The Manhattan feels like the perfect cocktail for New Year’s Eve. The ball dropping and confetti flying is literally the iconic moment of the whole NYE celebration (sorry West Coasters). And in non-pandemic years, the parties across the island to ring in the New Year are second to none. With most of us still under quarantine for the 2020-2021 changeover, this is as close as you’re likely to get to Times Square.
For homebound revelers, the Manhattan is a very easy cocktail to mix. Better still, it takes very little effort to make over and over again as you refine the recipe for your palate, get increasingly buzzed, and dial in those mixing skills at home. It really just comes down to good bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters with a little orange and some quality cherries.
Even if you miss NYE, bookmark this for January. It’s light, full of winter vibes (thanks to the bitters), and a really satisfying cocktail to master.
The true beauty of this drink is that you can make it yours. Whereas some bartenders like to use Orange Bitters with the Angostura, I prefer fresh orange oils over the cocktail. That’s just me. Other recipes will call for strong rye. That’s cool. I prefer mine with a nice bourbon. Want to get all bespoke with a fancy Italian sweet vermouth no one’s ever heard of? Have at it! Play around! Riff! Experiment!
Let’s get to mixing.
1.5-oz. sweet vermouth
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Luxardo Maraschino Cherries
Let’s talk about the base ingredients. A 2:1 ratio is the best bet to keeping balance in a good Manhattan. I’m using standard Woodford Reserve Bourbon. It’s crafted to be a workhorse bourbon that’s both nice as a sipper and nice as a mixer. It’s not exactly “cheap” but it’s not crazy expensive either, as it falls in the $30 to $40 range depending on where you live.
As for the sweet vermouth, I’m using Martini Rosso. No, it’s not fancy. But, it’s super accessible and gets the job done for $10 a bottle.
From there, I like to use a spritz of orange oils where other bartenders might use Orange Bitters. The orange oils, I think, add more depth. Plus, you can rub those oils all around the glass, creating a more complete experience.
Lastly, don’t skimp on cherries. Luxardo or Amarena cherries are a must. One, they’re darker and sweeter. Two, they add more to the drink with their syrupy nature.
Coupe, cocktail glass, or Nick and Nora
Fruit Peeler or pairing knife
The first step is to set up the mixing station with everything. I then fill my coupe with ice to pre-chill it.
Next, I add the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters into the mixing jug.
I fill that jug over half-way full with ice and start stirring.
I end up stirring for about 30 seconds or until the outside of the mixing jug is completely frosted over and the level of the cocktail has doubled. I also taste the cocktail at this point for balance.
Mine was a little spicy, so I added in a barspoon more of sweet vermouth and stir for another ten seconds. I test it again. Perfect.
Let’s build this cocktail! I remove the ice from the coupe and strain the Manhattan into the glass.
I then peel a thumb of orange rind from a nice orange. I spritz the oils over the bowl of the glass and then rub the oils all around the rim and stem of the coupe. This will help to create a well-rounded experience while drinking the drink.
Lastly, I use my barspoon to fish out two cherries. I don’t spear them. I like my cherries in the glass with a drop or two of the syrup as it adds a touch of svelte sweetness to the drink. It also means you get a nice little treat at the end of the cocktail.
The Bottom Line:
I could drink ten of these. They’re just so damn smooth, full of spice, oak, botanicals, orange, nuttiness, dried fruit … it’s like winter vibes in a glass. It’s also super to easy to sip.
The clarity of the bourbon next to the spiciness of the bitters and orange that lead towards that sweet cherry end is everything you need right now in a drink. I made another one immediately.