The Manhattan

I’m back again to bring you this wonderful version of a classic drink. The Manhattan is second only to the Martini in popularity. Well, second in terms of classic cocktails. If we’re going by volume served these days, first place is probably vodka and tonic. Second is the copious amounts of strychnine I plan on consuming.

Usually Manhattan recipes are straightforward adaptations of the Martini, except they swap the gin for Rye. Nothing else changes. That’s all well and good in a pinch, but it tends to suck. It gets better if you change the ratio of spirits to vermouth from 1:1 to 2:1, but that still doesn’t quite fix the drink. The Manhattan deserves a few extra ingredients to play with the complex flavor of Rye Whiskey. Aside from the oak and grain notes, Rye will commonly have notes of vanilla, chocolate, orange, pepper, ginger, and so forth. These are not added flavors or spices, these are chemical compounds that are pulled from the oak barrels. They enjoy the company of others, and I’m not talking about your anime love pillow.

The Manhattan is the straight-up winter cocktail de jure. Few cocktails are as heartwarming as this drink. One sip and you’re instantly transported into a dimension of coziness. I have some very specific demands with this one, formula courtesy of David Wondrich:

The Manhattan

  • 2 oz Bulleit Rye
  • 1 oz Perucchi Blanco
  • 1/4 oz Maraschino
  • 2 dashes of simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of absinthe
  • 2 dashes of Angostura
Chill a cocktail glass. In an iced mixing glass, add your Angostura, absinthe, simple syrup, Maraschino, vermouth, and Rye. Stir well. Empty cocktail glass, strain mixture into the chilled cocktail glass. Serve with a lemon twist.

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Notes on execution:

The reason why I listed specific ingredients is because this drink marries my favorite vermouth and my favorite Rye so perfectly. Both of these ingredients, if purchased, will travel well in any other cocktail. Bulleit Rye is affordable, easily worth twice its sticker price. At around $35-40 a liter, it’s definitely more expensive than Jim Beam Rye, but well worth it. You may choose an alternative brand if you wish, but I wouldn’t go any lower than Jim Beam. Perucchi Blanco, however, is a different story.

Perucchi has been producing Spanish vermouth since the late 1800s. Only in the past few years have they started shipping to the United States. As a result, it’s a little difficult to find. Most liquor stores won’t carry it, so call around. If you live in a state in which it is legal to purchase alcohol online, try to find it there. You’ll have better luck. Perucchi Blanco is one of the few vermouths that you can drink straight up, or on the rocks. It’s delicious, and works well in every single vermouth cocktail I’ve put it in. I can’t praise them enough, no matter how big of a shrine I build. They also make a red version which is just as good, but the Blanco works better in this recipe. If you can’t find Perucchi no matter how hard you try, use Noilly Prat dry.

Absinthe has also come down in price. If you know nothing about absinthe (like me), you may think that it’s illegal in the states. It’s not anymore, except for absinthe that has a lot of thujone. Despite what goths say, absinthe will not make you hallucinate. You would succumb to alcohol poisoning before that happened. Now you can buy absinthe for about $20 a bottle. As long as it’s made from wormwood, and you’re not planning on drinking it straight up, go for the cheap stuff. Avoid artificial coloring. If you’re making old cocktails with absinthe, most of them only use dashes of absinthe, so one bottle will last a lifetime. Keep in mind, as with most spirits, the more you spend, the better it is. It wouldn’t hurt to buy a $50+ bottle because, again, it will last forever. I suggest storing it in the bottle and putting a convenient amount into a dasher bottle or an eyedropper bottle for easy distribution.

The simple syrup can be omitted if you want a dryer drink, but the Maraschino cannot. Buy a bottle of Maraschino, it’s $30 for a fifth and lasts just as long as the absinthe. Or, you can use it to make your own Maraschino cherries. I’ve started doing this, and haven’t looked back. In the winter time, you can use frozen cherries in that recipe since it’s difficult to find fresh cherries.

I hope you enjoy this delicious adaptation as much as I have. It’s my favorite version of the Manhattan, and unlikely to be dethroned any time soon. Cheers!

