Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mixology Monday, May 2015: I'll Take Manhattan!

I've got to stop being fashionably late. It's a character flaw. Eh well, better than last month (aka, yesterday). Welcome back to the awesomest cocktail jamboree on the planet, bar none, Mixology Monday! May's host is beloved ringleader Fred of cocktail virgin slut, continuing the year's classic cocktail riff theme with "I'll Take Manhattan!" Take it away, sir!
While there have been a variety of Manhattan variations through the years such as the Preakness and the Brooklyn, most of the twentieth century saw this drink unchanged, in theory that is. I know that I have gotten a cocktail glass full of frothy Bourbon and ice shards at a place that I should have stuck to beer; indeed, both the vermouth and the bitters have fallen out of fashion to some degree at average bars. Other Manhattan experiences used only a splash of vermouth; when I complained, one bartender declared that he did not put too much in. I countered that it was not enough and repeated that I wanted a 2:1 Manhattan. That bartender would not let himself add more and handed me the vermouth bottle so he could be relieved of responsibility in the matter. However, the last decade or so has seen a renewal in the drink begin made correctly. Moreover, I would point to New York City cerca 2005 as the re-birth of the Manhattan variation with drinks like the Red Hook being born.

For this theme, actuate it any way you'd like as long as the drink resembles a Manhattan. Want to take 19th century Manhattan recipes or variations to the test? Want to figure out what the best whiskey to vermouth pairings and ratios are? Or perhaps subbing out the whiskey or vermouth for another ingredient or adding in a liqueur or other modifier or so to the mix? Awesome, you're right on track! There are plenty of Manhattan and Manhattan variations out there in the literature, and there's plenty of room to explore and tinker if that's your thing, too.
Go see what the fuss is about and how everyone else chose to gussy up this perfect cocktail.

Oh, the Manhattan. My Ur-cocktail. How do I love thee? Let me count the myriad ways (including my first-ever recipe posted - how did I luck out with that given my skill-level at the time?). Though, oddly enough, I haven't done a riff since late 2013, the most direct riff of all: Falling Sun Manhattan. A friend once asked me if I'd ever tried bourbon; within weeks I had leapfrogged over the Old Fashioned straight to what, to me, seemed the pinnacle of sophisticated substantial cocktail class. The Manhattan is the sort of cocktail I fancied being enjoyed in shaded sumptuous wood-paneled offices or velvet-draped restaurant alcoves by decidedly old school movers, shakers and tough dealmakers, all plying their trade on the island betwixt the two rivers. The Martini's glamour by contrast was spoiled for me by the hundreds of plasma-colored knockoffs of the 90s and early 2000s. I never watched Mad Men, but the mystique of just what was in Don Draper's glass probably piqued a lot of other folk in the exact same way. Some things are just better left hidden.

Flash-forward to 2 Sundays ago: Unca Jim's (no relation) doing one of his Sunday night TNT sessions on Twitter, mentions armagnac, and with Avengers still fresh in mind I was off to the races! Suddenly I'm googling, getting visions of eyepatches, Aston-Martins, Contessas and Whisky à Go-Go dancers - and one great glorious pun.

The armagnac was ultimately edited out due to a bugaboo of mine about Manhattans, though: grape spirit on grape wine is too soft. The cocktail's magic lies in the clash, intrigue and spice of fundamentally different ingredients. Masculine, rough whiskey, mediated by bitters and a good twist of orange, leads the dance with feminine sweet wine made intricate with herbs. The Manhattan is the perfect melding of northern and southern European drinking cultures - the essence of Americana at the time of its birth. This in turn inspires another magic: an emergent flavor greater than the sum of its parts that is distinctly "Manhattan," regardless of brands used. It seems a rare few cocktail obtain that level of greatness.

So here's a little something Maxwell Smart might drink.

Secret Agent Manhattan
2 oz Rye whiskey
3/4 oz Lillet Rouge
1/4 oz Benedictine
1 tsp Campari
2 dashes Angostura bitters
lime twist

Stir. Strain. Garnish.

The lime hits you first - no someone isn't trying mask the smell of a rotting corpse, but lime zest tends to be so aggressive it's used, erm, "judiciously." [Boomer: Or maybe extra-judicially?] Here, it fills the mouth upon breath with fresh citrus, like you're going to dive into a daiquiri - not apropos for the mileau, but it gets more...sanguine, from here, as suggested by the undertinge of grape that follows.

Rye spice slinks down your tongue as a holy grapetty aura enters your mouth. It's got the Manhattan emergence, if but a tad bit softer due to the wine, but also with a Campari bitter edge lurking underneath and that lantern-like Benedictine glow that's like a soft cinnamon puffball as the drink warms, the citrus undercurrents with notes of gingerbread also rising to the fore. The Benedictine itself references the Monte Carlo - another Manhattan riff - synonymous with spycraft, while Campari is its glam worldly self. The lime zest adds a sharp edge that reminds of the danger in this otherwise luxurious world (and helps tame some of the sweeter elements).

Now, granted, I've never ever tasted Lillet Rouge before, but I know exactly what it tastes like. [Boomer: *facepaw*] And, if you're subbing Dubonnet Rouge in like I've done here, may I suggest a small bit of grapefruit zest in your mixing glass to help mutate those strawberry notes into less delicate/cloying red fruit? (hey, if lemon and Campari fuse to form grapefruit, why not an extension of that?) Lillet Rouge is known for notes of raspberry and cherry, suggesting a slightly "harder"/more robust second billing, even if, potentially like its sister expressions, it's a bit sweeter than many other aromatized/fortified wine substitutes. I found out too late for the deadline that Lillet Rouge can be ordered in PA (3 bottle min special order), but it seems like a worthwhile investment (especially since I still have handy one of a 3-bottle allotment of Lillet Rose from 2012). So, I'll end up annotating the post with any modifications at some point, but otherwise consider the above recipe subbing Dubonnet Rouge as "The Queen's Secret Agent Manhattan", given her majesty's affinity for the Zaza/Dubonnet Cocktail. As for the Lillet fixation to begin with? Need I spell everything out?

And furthermore, I know this is Manhattan heresy, but avoid Rittenhouse and perhaps overproof rye altogether unless it's extremely dry. Mixing this with Rittenhouse last night turned the recipe into a mess of dark caramelly syrup with the accent flavors buried (adjustments may be needed if you go overproof?). Tonight I mixed with new PA-local revival brand Kinsey (the red label, 86 pf) and the ingredients were much happier together. Kinsey's a bit paler than the Rittenhouse, and a blend as the crew behind Bluecoat gin and Vieux Carré absinthe get the brand established, but very sippable neat and not a complete showboat when mixing.

Many thanks to Mr. Yarm, our outstanding host and president and CEO of Frédéric's Chateau d'Herbe-au-Chats aux Pyrénées - I hope this recipe was worth the extension!

Until next time, folks! Cheers!