Monday, December 6, 2010

The Manhattan

I'm aiming to post all six of Embury's "six basic cocktails" this month. They consist of the Martini, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Daiquiri, Side Car and Jack Rose. Earlier I posted the Martini, so let's talk about the Manhattan.

The Manhattan is the quintessential "dark and stirred" cocktail. The origins of this drink, as with those of most of the famous drinks, are a bit muddy.

I found some interesting historical references from the early 1900's, like this 1901 statement which was read before the Falls City Medical Society in Louisville, KY, to illustrate the typical behaviour of a "future alcoholic patient". Note that the Manhattan is listed here as a breakfast drink

"At first the night's jag makes him very sick, and for days he abhors the mere mention of a drink. Sooner or later his stomach becomes more inured to the irritation of liquor, and he can awaken in the morning without vomiting; but this lack of vomiting is replaced by a depression and nervous feeling. He is afraid to shake his head for fear of getting drunk again.

His hand trembles, his speech is aphasic, his memory greatly impaired, and he expresses himself as feeling very "rocky," but a brandy and soda or a Martini will fix him up.

An hour or so later he takes a dry Manhattan cocktail as an appetizer and eats some breakfast; a pint of Mumm's if he is au-fait helps breakfast wonderfully.

He passes the next two or three hours fairly as himself, but his urine is scanty and high-colored, and he has a lumbar pain over the region of the kidneys which is relieved by a gin phiz, a gin rickey or a Tom Collins, or probably all three are taken should he happen to meet a couple of friends in the same fix and a treat around is indulged in.

A cocktail or two before lunch stimulates his appetite, and in the afternoon several straight whiskies are necessary on which to keep going.

After a dinner, preferably of oysters, meats, eggs, a salad, but never anything sweet, he takes a brandy or two, for it will help his "whiskey" diarrhea.

At a variety show that night he drinks poor beer and bad whiskey in considerable quantities, and by midnight the drinks can't come too often.

During the next hour a cab driven swiftly through a narrow street lighted chiefly by red lamps, stops before a house from which issue a confused glamor of shrill laughter and bad music, and our future patient is helped through the portal and deposited in an easy chair.

After breaking a bottle or two of wine he falls into a stupor in the arms of a siren, and awakes toward morning "landed" and not even an absinthe frappe will stick."

Wow, I'd say that would be a future patient! This kind of routine could put anyone into an early grave.

By 1908, it was well know to be "intoxicating", as this excerpt from the "American State Reports" published in 1910 shows in the case of "State v. Pigg". (Note the great cocktail definition as well.)

"...On the tenth count the state elected to rely upon a sale of two Manhattan cocktails to Leona Larson and Kittie Edie. The precise question raised is that there was no evidence to show that a Manhattan cocktail is intoxicating, and the evidence can hardly be said to have established this fact.

The Century Dictionary defines a cocktail as "an American drink, strong, stimulating, and cold, made of spirits, bitters, and a little sugar, with various aromatic and stimulating additions." The particular kind of cocktail under discussion is popularly understood to have taken its name from the island whose inhabitants first became addicted to its use.

While its characteristics are not so widely known as those of whisky, brandy or gin, it is our understanding that a Manhattan cocktail is generally and popularly known to be intoxicating. Apparently the jury held the same view. It has been said by this court: "Whatever is generally and popularly known as intoxicating liquor, such as whisky, brandy, gin, etc., is within the prohibitions and regulations of the statute, and may be so declared as matter of law by the courts": Intoxicating Liquor Cases, 25 Kan. 751 (syllabus), 37 Am. Rep. 284.

I love the argument from the defense..."no evidence to show that a Manhattan cocktail is intoxicating" ...that lawyer had brass.

Enough anecdotal information though. What about it's history, where did this drink come from anyway?
There seem to be 2 stories revolving around the origin of this cocktail. A "Washington" version and a "New York" version.

According to the Washington story, a man by the name of John Welby Henderson was a bartender for a Mr. John A. Hopkins of Fairfax, VA. In April of 1846, Hopkins was wounded in a duel with Baron Henri de Vrie at Challono in Bladesburg, MD.

Hopkins had himself rushed to the Hotel Palo Alto where John Henderson was working. Henderson filled a glass with Rye, some syrup and some bitters and gave it to Hopkins.

In 1911 there was an article published about Bladesburg in the "La Follettes" periodical stating that one of Blasdesburg's claims to fame was the invention of the Manhattan.

    "...Bladensburg's fame lies chiefly in the fact that here was fought the battle which gave the British possession of the national capital in 1814 and here the dashing Decatur was six years later to fall in a duel on ground reddened before and thereafter in affairs of honor!

It has other distinctions as well.. A half century ago it was a famous watering place and the proprietor of one of its ancient hotels will today produce long clippings to show that the immortal Manhattan cocktail was invented in his hostelry by a distraught southerner there on a mission of honor.

Later the place became a celebrated racing center and then degenerated into a veritable Sodom, its name banned in polite society. Perhaps this may account for its desertion by a large part of its white people and the taking over of the town to a large extent by the negroes, now seemingly the bulk of its population.

     IN GOING to Bladensburg by trolley one should first get off at the duelling ground, just over the district line. Here in
of the seas," the idol of the navy, the favorite of Washington society, at the very zenith of his fame and just past forty, fell in a duel with Comijnodore James Barron, March 22, 1820."

