The year is 1874. Jennie Jerome, daughter of stock speculator Leonard “The King of Wall Street” Jerome and future mother of Sir Winston Churchill, has organized a party. To support Governor and presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. She has invited the cream of New York’s high society to the Manhattan Club, the Democratic Party’s headquarters and social club in New York. To get the party going, she asks bartender Iain Marshall to create a special cocktail for the party, and his ‘Manhattan Cocktail’ is a huge success.
Who created Manhattan?
All great drinks (and brands) have a good story at their core. The problem is that they are often not true, or only partially true. The great story of Sir Winston Churchill’s mother creating legendary drinks with baby Winston in her belly falls apart because she wasn’t in America at the time. And that the drink had already been mentioned several years earlier in a New York newspaper.
Cocktails were an innovation that became all the rage in an increasingly wealthy America in the latter half of the 19th century. With book-writing bartenders like Jerry Thomas – ‘The Professor’ – the recipes spread around the world. The basis was booze, sweetness and bitters (the recipe for an Old Fashioned), with the sweetness originally taken from regular sugar.
The idea of swapping the sugar for red, sweet vermouth from Italy took time. The first cocktail books list lots of recipes, but none with vermouth. It is only in the 1880s that O.H. Byron in his Modern Bartender’s Guide lists the recipe for a Manhattan Cocktail No. 2, with whiskey, splashes of Curacao and Angostura, and Italian vermouth. Where did the idea of swapping sugar for vermouth come from?
The red, sweet vermouth had been around for a long time in Italy, at least 100 years before anyone drank a Manhattan. It had also come to America decades before 1884. But the differences may have been the Italians. During New York’s first two hundred years, there had been very few Italians in New York. . But after the formation of the country of Italy in the 1860s, a massive emigration began that made Italians one of New York’s largest communities in a very short time. It is hardly unlikely that it was the wave of poor Italians that contributed to the popularization and spread of vermouth in New York.
For whatever reason, the Manhattan’s recipe was more or less already in the 1880s. Curacao, which was a popular ingredient in many early cocktails, lost out to bitters. The liquor came to be varied – Bourbon became a popular option, and during Prohibition they had to rely on Canadian rye whiskey. But by and large, it’s a 150-year-old cocktail you’re enjoying with a Manhattan. Instead, the cocktail became the ancestor of many other vermouth-based drinks, such as the Martinin.
How to mix a Manhattan Cocktail
The IBA – International Bartenders Association – lists the Manhattan Cocktail as one of its The Unforgettables and has standardized the recipe for a Manhattan as follows:
- 50 ml rye whiskey
- 20 ml sweet (red) vermouth
- 1 dash of Angostura bitter
Do the following
- Fill a mixing glass with ice
- Pour in all the ingredients and stir well
- Strain into a cocktail glass
- Garnish with a cherry
Like all cocktails, the basics of a Manhattan flavor are the liquor and the vermouth, of which there are several varieties to try.
In addition to rye whisky, bourbon is also one of the classic varieties. With Scotch whisky you get a Rob Roy , the drink created in 1894 at New York’s Waldorf Astoria for the premiere of the musical of the same name. If you replace the whiskey with gin, you get a Martinez, which then becomes a Martini if you also choose dry vermouth. In some parts of the US, Brandy Manhattans are also popular.
In sweet red vermouth, there are several different brands to try, and the quantity is increasing all the time. If you choose dry vermouth, you get a Dry Manhattan, Ray Pack’s favorite drink.
Even neighborhoods other than Manhattan have drinks. A Brooklyn is a Manhattan but with dry Vermouth, Amer Picon and Maraschino liqueur instead of red Vermouth and Angostura.
The balance between spirit and vermouth is another natural thing to experiment with. A Manhattan with equal parts vermouth and whiskey is called a Perfect Manhattan , and the sweeter proportions were more common in the 19th century (perhaps to disguise the inferior alcohol?).