On Eating and Loving Food

Whiskey and bourbon and rye, oh my!

Manhattans are in vogue, and I like that
Posted:  Wednesday, August 30, 2017 - 11:15am

Ok, it's time for a story about manhattans. I've mentioned them in practically every one of the almost two years' worth of columns I've written, but I've never devoted the whole thing to them.

To all you teetotalers out there, I apologize, but it appears that the majority of the readers of this column like booze.

I love manhattans.

My father taught me to make them before I was old enough to drink them. He liked to sit in his favorite chair, after being on his feet all day at his clothing store, Thayer-Diggery, in Sanford, take off his wingtips, put his stockinged feet up on the ottoman, and be served a manhattan.

Dad liked them straight up, with about 1/3 sweet vermouth, mixed with whiskey or bourbon, and a maraschino cherry, and that's how I have made them most of my life.

There’s a frenzy of new, craft manhattan recipes hitting the bars. They’re now one of the most popular cocktails at the hippest joints.

I recently had one at the Boothbay Harbor Country Club, made for me by bartender Rob Carlin. He knows his whiskeys, bourbons and ryes, and he likes to serve manhattans in the classic style — up, in a martini glass.

Carlin’s favorite booze for manhattans is Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. He uses 2 1/2 ounces of that, ½ ounce of sweet vermouth, and cherry bitters. He’s a stickler for a topnotch cherry, Luxardo, in his manhattans. This is how they’re described on Amazon: “These little gourmet cherries will make a big difference in every cocktail they touch ... It's amazing how one little piece of fruit can kick ordinary drinks into overdrive.”

I’m gonna order some of those babies.

Carlin said shaking a manhattan “bruises” it, leaving little crystals of ice that will dilute it. “Do not shake brown liquor,” he said. “With brown liquor you want to taste every bit of it.” I concurred.

Brown liquor is a new term to me. According to the Urban Dictionary, “brown liquor refers to any number of brown colored alcoholic beverages … They can be drunk by sipping or, for the more adventurous, ‘taken to the head’ — swallowed all at once.”

Carlin, who learned from classical mixologists in Naples, Florida, talked about manhattans and the difference between plain old whiskey, bourbon and rye. I never knew that bourbon and rye, and even scotch, are whiskeys. I did know they were all brown.

It was dawning on the bartender that I wasn’t as smart, about brown liquors anyway, as I pretended to be when I asked for a manhattan, up, with seemingly knowledgeable sophistication. He began explaining, slowly, that all whiskey starts with either corn, rye, barley or wheat.

“Bourbon and rye are American whiskeys,” he said (slowly). “Irish whiskey is from Ireland, and Scotch whiskey is from Scotland.” Duh. That had never occurred to me, either.

Whiskey is usually aged in oak barrels, he explained. It gets its character, taste, and color from the wood. Scotch is aged much longer than other whiskeys, with a minimum of three years, up to 25 years and longer.

I hate scotch. It’s the one booze I can’t drink. My friend Judie Webster loves it.

I don’t usually indulge in a manhattan or any other cocktail while writing, but I thought Hemingway did. Wrong. According to Philip Greene, who wrote a book about Hemingway’s drinking habits, “To Have and Have Another,” he rarely indulged while writing. He claimed Hemingway said, “Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner.”

Greene went on to co-found the Museum of the American Cocktail. Now, of course, I want to go there.

Anyway. Judie Webster got my vibes as I was thinking about writing this. Out of the blue I got an email from her listing the “Ten Ways a Manhattan can be Important: 1. Before a nightly shower; 2. After a nightly shower; 3. While watching nightly news; 4. While making dinner (duh); 5. Before you go to bed?; 6. After you get back from shopping and make lunch; 7. Before making a difficult phone call; 8. After making a difficult phone call; 9. After looking at your license photo; 10. When wearing pink (pink is my favorite color :-).

Carlin made me an old-fashioned that day too — for dessert. Similar to manhattans, an old-fashioned has muddled fruit — orange and cherry — some simple syrup or a sugar cube, a splash of orange bitters, and a splash of club soda. Yummy.

And don’t forget the perfect manhattan, with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. Carlin said one out of five manhattan drinkers orders a perfect manhattan. One of those would be my mum :-)

P.S. I started writing this on Aug. 25, and continued on Aug. 26. At some point on the 26th, it occurred to me that it was Dad’s birthday. Serendipity.