Rosemary Miller and I have very much enjoyed our Manhattan study thus far. We’re making a lot of surprising discoveries, and the feedback we’ve gotten in the comments and on social media has been very helpful. Keep those comments coming!
One comment I heard repeatedly was that Dolan was the way to go with Vermouth if you have to choose just one. I picked up a bottle and I’m still on the fence. For the first study we used Martini & Rossi, which I’ve always used at home and (gasp) still like just fine. The Dolin was nice but I’m not sure I liked it any better or worse than the good ‘ole M&R. We’re going to be deconstructing this bit in the next installment, so more on that later.
For this session we started off with a counter full of rye bottles and a drive to find the perfect rye. After our last session we both concluded that we like rye whiskey better than bourbon in our Manhattans, and the Michter’s 10 year rye was the clear favorite of the lineup. We had been told on numerous occasions that we would love Rittenhouse in our Manhattans if we used Dolin instead of M&R, so we decided to keep that one in the lineup. We also added the new Kentucky Peerless Rye and a barrel strength Michter’s rye to the lineup and got to shaking.
We kept the same basic recipe this time: large side of the jigger of rye, small side of vermouth, two dashes bitters, shake with ice and strain then add a cherry. Again, we’re going to be looking at variations on this in the future, but right now we’re working on perfecting the bones of the cocktail as we see how the different parts interact with each other.
Here are our notes from that evening:
Michter’s 10 YO Rye 92.8 Proof
- This was the winner last time
- Leathery and buttery
Rittenhouse Rye 4 YO 100 Proof Bonded
- Hot with no mouthfeel
- I liked the flavor a little better with the Dolin but Rosemary liked it better with Martini & Rossi
- The barrel entry proof on this rye is 125, so perhaps there is something to that in this particular cocktail
Kentucky Peerless 2 YO 107.4 Proof
- Very bright and spicy flavor
- Not overly complex but very nice with surprising tobacco smokiness
- “Damn good Manhattan!” is how we both described it
- There’s a lot of character here considering the age, which was a complete surprise
- The barrel entry proof is very low with Peerless products, which has led us to believe that may be a contributing factor in this particular cocktail
Michter’s US-1 Barrel Strength Rye NAS 109.6 Proof
- Buttery, spicy, creamy
- Buttered corn finish
Somehow proof and barrel entry proof were the standout factors here. If I recall, Michter’s is on the lower end of barrel entry proofs as well, so there may be something to this. The Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye was the clear winner tonight, but the surprise runner-up was the Kentucky Peerless rye. These will likely be our two top choices going forward with the study. What we’ve concluded at this point is:
- Slightly higher proof seems to make a difference
- The myth that age is “all important” is totally busted – a 2 year old rye beat a 4 year old rye, while the NAS Michter’s beat the 10 year Michter’s
- “Whiskey makes a huge difference. You have to get the right one,” says Rosemary Miller
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl
Rosemary Miller also contributed to this story.
July 14, 2017 at 12:07 pm
It is generally accepted practice to STIR a manhattan rather than shake. To wach their own if you prefer yours shaken, but I would start there before considering which bourbon, rye, or vermouth to use. When considering the recommendations of others, in my opinion, you should also take into account which method of creating the drink they are likely to employ. Shaking a drink with vermouth will drastically alter the texture and flavor when compared to stirring the same drink. Bitter elements can also tend to be more pronounced when shaken. In addition, a spirit forward cocktail will often become over diluted when shaken.
There is much conversation and writing on the subject of when to shake and when to stir. I for one highly recommend exploring the topic and, if creating a dialogue on which vermouth or whiskey is preferred, consider also the manner in which the cocktail is created and how/why it makes a difference.
July 14, 2017 at 7:24 pm
Thank you for your comments. I believe that Maggie is basing this recipe on Jerry Thomas’ 1887 book The Bar-Tender’s Guide or How to mix all kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks. In this book he calls for a shaken Manhattan. However Harry Johnson’s 1888 book New and Improved Bartender’s Manual or how to mix Drinks in the Present Style calls for a stirred Manhattan. That is why a look at the two ways are on the list to explore. Since the Thomas book is older it was thought to start with his recipe style.
Thank you again for your comments and your insights. I personally don’t shake or stir as I don’t or stir as I never make a cocktail myself. I leave it to the professionals when I want a cocktail but I do prefer a stirred Manhattan.
July 14, 2017 at 12:14 pm
For the record, I prefer COCCHI Torino vermouth with my manhattans. Whiskey can be either: Michters rye, pikesville 6, wild turkey 101 (rye or bourbon) and, if you are lucky enough to find it, older bottlings of rittenhouse(dsp Ky 354) I’m not too fond of what heaven hill has done rittenhouse as of late. I find it much too hot and one dimensional these days compared to what it was before.
July 14, 2017 at 7:30 pm
I find it interesting with the two barrel proof ryes doing so well in this study. I do wonder though if it is the bottle proof or the lower entry proof of these ryes when they are made. Peerless goes into the barrel at 107 and Michter’s at 103. I think I will suggest doing it again with Pikesville rye (110 proof) and a Willett barrel proof rye with the Peerless and Michter’s rye to see which comes out on top.
July 14, 2017 at 7:30 pm
That’s a great suggestion!
July 14, 2017 at 7:30 pm
Thanks for the feedback, Robyn! This study is just getting started and we are loving all the interest. We’re going to be studying shaking and stirring as well as different vermouths (among other elements) in future studies. We’re going to have to try the Pikesville at some point to see whether there’s an appreciable difference from Rittenhouse- I suspect there would be. Stay tuned for more!
July 14, 2017 at 7:47 pm
As a professional bartender I once again have to echo the observation that Manhattans, along with all other spirituous (non-juice based), should be stirred and never shaken. Fine to cite Jerry Thomas (or the Savoy for that matter) but shaking is not what modern canon proscribes and that’s not how the Manhattan ordered at a decent cocktail bar is going to be prepared.
July 14, 2017 at 8:29 pm
You will have to blame me and not Maggie here. I am a historian and I thought we should start with the oldest method I found. I know Thomas’ book is considered a classic and still think it was a good decision to start there. I think this is a perfect example of the evolution of the Manhattan.
July 14, 2017 at 8:33 pm
Point taken but if you want to do that, then the first thing I’d try is making two drinks: one shaken, one stirred, and then put that part of the study to rest.
July 14, 2017 at 9:09 pm
I appreciate your interest in the blog. Thank you for your comments.
July 18, 2017 at 10:32 am
Stir don’t shake
July 18, 2017 at 6:01 pm
Thanks everyone for their comments both on and off line. It is interesting that the people who are working in the industry are most vocal about the method of making the Manhattan (shaken or stirred) while those not in the industry are more interested in the components (best whiskey or Vermouth). In both cases it has all been great conversation and thank you for your interest.
April 11, 2019 at 5:02 pm
Michael – try Virgil Kaine Rye from South Carolina. I had the best Manhattan of my life last year at The Pearl in Buffton, SC. It was so good, I walked from my table in the restaurant to the bar to ask the bartender what he used, which was Virgil Kaine Rye. I have a bottle of it and will be glad to share some with you. Maybe I can get Susan Reigler to make a Manhattan from it and give her expert opinion as well.
April 11, 2019 at 8:16 pm
Now that Old Forrester has come out with a 100 Proof Rye, you should revisit this experiment and add that rye to the line up.
It is quite excellent