Photo by the perpetually lovely M.

Suburban

This isn’t an ad for Chevy, this is a bad thing to combine with driving. It’s a great thing to combine with a perfect evening, though. The Suburban is the very definition of a cocktail: every ingredient is booze, it’s served straight, and it makes you come back for seconds. We’re treading into the proper cocktail territory with this one. In fact, this is the direction that Oak & Grain is heading. Not that we’re abandoning Sours or Honey Ryes. Far from it. We’re just ramping up the style a bit, but I promise we won’t break the bank.

Like the Tombstone, this recipe is based on overproof or “bonded” Rye. Rittenhouse 100 comes back as the main act. I got this recipe from a menu of a really good bar in the East Village. If you went there and asked for a Suburban, they’d shake you up a really good one. You’d be impressed at the finesse of the bartender, and the care they took to craft you a stiff drink. Then you’d fork over $18. Don’t get me wrong, it would be worth it, but we can make it at home for a fraction, and it’s just as delicious. It’s all in the technique:

Suburban

  • 1.5 oz of Rittenhouse 100
  • 1/2 oz of dark rum
  • 1/2 oz of ruby port
  • 1 dash of orange bitters
  • 1 dash of Angostura

Dash the bitters over ice in a shaker. Pour your liquors on top. Shake well, strain and serve into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on execution:

Since this recipe is relatively straightforward, the most crucial part is getting your cocktail routine down. When I say “cocktail” I’m referring to the bartender’s pedantic definition of what qualifies as a cocktail. A “vodka and Red Bull” is not a cocktail, it’s a disaster, and also a ‘mixed drink’. A Suburban is a cocktail because it consists of “spirits, sugar, water, and bitters”. Well, there’s no sugar, but it doesn’t contain anything more than that list. When you are preparing a cocktail that is shaken and strained, there’s a few steps in the process, and an order in which you do things, in order to produce the most satisfying drink. It’s simple, and here’s how to do it:

Step one: chill the cocktail glasses. This is done by placing ice and water into the glasses before you prep the rest of the drink. This will lower the temperature of the glass, therefore keeping the drink colder, longer.

Step two: Place ice in the shaker.

Step three: Bitters go in first. The reasons for this seem more religious than rational, but I think the physics at work has something to do with how little bitters there are in a drink.

Step four: Your secondary spirits and ingredients go in second. This is your syrups, liqueurs, and smaller liquors. Here’s where you put in the port and rum.

Step five: Your main spirit goes in last, in this case the Rittenhouse.

Step six: Seal the shaker, and shake vigorously for at least ten seconds to ensure the drink has combined well, the liquors have chilled, and a bit of ice has melted to smooth the taste.

Step seven: Dump out the ice water from the cocktail glasses. Strain the cocktail into the vessels that wait. Serve.

This template will apply to pretty much any real cocktail you prepare straight. If you’ve been playing along at home, you already have the Rittenhouse 100, the Angostura, and the orange bitters. Any ruby port will do, I picked up a bottle for $12 only because the $10 bottles were out. Dark rum can vary in price, but is typically around the same as the wine. In a pinch, you can use spiced rum, but you’ll probably like the recipe better as it is written. Prost!

Photo credits go to M.

Old Fashioned

Now that we’ve seen Whiskey’s sweet side with the Honey Rye, it’s time to tread into deeper waters. I’ve got your floaties.

The Old Fashioned should be a familiar cocktail for all Whiskey drinkers. Even if you’re not, or you’re a new convert, you may know what an Old Fashioned is, or you’ve seen Don Draper drink one. However, Don Draper is a teenager compared to the age of this drink. Most associate these cocktails with the 1960s, or American Prohibition, or their grandpa. In fact, the Old Fashioned can trace its origins to the 1880s. Indeed the Martini, the Manhattan, the Sazerac, Tom Collins and many other drinks that get associated with the mid-20th century were all born in the late 19th century. They had been around for 60, 70, or sometimes 80 years by that time. The name “Old Fashioned” likely referred to a patron demanding from the bartender an “old fashioned cocktail, like they used to make ‘em.” This guy is my otherkin.

