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Whiskey Cocktails: The Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, Sazerac and Mint Julep

Jack Bettridge
Posted: August 9, 2013

When it's mixing time, American is the natural choice in whiskey. Not only does the notion get history's endorsement—the cocktail was born in the U.S. of A.—but American straight whiskeys-Bourbon, rye and Tennessee sour mash-all have deep, bold flavors. The better for standing up to all manner of sweeteners, liqueurs, aperitifs and bitters.

They also play well with strangers, allowing a synthesis that is greater than the sum of the parts. New flavors seem to be unveiled as they work their magic on whatever is added. And every brand name, every label, seems to spawn a different drink when mixed into the same formulation.

Furthermore, American whiskeys are unafraid of the deep end. They take the plunge in all manner of effervescence—from club soda to ginger ale, bitter lemon to cola—and their charms bob right to the surface. Nor will fruit juices and fruit proper scare them off.

The great drinks that start with patriotic fuels would fill a book. Here are some of the classics.

The Manhattan

The prototype vermouth-and-spirits cocktail, the Manhattan is also the standard against which all other creations are judged. From its basic formula marched a parade of classics: the Martini (gin or vodka, now mixed with dry vermouth) the Rob Roy (Scotch whisky, with sweet vermouth), the Metropolitan (brandy and vermouth). Moreover, the Manhattan has emboldened an army of bartenders to try every manner of aperitif and liqueur with every kind of spirit. It deserves its own wing in the Drinking Hall of Fame.

Manhattan cocktail.
It's a great a story that the first Manhattan was made for Winston Churchill's mom, but sadly it's just that: a story. Invented around 1870, the drink started as a rye-based cocktail and later morphed into a Bourbon drink. Either way it perfectly bespeaks the New York City borough for which it is named. It's a compact mix that vibrates with dozens of flavors and energy, a melting pot of a cocktail. Whatever whiskey you choose, think out the spirit-to-aperitif ratio based on the brand. Each one creates a markedly different cocktail.


Stir or shake according to your own taste. Stirring results in a clearer drink. But if cold and frothy is what you want, shake. The less traditional, shaken version was the choice of both Bart Simpson and The Thin Man's Nick Charles (his to a fox-trot rhythm). You can also dispense with the pitcher and shaker altogether and mix it on the rocks in an Old-Fashioned glass or, as Marilyn Monroe did to great effect in Some Like It Hot, in a hot water bottle. The mix got cold, but the scene stayed hot.

Recipe

The whiskey-vermouth proportion is only a guideline. Take it up to 5:1 if you want. Rule of thumb: Use more whiskey when it's sweeter or low-proof; less when it has spice, a bite or high-proof.


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