There is a lot to consider when making a classic cocktail. The way things are produced have changed (see point #4). The best way to learn is to talk to your bartender, if they see you're genuinely interested they will help you pick a good bourbon and a good vermouth to put together. Try different combinations out and then keep your bar stocked with what have deemed "worthy" of a manhattan.
1. Up or down? // A manhattan is traditionally stirred - be sure to use ample ice to achieve a bitter cold cocktail. Once complete, should a manhattan be served up or down? - The choice is yours.
A manhattan served "up" is elegant and maintains a uniform flavor from start to finish. It may be served in a martini glass, coupe or similar vessel. Our favorite restaurant will go so far as to replace the frozen glass halfway through - unnecessary, but special.
When served "down," the manhattan is served with ice. The experience evolves as the ice melts - which also serves to add texture to a cocktail that is otherwise silky smooth. It may be served in a rocks glass, old fashioned glass or similar.
2. Vermouth matters // Most people wonder why their home manhattan tastes so different from that of a high end cocktail bar. The secret is likely in the vermouth.
Vermouth adds complexity and softness to the cocktail. Like so many other ingredients, not all vermouths are created equal. Many specialty liquor and wine shops are carrying 375ml bottles of vermouth. Buying in this quantity serves a couple purposes. First, it allows one to try a variety of vermouths while being more gentle on the wallet. Second, it ensures your vermouth is fresh. Vermouth, like wine, has a limited life and goes bad reasonably quickly once opened.
3. Don't forget the bitters // What is the easiest way to make a manhattan your very own special concoction? Get creative with bitters. The winekeeper at our local wine shop (who also serves up a mean cocktail) uses rhubarb bitters to make "his" manhattan. Our go to for a unique flavor are tamarind lime chili bitters. Bitters matter!
4. When choosing cherries, be a snob! // Bright red, grocery store cocktail cherries are never acceptable - that is unless you like fruit that is bleached, soaked in high fructose corn syrup and artificially colored.
Look for Luxardo cherries - simply the most delicious widely available option. We also love to brandy our own (secret tip - this is a lovely gift for friends who love cocktails).
Whatever you choose, make the manhattan your very own. Love what you make and share it with friends.