Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Manhattan Variants

The Manhattan opens the door to a myriad of variations on the theme.  The primary change is with the vermouth, substituting other things for the sweet vermouth.

One of my favorites is using port wine instead of the sweet vermouth, and since the port is often not as sweet as vermouth I add a little dark maple syrup to the mix.  The resulting drink has some interesting complexity which I really like.  It also stands up to some other bitters well, particularly Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters.

Other possibilities for vermouth substitutions are in the “what’s that stuff?” aisle of your favorite liquor store, things like Dubonnet, Lillet, Amari, and sweet sherries are all candidates based on your tastes.  As with my port selection, you can add a bit of sweetness if needed to restore balance.

And, of course, you can change the primary liquor.  For example gin plus vermouth is a traditional Martini- but we’ll visit the Martinez, a more complex alleged precursor to the Martini before diving into the Martini and the horrors perpetrated in its name.

Coming up next, we’ll take a look at another Old Fashioned variant, the New Orleans classis Sazerac.  After that, I’ll dive into some tools and techniques that I’ve been glossing over in recent posts.



Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Manhattan

Let’s use the Old Fashioned as a launchpad for more cocktails.  Up first, the classic Manhattan.

Swapping one of the “building blocks” in an Old Fashioned (using sweet vermouth instead of adding sugar) and adding a change in technique(straining) gives us the Manhattan.

Ingredients needed:

Rye Whiskey

As with the Old Fashioned, you can use whatever rye or bourbon you have on hand that you like, but the Manhattan is almost universally agreed to be best when made with rye, not bourbon.


Again, the ubiquitous Angostura bitters work great, I suggest using those.  But as always, experiment away if you are so inclined.

Sweet Vermouth

Any sweet vermouth will work, but better ones like Dolin, or my favorite Carpano Antica, will make a much better drink in my opinion.


Equipment needed:

Two glasses

We could start getting picky here, but let’s skip that for now.  Something that holds 6 or so ounces (drink from this one) and something else that holds  at least 8-10 ounces (for mixing) are all you need.

It would be ideal to have the drinking glass chilled, as this drink is served without ice.  To chill a glass, put it in a refrigerator for a few hours, or fill it with ice water for several minutes and dump it out right before pouring the drink.

A spoon

Nice to have but not needed equipment:

A strainer

A drink strainer, or anything else that will filter out ice.  You can just pour carefully and end up close enough for now.

And now, the drink:

Pour two ounces of rye over ice in your mixing glass.

Add one ounce of sweet vermouth.

Add two dashes Angostura bitters.

Stir well until thoroughly mixed and chilled.

Strain into a chilled glass.


Tuning to taste is fairly simple- change the vermouth, change the rye, change the ratio of rye to vermouth.

Up next, more fun swapping building blocks.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

About that Old Fashioned…

That was a very basic recipe, no fruit, no frills, no garnish- and so it is a great starting point for experimentation and finding your own preferences.

First, if you want to do some experimentation without falling over drunk, you may want to cut the base recipe in half, or better yet, find a friend to split the drinks and compare ideas on tastes.

The first few variations are pretty  straightforward:

Increase or decrease the amount of sugar.

Use a different sugar (white, turbinado, demerara- I suggest avoiding commercial brown sugars).

Use a different bourbon or rye (sharper or smoother depending on your preferences)

Vary the amount of bitters, try other bitters (there are a myriad of bitters out there to try, but if you can find some Fee Brothers Black Walnut I suggest that for a great alternative to Angostura aromatics for Old Fashioneds).

I find that the aromatic bitters and sugars are balancing forces, if a drink is a little too sweet adding another dash of bitters may balance it better than adding another ounce of whiskey- but you should try it and see if you agree.

You aren’t limited to traditional sugars, try maple syrup as a sweetener. This fails more often than it succeeds in my opinion, but it can be very good.  You need to use real, pure maple syrup, and match the grade to the whiskey.  I generally prefer sharper and stronger whiskeys, these want grade B dark maple syrup.  If you are playing with smoother whiskeys you may get away with grade A light/amber, but even there I prefer the dark.  Honey is another alternative sweetener, but that is probably a post of its own- but don’t be put off by the mediocre honeyed whiskeys on the market, you can do better.

What about fruit, Jack?

One of the common Old Fashioned variants uses muddled fruit, orange and cherries.  These are often served using “maraschino” cherries, which are just neutral balls of chemical and sugar laden cellulose; they are an abomination to me.  The orange bits are often full wedges, complete with the bitter white pith; this is not ideal, either.  It is fairly common to get these drinks with no added sugars, the orange juice and the sugar in the cherry-like objects provides the sweetening, but I think these rarely live up to their potential.

Before going down the fruit-laden drink route, I suggest trying a bit of citrus and decent sugar instead.  Make the drink as previously described, but cut a decent sized chunk of orange peel and bend it tightly over the drink to release the citrus oils, then run the peel side around the rim of the glass and drop into the drink.  The key to this is getting a good peel section with little or none of the white pith, a good vegetable peeler makes it easy with a little practice, a sharp knife and steady hands work well with a little more practice.  The size isn’t a precise measurement, but 3/8 to 1/2 inch wide and 1 1/2 to 2 inches long is a good range.  If you have used an orange with a fresh, healthy peel you’ll be amazed what a difference a small amount of citrus oil can make.

An even easier way to get some fruit complexity into they drink is to add a dash or two of orange bitters.  There are a lot of different orange bitters, and they vary widely.  Angostura makes an good orange bitters, but be careful with this one, it is strong and can easily overpower a drink.  Fee Brothers makes a couple of West Indian Orange bitters, these are sweeter and smoother that the Angostura.  One of the Fee Brothers orange bitters is aged in gin barrels, I like this one- but not for whiskey drinks, stick with the regular orange for these.  There are several other orange bitters available, Regan’s is another good one and not too hard to find.

If you want to try a fruited Old Fashioned there are a couple of things I believe dramatically improve the results.  First, good cherries- they are expensive, but real Luxardo Maraschino cherries are vastly better than those nasty day-glo things.  If you can’t find , just use decent pitted cherries instead.  For the orange, use only peeled orange segments and orange peel- avoid as much of the bitter white pith as possible.  Make the Old Fashioned as previously described, except reduce the amount of sugar, and muddle in the fruit before the stirring and chilling cycle.

Next up, we’ll wander further from the classic Old Fashioned, but keep its basic structure.