I wanted to like whiskey. bourbon. rye. blends.
And thanks to a brilliant Manhattan made at Elemental in Seattle: I was finally ushered in the door. I finally ‘got it.’ And for a gal who claims to wield martinis, well, earning my bourbon badge was a high priority.
Suffice it to say, Manhattans have topped my personal chart: they are now my favorite go-to martini, complete with homemade brandied cherries.
When I am determined to nail a flavor profile of a particular martini, I taste taste taste. You know how snotty I got with my sidecars—and it became difficult to order out margaritas and mojitos. When you make them better than the bartender, well, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment. I knew I was onto something when I had a Manhattan at a well-regarded restaurant and kept wincing b/c it was heavy on the bitters. And I noticed. Which—though my drink wasn’t that great—made me happy.
How to make a great Manhattan. Or should I say how to learn to make any great martini? Taste. Taste. Taste. Wince a bit, gargle if you must, be unafraid.
I bought the little bottles of different brands of Kentucky this, Tennessee that, bourbon, rye, whiskey, mash. I picked up my Bourbon cookbook (I know, right? Cool.). I asked about blended, mixed and small-batch. Fancy labels, boring labels, cool bottles or not. I inquire: what do you like? What is the difference? What do restaurants buy? What do you think of this one? I watch bartenders like a stealth hawk.
So far, this is my synopsis: Maker’s Mark is classic for a reason. Yum. But it is a tad pricey. I find myself reaching for Old Overholt and Bulleit Rye time and again. They are smooth yet sturdy, complex enough for the price, not sickeningly sweet—both keepers.
Forgive me for any inaccuracies, but you know I measure mentally—not physically—when making martinis. So here are the mental ratios I pour: 3/4 rye, 1/4 red vermouth and 2 drops of bitters. Bitters are a new found love—more on that later—ideal when added in infinitesimal amounts. (When it comes to bitters, you really can have too much of a good thing).
My brother is religious about how he makes his Manhattans (which I respect tremendously): chilled glass, muddled with ice, RYE only plus sweet vermouth, a tiny splash of dry vermouth and an orange twist. Twist goes in glass first; strain chilled drink into glass.