This story seems to make the Washington theory plausible. Though I could not find any mention of the "long clippings" supposedly presented by the anonymous "proprietor of one of it's (Bladensburg's) ancient hotels".

The origin story that seems most widely subscribed to is the New York theory.

It's told that in 1874, the Manhattan cocktail was created by a bartender at the "Manhattan Club", for a banquet organized by Winston Churchill's mother, Jeannie. She was throwing a party for her father's friend, Samuel James Tilden, in honor of Tildon's winning the governorship of New York.

The main problem here is that Jeannie Churchill seems to have been in France and pregnant at the time, or in England giving birth to Winston depending on the version.

It still could have come from the Manhattan club, though maybe not from the banquet in question.

There's also indications that it may have originated in the 1870's. A Hoffman House bartender who worked there from 1882 to 1915 was quoted as saying "The Manhattan cocktail was invented by a man named Black..."

It's widely accepted that the Manhattan originated in NYC. Even if historical evidence was to surface in strong support of the Bladensburg theory, I'm sure that the good people of Manhattan will not have any troubles supporting their claim on it's heritage. They are certainly the ones who made it famous and spread it around the world.


This drink did not show up in the 1862 version of Jerry Thomas' book, but it did make the expanded 1887 version in this format. Almost identical to the recipe in Byron's book from 1884 which I included in my posting on the Martinez. Byron's 1884 recipe(s) are considered the first cocktail recipe with the "Manhattan" name in print. (Notice the reversed proportions of rye to vermouth in both early versions.)

Manhattan à la Jerry Thomas

(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 2 dashes of Curacoa or Maraschino
1 pony of rye whisky.
1 wine glass of vermouth.
3 dashes Boker's bitters.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up well, and strain into a claret glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass and serve. If the customer prefers it very sweet also use two dashes of gum syrup.

Manhattan à la William Achmidt
(The Flowing Bowl, 1892 - First publication of "modern" recipe)

Half a tumblerfull of cracked ice.
2 dashes of gum
2 dashes of bitters
1 dash of Absinthe
2/3 drink of whiskey
1/3 drink of vino vermouth
(a little maraschino may be added.)

So in 1892 we finally see the proper proportions of whiskey to vermouth. It wasn't a done deal though.

Many books in the early 1900's would list a 1:1 ratio before the 2:1 ratio below finally won out.

An advert in "The Illustraded American" published March 10, 1894

Manhattan à la David A. Embury

Since this is part of my Embury series, I should give his recipes as well. David listed 4 recipes for the Manhattan in his book.

Manhattan (Sweet)
1 part Italian Vermouth
2 parts Whisky
1 dash Angostura to each drink

Manhattan (Medium) [aka "perfect"]
1 part Italian Vermouth
1 part French Vermouth
4 parts Whisky
1 dash Angostura to each drink

Manhattan (Dry)
1 part French Vermouth
2 parts Whisky
1 dash Angostura to each drink

Manhattan de Luxe
1 part Cinzano Italian Vermouth
5 parts Bonded Whisky
1 dash of Angostura in each drink

The instructions given by Mr. Embury:
"Stir well in a bar glass or Martini pitcher with large cubes of ice and pour into chilled cocktail glasses. Add a maraschino cherry to each glass..."

The Modern Manhattan

A few words on the modern Manhattan before I get to the recipe. This drink originated on the east coast where rye whiskey was much more readily available than corn bourbon based on the availability of local crops. So we should use rye.

It would have been high proof as well. So a bonded rye like Rittenhouse 100 proof, which is a straight rye whiskey, makes sense as the preferred choice of many of today's top professionals.

I'm not going to suggest that Carpano Antica is historically accurate, but who knows? The high end Italian sweet vermouths of the time could have been as good or even better.

You do need to find this one and use it. The other ingredients are cheap enough so it's not going to hit your pour costs too much to use such an expensive vermouth.

I also like Punt E Mes which is made by the same people, but it's a different experience altogether with more of the bitter flavors with a pronounced quinine element. It's good too, but it's very easy to get spoiled once you start using the antica formula.

Never, I repeat, never use the bright red monstrosities that parade as real maraschino cherries. Shell out the money for the luxardo cherries or make your own at home.

In regards to the maraschino liqueur, I find that using a luxardo cherry provides the right sweetness. If it's still too dry or you don't have a decent cherry, feel free to follow the good prof's advice and add 2-3 dashes of the liqueur. (Luxardo and Maraska make good maraschino liqueurs.)



2 oz Rittenhouse Bonded rye (or Wild Turkey 101 rye)
1 oz Carpano Antica Italian sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes angostura bitters
1 Luxardo maraschino cherry


Combine the rye, vermouth and bitters together in a mixing glass. Add just enough ice to more than cover your liquid. Mix well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or into an old-fashioned glass with fresh ice.

Garnish with luxardo cherry.

You can also add an orange twist (or get fancy and add a flamed orange twist).

One perfectly good variation is to skip the maraschino liqueur and cherry altogether and rely on the orange twist's citrus oils alone to uplift the drink.

There are also all kinds of wonderful variations based on NYC's many neighborhoods, enjoy!

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