Mastering the Manhattan Cocktail

Most people today have some familiarity with the AMC television series Madmen and the Manhattans drunk on that show all of the time. It is a very hip cocktail to serve at your next cocktail party.


The Manhattan’s evolutionary path is parallel to that of the Martini’s. It has the same kind of simplicity as a Martini but its flavors are much more complex.  Like the Martini, it is also made with vermouth, but unlike the Martini, bitters play an important part in the recipe.


According to renowned cocktail aficionado Robert Hess, “Making a Manhattan without bitters is like making a soup without salt.”


The Manhattan is an antique cocktail. It was invented in the 1870’s at New York’s Manhattan Club from which it gets its name.  Originally the Manhattan was made with Rye.  Today it is more commonly made with bourbon.


Unfortunately, we will never taste the Manhattan that was enjoyed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  This is because the bitters of choice to make a Manhattan were Abbott’s bitters that are no longer manufactured.  Angostura bitters works fine, or you could try Fee’s Aromatic Bitters or you could try to chase down a sixty year old bottle of Abbott’s.


While the Maraschino Cherry is the common garnish used in a Manhattan, it was not the original garnish. It was traditionally garnished with a fresh or pickled cherry.  A popular garnish for martinis in those days was Queen Ann cherries that had been soaking in a fine brandy or whiskey. spirits of some sort.


Keep in mind too that it is important to use fresh Vermouth. Vermouth is a wine and it can go off out of time. Make sure you use at least a four to one ratio of Vermouth or it will not taste right. This is not like a martini where the vermouth is just grazing the flavor of the drink.  Vermouth is a full component of the recipe in this case.




2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey

1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

1 dash of Angostura bitters


Stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.  Serve with a fresh, pickled or maraschino cherry.  Do not spill syrup from the cherry jar into the glass; this is a tacky tradition that makes the drink too sweet.


To make sure the drink is perfect make sure that you never ever shake a Manhattan.. This is a drink that is better stirred and not shaken.

How to Make the Perfect Martini

Making the perfect martini requires that you have a little knowledge about the role that Vermouth can play in the resultant taste. Technically the perfect martini would be one that uses equal parts of dry and sweet vermouth in one part to three parts gin (not vodka!)  Only poseurs call a vodka martini a martini.


To understand the history of vermouth’s role in martini making you need to understand that the original martini was made with Italian (sweet) Vermouth.  Dry cocktails came along much later when French (dry) vermouth was invented.  So for the longest time, when people ordered a “dry” martini or a “dry” Manhattan they meant a cocktail that was created with French vermouth.


The invention of French (dry) Vermouth also created another Martini called “the Perfect Martini.”  A perfect martini is made with equal parts of BOTH French (dry) and Italian (sweet) vermouth.  When they ordered a “dry martini” the cocktail was made with French vermouth only.


Somehow over time, the term “dry martini” also came to mean adding less and less vermouth.   This is has evolved to the extent that in the 21st century bartenders are now putting vermouth in “misters” and simply spraying the glass with Vermouth.


As rule of thumb remember that a glass of chilled vodka is not a martini.  It is just a glass of vodka.


The second aspect of making a perfect martini has to do with “tuning” the flavors.  The sharp alcoholic bite of straight gin or vodka does not count as a flavor; it is more of a texture. The reason gin is preferred is because it is a blend of botanical and sometimes spicy flavors in itself.  A true martini gets its ‘nip” from the juniper in gin.


One of the secrets to making a great martini is to mix these ingredients so that they achieve a perfect balance.


First make sure you are using high quality ingredients: gin and vermouth.


Make sure you are using high quality water.  Chlorine is not a tasty element in a martini.


Whether you are making a Martinez, a Dry Martini or a Perfect Martini make sure you follow your recipe to the letter.


Estimate the amount of ice you want to melt into the water before you load the ice into the shaker. Remember that if you shake a Martini, there will be more water melded into the water than if you stir it.


