherries
  • 1 1/2 pounds dark, sweet cherries, pitted
  • 1/4 cup sugar, or a slightly less than 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1/8 cup bourbon
  • 1/8 cup brandy + 1/2 ounce brandy


To Make Drunken Cherries:

Combine the sugar (or honey), water, lemon juice, and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the cherries and simmer for five minutes. Remove from the heat, remove the cinnamon stick, and stir in the brandy and bourbon. Allow to cool completely before placing in a bowl. Cover, refrigerate and save for garnishing.

To Make Cocktail:

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker or pint glass. Stir! (do not shake, unless asked!) Serve over ice or strained and in a martini glass. Garnish with one or two drunken cherries.

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