New York State of Mind
Inspired variations on the classic Manhattan
In the wake of the craft cocktail boom of recent years, every bar and restaurant seems to be coming up with its own menu of custom liquid creations to attract discerning drinkers. But no matter how innovative and creative these drinks may be, most are based on classics that have stood the test of time. Case in point: the Manhattan. This sublime mixture of whiskey (usually either rye or bourbon), sweet vermouth and bitters dates back to the mid-1800s, though its precise origins (as with most iconic cocktails) remain foggy at best. With only three ingredients stirred together with ice, the Manhattan is deceptively simple and provides a solid base for experimentation.
With the plethora of bitters available on the market today, it’s easy to do an interesting twist on the Manhattan by just switching out the original Angostura bitters for something different. The rye Manhattan at The Royale, for example, employs orange bitters, long a popular substitute. The house Manhattan at The Libertine, available with either rye or bourbon, opts for both Angostura and orange bitters, while also recognizing the wide variety of flavors available in sweet vermouths. This tasty variation combines two different sweet vermouths—the spicier Cinzano Rosso, as well as the more vegetal Punt e Mes—along with a dash of Luxardo maraschino liqueur for a touch of added sweetness and depth. Beyond these sorts of simple substitutions and combinations, the broad palate of the Manhattan allows for plenty of additional ingredients to be added to the mix. The Bourbon Reforms at Mission Taco Joint bolsters the requisite bourbon with some high-proof Thunderbeast Missouri Moonshine, then adds another layer of herbaceous sweetness with Benedictine and a bit of heat from Bittermens Hellfire habanero shrub. The Tom Waits For No Man at The Libertine adds some of the bracing Italian amaro Fernet Branca to brighten things up, and a few dashes of house-made spring bitters—Angostura bitters steeped with mint, chamomile, lavender and other ingredients—to add subtle herbal and floral notes.
Photo credit: Christopher Gibbons