It’s hard to write about the Manhattan. Its lore is buried, like so many classic cocktails, in a haze of history. One of the better origin tales goes that Winston Churchill's mother threw a party for the newly elected governor of New York at the Manhattan Club and the honorary beverage that night was the Manhattan. This story is apocryphal, however, as it has been shown that on this particular night Mama Churchill was in England—giving birth to Winston.
But here’s what we do know: it’s a New York drink. And it solved one of mixology’s early problems, which is that occasionally whiskey could be just too damn strong on its own.
In Roughing It, Mark Twain wrote about the profession of whiskey-slinging in the west: "For a time, the lawyer, the editor, the banker, the chief desperado, the chief gambler, and the saloon-keeper occupied the same level in society, and it was the highest…To be a saloon-keeper and kill a man was to be illustrious." Whiskey was a powerful commodity out West, uncivilized and dangerous.
Around this time, someone back East figured out it would be wise to smooth it out with sweet vermouth. The resulting drink is both potent and mesmerizing. It’s brash and yet still elegant: like New York herself. It is a whiskey drink civilized for the golden lights and bright skylines of the city, a touch sweet, yet still commanding respect.
September saw us back in action with our boozy union in Chicago serving up our own perfect Manhattan. We've been throwing these parties on Fridays, and with good reason: they're the perfect send-off for five days of hard work, and they grease the skids for a relaxing weekend. This month, we partnered with Knob Creek to showcase their new rye whiskey, and enlisted the help of two Chicago food editors (Daily Candy and Tasting Table) to offer some ‘50s-inspired comestibles.
Our environs, Gaslight Coffee Roasters' new shop in Logan Square, cast a warm glow over the evening with a zinc bar and rough-hewn interior. It only seemed right to raise a glass in salute to Twain, good whiskey, and the civilizing influence of a well-made cocktail.
The Overserved Society's Manhattan
1.5 oz Knob Creek rye whiskey
.75 oz Dolin sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fee Brothers cherry bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 Luxardo maraschino cherry (not the neon red kind—that goes on your ice cream.)
Stir with ice for 50 revolutions. Strain. Garnish with cherry. Serve. (Note: That many revolutions may seem like a lot of stirring, but we find it provides an amount of dilution that hits us just right.)
The Extra 20 percent
Two dashes of cherry bitters gives the drink just a hint of fruitiness without any sweetness. You can go without—and it’s more traditional to do so—but we found it gave the drink extra something special.
Check out the full collection of recipes from The Overserved Society.