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Clair McLafferty

What's the Right Way to Make a Manhattan?

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Clair McLafferty

The Manhattan's recipe is simple: whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. It doesn’t quite follow the original definition of a cocktail since it adds wine-based sweet vermouth to the standard sugar, bitters, booze, and (maybe) water, but it does have some similarities to another whiskey cocktail: the Old Fashioned.

Cocktail lovers may argue over whether to use rye or bourbon whiskey, or what brand of vermouth makes the best Manhattan, but its basic recipe is pretty much standardized. Though the recipe is less contentious than the Old Fashioned’s, their exact origins are the same: unknown.

Inventing History

The most common myth about the Manhattan’s invention is that it was created in 1874 at the Manhattan Club for a party thrown by Lady Jennie Churchill. Though it’s a fun story, it’s not true. At the time she supposedly threw this party, Lady Churchill’s presence in England was documented, since the date overlaps with Winston’s birth and christening, according to David Wondrich’s Imbibe!.

The more likely story comes from William Mulhall, a bartender at New York City’s Hoffman House for about three decades starting in the 1880s. He wrote a story that recounts that the Manhattan was invented in the late 1860s by a bartender named Black who worked in the borough. Even this anecdote comes with a bit of doubt, however, because Mulhall would have been writing a couple decades after the cocktail’s invention.

Rad Ratios

The original Manhattan was likely a stirred mixture of equal parts whiskey and sweet vermouth. Like the Martini, the ratio of whiskey to vermouth also changed over the years, but its recipe hasn’t changed quite as much as the Martini’s. Nowadays, a 2:1 ratio is widely accepted as the standard. This recipe had emerged by 1892, and is documented in William Schmidt’s The Flowing Bowl. By the mid-20th century, it had become the standard.

In the 19th century, the Manhattan was definitely made with rye whiskey. Between the American Revolution and Prohibition, rye whiskey was the most popular variety of whiskey. After Prohibition, popular tastes shifted, and rye’s image went from suave to gutter punk.

As a result, bartenders would have substituted whatever whiskey was available into their Manhattans. Since rye had fallen out of favor, Canadian whiskies (which can all legally be labeled as rye, but that’s another story) or bourbon would have become the norm.

Hit the Lab

If you make any tweaks to the Manhattan’s formula, you’re likely to accidentally make a drink with an entirely different name. If you add three dashes of absinthe and two of orange bitters, you’ve made a Sherman. Replace half of the sweet vermouth with dry, and voilà! A Perfect Manhattan. Substitute Scotch for rye, and you’re drinking a Rob Roy.

Manhattan (19th century)
From David Wondrich’s 'Imbibe!'
2 or 3 dashes Angostura bitters
1-2 dashes gomme Arabic syrup
1 1/2 oz whiskey
1 1/2 oz vermouth

Fill glass three-quarters full of fine shaved ice, mix well with a spoon, strain in fancy cocktail glass and serve. (note: from Jerry Thomas’s How To Mix Drinks 1884 edition)

Manhattan (modern)
Adapted from David Embury’s 'The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks'
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 oz Italian vermouth
2 oz Whisky

Combine ingredients in a bar glass or Martini pitcher with large cubes of ice and stir well. Pour into chilled cocktail glasses. Add a stemmed or speared maraschino cherry to each glass.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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