A couple of years ago, Maggie and Rosemary did a series of blog posts discussing the Manhattan Cocktail titled the “Barefoot Manhattans”. Each blog looked at the different components of the Manhattan as they decided which product should be used to make the best Manhattan. I should have started that series with a look at the historical recipes for the Manhattan, so I have decided that it is better late than never and write such a blog.
I will start with looking at Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual from 1888. The Manhattan was a very popular cocktail as it is one of the first ten cocktails he gives recipes for in the book.
Manhattan Cocktail: (Use a large bar glass), Fill the glass up with ice; 2 or 3 dashes of gum syrup; 1 or 2 dashes of bitters (Boker’s genuine only); 1 dash curacao (or absinth if required); ½ wine glass of whiskey; ½ wine glass of vermouth; stir up well, strain into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on the top, and serve; leave it for the customer to decide whether to use Absinthe or not.
Next, I will look at Jerry Thomas’ The Bartender’s Guide from 1887. There are two differences between Thomas’ recipe and Johnson’s recipe. First, Thomas calls for rye whiskey whereas Johnson simply calls for whiskey. Next, Thomas shakes the ingredients whereas Johnson stirs them. There is a big debate today about whether to shake or stir the Manhattan cocktail, but there is historical precedence for doing it either way.
Manhattan Cocktail: (Use a small bar glass). Take 2 dashes of Curacao or Maraschino. 1 pony of rye whiskey. 1 wine glass of vermouth. 3 dashes of Boker’s bitters. 2 small lumps of ice. Shake up well, and strain into a claret glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass and serve. If the customer prefers it very sweet use also 2 dashes of gum syrup.
Moving forward to 1935 and the end of Prohibition, the Old Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender’s Guide gives two recipes for the Manhattan cocktail by giving a dry version using French vermouth.
Manhattan Cocktail: 1/3 Italian Vermouth, 2/3 Old Mr. Boston Whiskey, 2 dashes bitters, 2 dashes gum syrup. Stir well with cracked ice and strain into a 3 oz. cocktail glass. Serve with a cherry.
Manhattan Cocktail (Dry): 2/3 Old Mr. Boston Whiskey, 1/3 French Vermouth, 2 dashes bitters. Stir well with cracked ice and strain into a 3 oz. cocktail glass. Serve with a cherry. Fifty years later, the Old Mr. Boston recipe calls for serving the dry Manhattan with an olive.
In my lifetime, I always considered the late Gary Regan as the best authority on the Manhattan. I know he loved his Manhattans and made them with an enthusiasm that reflected that passion for a good Manhattan. In his book The Bartender’s Bible, Regan gives three recipes for the Manhattan – The Manhattan, the Dry Manhattan and the Perfect Manhattan.
Manhattan: 2 ounces blended whiskey, ¾ ounce sweet vermouth, 3 dashes bitters, 1 maraschino cherry. In a mixing glass half-filled with ice cubes, combine the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry.
Dry Manhattan: 2 ounces blended whiskey, ¾ ounce dry vermouth, 1 lemon twist. In a mixing glass half-filled with ice cubes, combine the whiskey and vermouth. Stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.
Perfect Manhattan: 2 ½ ounces blended whiskey, ½ ounce dry vermouth, ½ ounce sweet vermouth, 1 dash bitters, 1 lemon twist or maraschino cherry. In a mixing glass half-filled with ice cubes, combine the whiskey, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist or the cherry.
Finally, I will look at Joy Perrine’s recipe for the Manhattan in the cocktail book she co-authored with Susan Reigler, The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book. She has several variations on the Manhattan, but I will give her recipe for the original Manhattan here.
Original Manhattan: 2 ounces Kentucky Bourbon, ¾ ounce Noilly Prat sweet vermouth, 4 dashes Angostura bitters, Garnish with a red cherry. For each version of the Manhattan, combine Bourbon, vermouth, and bitters over ice and shake. Nothing ruins a Manhattan faster than old or cheap vermouth. Use Noilly Prat vermouth from France and buy small bottles. Yes, the traditional Manhattan has bitters in it.
The Manhattan has evolved over the years. The cherry garnish seems to be a post-Prohibition addition and several versions of the cocktail that have also evolved from the original. Since the 1880s recipes do not call for either sweet or dry vermouth, it could be assumed that either could have been used, depending upon what the customer asked for. Most bartenders today agree that the Manhattan should be stirred, but there are still some bartenders shaking their Manhattans. The type of whiskey is also a variable ranging from blended whiskey to rye whiskey and Bourbon whiskey.
Check out the Barefoot Manhattan blogs to see what Maggie and Rosemary decided what went into the best Manhattan Cocktail.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller
October 16, 2020 at 5:31 pm
I’m a Perfect Manhattan guy myself.
October 21, 2020 at 3:54 pm
I prefer the traditional Manhattan myself, but I do enjoy the Perfect Manhattan.