Be sure to strain the drink before you pour it into a chilled glass and garish it with the appropriate onion or olive

Wine Used to Make Cocktails

If you are at all familiar with the latest trends in hip cocktails then you will know that wine and champagne cocktails are all the rage.


One could write an entire book about wines and still barely brush the entire subject, but only a few wines are used to make authentic cocktails. Below is a list of the most common kinds of alcohols that are technically classified as wines that are used to create classic mixed drinks.



While the term Champagne is sometimes casually used to describe any form of sparkling rotgut, it is only supposed to refer to the sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France.  Champagne was invented by a monk by the name of Dom Perignon.



Lillet is a French aperitif produced in Bordeaux, and comes in either red or white (although the white version is the more common). It is fortified with Armagnac, herbs, fruit, and Bordeaux wine.



Port is a rich fortified wine, meaning that additional alcohol has been added to what might otherwise be a normal wine. There are several kinds of Port available on the market.


Vintage Port is aged for at least two years in a barrel and stays in the bottle for at least ten years.

LBV or Late Bottle Vintage Port is aged for between four to six years in oak casks/.

Ruby Port is a rich red in color and is not aged.


Tawny Port is amber in color and aged from a month to six months before it is bottled for consumption.



A proper sherry can only be produced in a region near Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. It is made almost exclusively from the Palomino Fino grape.


Dry (French) and Sweet (Italian) Vermouth

Vermouth is a fortified wine aperitif, flavored with herbs, spices, barks, and flowers. There are various brands of vermouth produced in both Italy and France, and the flavors can be added through infusion, maceration, or distillation. The name “Vermouth” itself derives from the German “Wermut” (Wormwood, which kills parasites in the digestive track, is an ingredient in Vermouth).

The original version of Vermouth is Italian what we call Sweet Vermouth. Eventually the French (dry/white, as opposed to sweet/red) version of Vermouth came into existence so recipes would differentiate between the two by specifying “Italian Vermouth” or “French Vermouth”. In order to keep it straight in your mind just ember that Red Vermouth is sweet and that white vermouth is always dry.


More Ideas and Tools for Making Creative Cocktail Garnishes

You can be the hostess with the mostest if you know how to make cocktail garnishes that really impress. There are a couple of very cool tools that you will need to create really attractive cocktail garnishes.  The first is a really good bar knife and the second is a paring knife.


With the bar knife you can cut fruit and vegetables into any shape you want.  The paring knife is used to make citrus rind curls called corkscrew twists


Corkscrew twists have almost become the measure of what makes a bartender more then a bartender, but rather a bartender chef!  The longer your rind curls, the defter you are considered to be with the knife.  A rind curl is a long spiral, slinky shaped piece of rind that can be dropped right into the cocktail or draped on the side of it.  Basically, you use your paring knife to peel the rind from the fruit and keep peeling from the top around from the bottom to achieve the longest “slinky” shape you can. Some bars serve rind curls that are four to six inches long!


Your paring knife can also be used to shave chocolate curls into a chocolate drink or cucumber curls into a martini.


Another trend is to feather the ends of vegetables such as celery and carrots before you stick them in Bloody Caesars or Bloody Mary’s or fashion them into a kind of a spear that you can then use to stab an olive or cherry tomato.


If you are really creative, you can also make cookie cutters part of your cocktail garnish tool set. Small cookie cutters can be pressed into any vegetable that is sliced laterally and flat enough so that you can create a shape.


Another imaginative way to garnish your drinks is to freeze the garnish inside ice cube trays and then throw them into the drink. This especially works well with small bead like fruits such a cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, melon balls and olives.


To make your own flavored sugars to “frost” your specialty cocktails all you need to do is mix up three tablespoons of a liqueur, beverage or other flavoring to one cup of sugar and crush it to a fine dust in a blender.  For instance if you wanted to make a cranberry frosting for cosmopolitans you would add three tablespoons of Cranberry juice cocktail to one cup sugar. To make a lemon frosting, add three-table spoons lemonade. Then use the dust to rim your glass!