It’s hard to believe that our Manhattan study is drawing to a close. Seven months ago Rosemary Miller and I embarked on our journey to find our favorite Manhattan recipe. Along the way we created controversy, but we also learned a lot. The most important thing we learned, however, is that we could genuinely continue with this study until the end of days and never exhaust the possibilities. But now that we have a good handle on how all the parts of a Manhattan interact with each other it’s time to move on with a better understanding of why we like what we like and how to make sure we always end up with the perfect Manhattan.

The Rosemary & Maggie Manhattan

1 ½ oz. Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye

¾ oz. Byrrh Grand Quinquina

2 dashes Angostura or Woodford Spiced Cherry bitters

1 Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Bourbon Cocktail Cherry

Combine rye, vermouth, and bitters in a cocktail glass with ice and stir. Strain with a Hawthorne strainer into a coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry.

A Simple Cocktail To Make At Home

Manhattans are super easy to make at home with four ingredients that you can find almost anywhere. Westport Whiskey and Wine has all of these ingredients on their shelves right now including glassware, mixing glasses, strainers, and jiggers. The only tricky part to this cocktail is remembering to keep your vermouth in the refrigerator after you open it. Once you master that you can make anyone a really fancy cocktail at any time and really look like you know what you are doing.

Sometimes You Just Want It Brought To You

Even though it’s totally easy to make at home, sometimes you just want your cocktail brought to you. That’s why we have talked with bar tenders at our favorite establishments to learn their recipes.

Volare in Louisville has a barrel aged Manhattan that Rosemary swears by, so we recently stopped by to learn more about it. One taste and I became a believer. According to bar manager Nina Rojas they batch this every day and place it into the barrel to age. They even make their cocktail cherries in house from cherries that grow on Executive Chef Josh Moore’s farm. The barrel characteristics are much more apparent in this cocktail than I was expecting and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Here is the approximate recipe if you want to make a batch for your next cocktail party:

Volare Barrel Aged Manhattan

8 cups Old Forester Bourbon

2 cups Cocchi Vermouth di Torrino

2 cups Zucca Rabarbaro

42 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients and stir. Place in barrel (Bluegrass Barrels makes great ones) to age for 24 hours before serving. Garnish with a cocktail cherry (recipe below).

Chef Josh Moore’s House-Made Cocktail Cherries

Step 1:

1 L white balsamic

1 L sugar

2 cinnamon sticks, cracked

Bring to a boil. Pour over cherries and cover. Wrap with saran wrap. Drain after 4 days.

Step 2:

500 ml Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

500 ml Copper & Kings unaged grape brandy

4 C sugar

1 T. vanilla paste

1 tsp. ground clove

Bring to a boil and stir. Let cool and pour over drained cherries. Cover and allow to soak a while before using.

There are many other great Manhattans at local bars. I’ve seen a few terrible ones, but this is a difficult cocktail to mess up thankfully. One of my favorites has always been from Match Cigar Bar. Here’s another recipe for you to try at home:

Match Cigar Bar’s Jeremiah Griffee’s Perfect Manhattan

2 oz Ezra Brooks Rye Whiskey

¾ oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

¼ oz Lillet Blanc

4 dashes Angostura Bitters

1-2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

Flamed Orange Peel

1 Luxardo cherry

In stirring vessel add bitters, vermouths, and then rye. Scoop ice into vessel and stir. Strain with a Hawthorne strainer into a coupe glass with a Luxardo cherry in it and flame an orange peel over top.

Barefoot Manhattans: The Conclusion

  • Bourbon or Rye? – First we decided whether we like bourbon or rye better after trying four bottles with different characteristics. We decided we both like rye whiskey the best in our Manhattans.
  • The Right Rye – Next we tried four different ryes to determine which we liked best. Our favorite hands down was Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye.
  • Vermouth One – We had a wealth of choices here so we decided to break it up between French and Italian vermouths. Between the Italians we liked Martini & Rossi and Barolo Chinato Cocchi best.
  • Vermouth Two – Next we looked at French vermouths, of which there seem to be fewer choices. We liked Byrrh Grand Quinquina and Maurin Rouge the best out of the four we tried.
  • Vermouth Three – Finally we pitted our two favorite French against our two favorite Italian vermouths. Byrrh Grand Quinquina was the clear winner, followed by Barolo Chinato Cocchi. It’s worth noting here that Martini & Rossi always got an honorable mention throughout the study.
  • Shaken or Stirred? – This part of the study generated nonstop controversy. Bartenders have surprisingly strong opinions about this step. Some say shaking bruises the vermouth, while others just tell us that you’re only supposed to shake a cocktail that has juice in it. We discovered that this part of the process matters less when you are using the best ingredients, but we did discover we have a slight preference for stirred Manhattans.
  • The Bitter Truth – Bitters are the spice cabinet for your cocktails, says Albert Schmid. There is a wide variety and what you like may be very different from what I like. Rosemary and I liked the Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry bitters and the good ole Angostura.
  • And A Cherry On Top – Luxardo is the gold standard of cocktail cherries, but there are many others out there. We found that we really liked the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.’s Bourbon Cocktail cherries the best.

The more we learned about the Manhattan cocktail the more we started to realize that we could study this subject forever. Building your perfect Manhattan is personal, so start experimenting at home with your recipe until you get it just right.

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Rosemary Miller also contributed to this article.