Last year for my birthday my friend, Shannin, took me to see Les Miserables here in Everett. It was amazing, of course. (Although we missed our gorgeously talented friend, Michelle, in the role of Fantine.) But even more spectacular than the musical, was when we exited the theatre that night and it was pouring snow, big fat beautiful flakes; there were even a few white inches carpeting the ground.
When we got back to my house in Everett, Greg and Jason had put the kids to bed and were up drinking Manhattans by the fire while they watched Louis C.K. clips. It was nearly midnight, but we sat up till well past three in the morning, all four of us drinking Greg Ohlin’s Manhattans and having a great time chatting and catching up about life by a warm cozy fire as the snow fell softly outside.
Shannin and I have been friends for a long time, ever since we met in LA and bonded over our mutual love for David Gray. All these years later I feel extremely lucky to have Shannin, Jason and their daughter, Zoe, in our lives. And we always have a blast when we get together to share food and drinks. But if you had asked me years ago when Shannin and I, along with four other close girlfriends, used to laugh ourselves silly while drinking too much white wine on our balconies in South Pasadena, if I could tell you how I liked my perfect Manhattan, I would have said that I had no idea what a Manhattan even was.
Now, Shannin and I debate different bourbons or ryes combined with different vermouths; we talk about what kind of a glass we like it served in or the different ways it can be garnished. At restaurants and bars we’ve been to together and in our own kitchens.
Greg seems to have perfected the Manhattan for me and I often don’t order them out because it’s never quite as good as the way he makes them. Or maybe it’s that I’m a snob and I really just like it a certain way. I like it in a rocks or old fashioned glass, not a coupe, and I like the glass chilled with a large, square ice cube in it. Greg adds Angostura bitters plus some of our own homemade grapefruit bitters, and of course I like the hint of maraschino cherry in there, but what really makes it amazing and above and beyond is a large twist of lemon.
Without the twist, it’s just another okay cocktail for me; seriously the lemon adds that much beauty to the drink. I know Shannin feels the same because we’ve had this discussion many times, and just recently my sister was telling me her secret for a perfect Manhattan, the lemon twist. See, I’m not the only crazy person out there.
I’ve had a lot of fun the last few years getting really into craft cocktails and bitters and different combinations of liquors to make delicious drinks. Just like food recipes, great cocktails are made with quality ingredients and the right combination of those ingredients, not to mention our own particular tastes. My sister really likes Woodford Reserve Bourbon in her Manhattans, for me the smoothest one is made with basic Four Roses Bourbon. If I want one a bit spicier, James E. Pepper 1776 Rye Whiskey is an excellent choice. Vermouths are a whole additional ingredient to explore, there’s everything from the simple sweet Dolin Sweet Vermouth to the much more medicinal, bitters-like Carpano Antica Formula. This summer I’m going to try making my own maraschino cherries, but Tillen Farms Merry Maraschinos are pretty good and widely available. And bitters, I need to write an entire post on bitters. Ever since a bartender made me a gin cocktail a few years ago and put celery bitters in it, I’ve been a bit obsessed with bitters. Without our homemade grapefruit bitters, I’m convinced our Manhattan would not be as good.
For me, the perfect Manhattan combination is Four Roses Bourbon, Martini Sweet Vermouth (Martini & Rossi Rosso), Angostura Bitters, Grapefruit Bitters and a twist.
No matter what bourbon or rye and vermouth you use, whether or not you add bitters or a cherry, whatever you do, don’t forget the twist of lemon, and please please don’t skimp on it or just gently lay it in the glass the way I’ve seen some bartenders do. No, please no! Get a large piece of lemon rind, actually twist it to release those soury sweet hints of lemon oil and rub the twist all around the rim of your glass.
Then and only then are you allowed to add it to your drink. And trust me you will be rewarded with the scent of lemon, almost like lemon candy with each delicious sip you take.
Even Jasper, who, don’t worry, doesn’t know a thing about Manhattans, but was being super helpful with this photo shoot, loves lemons.
I love a Manhattan by our fireplace on a cold winter’s night cozied up with friends, and I love one in a gorgeous farmhouse on Bainbridge Island sitting around the kitchen island in spring, or while the summer sky stays light well past ten o’clock at night on our back patio. With the right ingredients, mixed just the way you like it, and of course, with a twist, it’s a great cocktail any time of year.
- 2 ounces bourbon or rye
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 3 dashes grapefruit bitters
- Garnish: maraschino cherry and large lemon twist
- Combine the bourbon or rye, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir (don't shake) until chilled and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass, or glass of your choice, with a large ice cube. Use a spoon to lightly smash the cherry against the inside of your glass. Then twist the lemon over the glass, rub it around the rim and add to the glass. Enjoy!