The last thing I want to do with this blog is to sound pretentious or scare away new converts. I’m not going to lie to you: the Old Fashioned is strong and bitter, but in a good way. Whiskey wears a lot of hats, and if you are just learning to appreciate Whiskey this is a good trial by fire. Fortunately, you’re able to adjust this recipe to your taste. Too bitter? Add more sugar. Got a favorite brand of Whiskey? Use it. Too strong? Seltzer is your friend. This cocktail requires very little tools, and just a few moments of your time. Here we go:

Old Fashioned

  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 3 dashes of bitters
  • Splash of water
  • 2 oz of Whiskey
  • Orange

Your old fashioned glass returns. In this case, I do suggest you stick with a short glass and don’t use a tall one. In the glass, place a teaspoon of sugar, 3 dashes of bitters, and a splash of water (explained later). Stir this until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Place an orange wedge in the bottom, and muddle. Drop in 3 large ice cubes, and pour in 2 oz of Whiskey. Stir briefly and serve.

Notes on execution:

What I like to do is take a small spoon and use that to measure my sugar amount. A dash of bitters, empirically, is one quarter teaspoon. A dash of bitters, realistically, is whatever comes out when you turn the bottle upside down and give it a shake. This assumes you have a dasher top on your bitters, which you likely have. Angostura is fine, but a specialty is worth trying. I’m using Fee Brothers again, this time their Aztec Chocolate Bitters, which is great with orange!

A splash of water is more subjective, but empirically it’s “one thirty-second of an ounce” as in 1/32. So it’s really small. Pour water in for as long as you can say “one”. Don’t even go to “Mississippi”.

You won’t be able to dissolve all the sugar. That’s desired, and important for later. When the drink is finished, traditionally you leave a small spoon in the glass for the drinker to mix later as per their preference. You can sub in a stir stick or leave it out, but if you leave it in you feel fancy. Once the sugar is dissolved, drop in the orange wedge and muddle. Muddling is the act of smashing except more graceful sounding. You can buy a muddler for this, which I strongly encourage, but if you do not have one you may use the back of a spoon, a wine cork, or anything really. The trick is to crush the flesh of the orange and to avoid pressing on the pith and rind too much. The pith contains a lot of bitter oils and this drink already has bitters in it. You add any more and the drink will start resenting you.

Your Whiskey choice is entirely up to you. In this case, I made my drink with Glenfiddich 12 yr single malt Scotch. This is a recent discovery to me, single malts actually play really nicely with these ingredients. You may put whatever you want into this: Bourbon, Rye (traditional), Irish Whiskey, Blended Scotch, your choice. If you like it in other drinks, it likely works well in an Old Fashioned. A fair warning though: if it comes in a plastic bottle, or its first name is Jack, don’t do it. You will regret it, and I can sense when a bad Old Fashioned is mixed. I have not tried it with Irish Whiskey, either, so you’re on your own in that department.

You can make this drink more sweet by adding more sugar. If it’s still too strong, top it with seltzer to cut it. The wonderful thing about this drink, though, is as the ice melts, the flavors really come out. The first sip is always the strongest. By the time you’re halfway through, you start to realize why this drink survived for nearly 150 years. Nothing to do with blood sacrifices.

What about garnish? Tradition states a maraschino cherry, or even a flag (cherry + orange slice + toothpick). Who has a cherry jar on hand at all times? Most don’t, and to be frank they’re not a very appropriate garnish. Who wants HFCS in their drink? You’re a blooming bartender, why not try making them yourself? In the meantime, leave it out.

Now you have a dyed-in-the-wool Whiskey fixture. A cool party trick with this one is to drink it and watch your friends cringe. It’s okay, they’re merely potential converts. You know the secret of the Good Stuff. Cheers.

My wonderful photographer, M, was occupied this day, so I had to photograph things myself.

Honey Rye

As I said in a slightly inebriated tweet, there are two liquors you should always have on hand: rye and gin. Since Whiskey’s respectable cousin gin is not within my purview, today we will be addressing one of the most versatile Whiskeys out there: Rye Whiskey.

