By John O’Brien
The Manhattan is the epitome of tradition when it comes to cocktails. In fact this classic New York Martini is considered one of the original popular mixed drinks. Even a century later it’s still influencing the creation of modern day mixed drinks.
The act of mixing ingredients began in the United States and the mixed drink, or cocktail, recently celebrated its 200th Anniversary by the Museum of the American Cocktail. The Manhattan was born sometime in 1874 in New York City. At the time Dr. Lain Marshall was given the task of creating a drink for a banquet supporting presidential candidate Samuel Tilden. On an interesting side note, the hostess of that evening was Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s mother. The cocktail was an instant success and it didn’t take people long to begin referring to it by the place where it originated, the Manhattan Club in New York City.
Recently, I was out for a drink and while browsing the menu I noticed a combination that I hadn’t tried in a while and I couldn’t resist: the Manhattan. I am a whiskey fan but have historically steered away from this combination, largely due to the sweet vermouth. For whatever reason I do not typically favor sweet drinks but my eyes glistened while reading over the rest of the ingredients in this variation. At that point, all other drinks that I was thinking ordering faded out of mind. I chose the Ruby Manhattan, which was a mix of whiskey and Port wine, instead of sweet vermouth. Never having experienced a cocktail like this, I couldn’t wait to give it a go. It came to the table in a traditional martini glass and it appeared amber, almost tawny in color. Aromas abounded with orange and ginger and the toasted oak from the whiskey lured me in. I couldn’t resist any longer and had to take my first sip and at first could taste primarily the whiskey. However after a brief moment, the port kicked in a beautiful bouquet of richly flavored raisined fruits and spices lingering in the after-taste. What a tremendous cocktail.
I recommend top shelf bourbon, as even though it was blended with port, all of the beautiful qualities still shown through. In this case I requested Woodford Reserve, a premium small batch bourbon that’s distilled in Versailles, Kentucky (home to some of the most scenic Thoroughbred horse farms in the state).
The port used was Yalumba Museum Muscat Reserve and it imparted the rich and lingering finish of the cocktail. This wine is steeped in tradition coming from the Angaston winery set in the beautiful Barossa Valley in Australia. Englishman, Samuel Smith founded Yalumba in 1849 after leaving behind a successful brewery and named his land ‘Yalumba’, aboriginal for ‘all the land around’.
The beauty of this variation is that it appeals to another sect of cocktail drinkers that may not have taken to the original. The ability of the Manhattan to be adapted to different times and palates is what has allowed this cocktail to remain relevant after all of these years. So go out and enjoy a true American original, but while doing so, think about the past 130 years and all that this cocktail has been through, only to remain largely the same.
John O’Brien is a former bartender with a love of cultural history and a knack for conversation. Both of these qualities have greatly influencing my lifelong quest for uncovering new culinary destinations and unique spirits. His passion stems from sitting around with my parents and grandparents listening to them share stories. Be it on summer evenings or cold winter’s nights, they would always relax with a cocktail. Looking back on this and looking at the gatherings I partake in now, it’s amazing the warmth and fellowship that a cocktail can convey.