Rye is a Whiskey distilled from rye (surprisingly), a grain related to wheat. Legally, in the United States, Rye Whiskey must be distilled from at least 51% rye. This is different from Bourbon, which is mostly corn. The most notable difference is that Rye tends to be drier, while Bourbon tends to be sweeter. Most of the time the two Whiskeys can be swapped in a recipe, as they did once Rye went out of fashion during the mid-19th century. We’re not going to do that, though. All Whiskeys deserve their time in the spotlight, and tonight’s spotlight is focused on a superbly spring drink.

Here is our Honey Rye family photo. You’ll notice a very familiar face on the right: Mr. Old Overholt. If you walk into your local liquor store he will be waiting for you patiently with a very modest price tag and a friendly smile. Old Overholt is a staple for every liquor cabinet, perfect for most drinks that call for Rye.

Bärenjäger, however, is a little more elusive. Not rare, but if your local liquor store is less than 20 feet long they’re not going to stock it. You may have to find one of those larger places, a “Home Depot” of liquor vs your Mom and Pop hardware store.

Bärenjäger is a honey liqueur and there are no substitutes. However, most recipes only call for a half an ounce of this stuff, and a fifth will last you 50 drinks (without spilling, you’re a grown up!). Since the warm months are coming you’re going to make a good use of this ambrosia so don’t hesitate. Other honey liqueurs do not match the flavor, they’re not made of nectar like Bärenjäger.

Finally, the little ones: orange bitters, ginger ale, and half an orange wheel. Fee Brothers is great for this. Any orange bitters is great for this, because there are so few brands of orange bitters and it only plays a supporting (but important) role. Now, the important part.

Honey Rye

  • 3 dashes of Orange Bitters
  • 1/2 oz of Bärenjäger
  • 2 oz of Rye
  • Ginger Ale
  • Orange

Take an old fashioned glass and drop 3-4 ice cubes in. Add 3 dashes of bitters, 1/2 oz of Bärenjäger, and then 2 oz of your Old Overholt. Cover with ginger ale, then garnish with half an orange wheel.

Notes on execution:
 

An old fashioned glass is usually known as a tumbler (not a tumblr). In a later post I’ll talk about different glass sizes/shapes and their purpose, but if you don’t have a tumbler as pictured use a regular glass. This is just for style points.

If you cannot find orange bitters, use two dashes of Angostura bitters and then squeeze a nice big orange wedge into the glass before pouring in the rest. I’m talking like a quarter of the orange. Don’t use orange juice out of the carton, no matter how Simply Orange it is. Angostura is a harsh bitters, and if you’ve never had the chance to try anything other than Angostura, I don’t blame you. Bitters are a very niche ingredient now thanks to vodka. Who would have guessed popularizing a flavorless liquor would have an adverse effect on something wonderful that needs to be coupled with other liquors? I want to die.

The amount of Rye you use (and brand) is up to you, but use between 1.5 oz and 2 oz. I like more in my drink because once you get beyond 3 ingredients flavors tend to get hidden and the star of the show needs a little boost. Plus it gets you drunk faster. The Bären, however, flies solo. Make the effort to find this, you will be rewarded.

I got extra fancy with my ginger ale and used one made by Bruce Cost. Canada Dry works fine. Boylan’s works better! But you deserve a nice drink, why not try a nice ginger ale? This stuff has actual ginger floating around in it and adds a very welcome heat to the end of a sweet drink. Ever have hot cocoa with cayenne pepper in it? It’s like that, except with booze in it. As I said, though, any ginger ale will do, but getting fancy will make you happier, and Bruce Cost makes a fantastic ginger ale.

This is the drink you hand to your party guest when they say “I don’t like Whiskey”. You can bug a bartender to make this for you as long as he has a bottle of Bärenjäger. I have not met a soul who can resist this stuff, and it’s a perfect bridge between a Whiskey Ginger and something more complex. It even looks pretty with an orange smile floating on top. If this is your first foray into mixology then this is just hard enough to impress your friends, if you’re a veteran then I hope this is a new one for you.

Cheers.

Photo credits: M