A History and Whiskey Debate
The Manhattan is the fame and the testosterone of a miniseries in American culture known as the five New York cocktails named after the five boroughs of New York. They are all inviting save for the Staten Island Ferry which is as if some local Caribbean tourist cocktail was ambushed south of New York.
The Brooklyn, 2 oz rye whisky, 1 oz dry vermouth, dash of maraschino liqueur, dash of Amer Picon (French orange flavored liqueur. Inconsequential for Thirsty Thursday’s purposes: it is less a potable and more a dated tradition only available in France). Shaken into a martini glass. No garnish.
The Bronx, 2 oz gin, ¼ oz each sweet and dry vermouth, 1 oz orange juice, dash of orange bitters. Shaken into a martini glass. Garnished with an orange twist.
The Queens, 1 oz gin, 1 oz dry vermouth, 1 oz sweet vermouth, 1 oz pineapple juice. Shaken into martini glass. No garnish.
The Staten Island Ferry, 2 oz coconut rum and 2 oz pineapple juice poured into a highball. Stirred with ice. No garnish.
SEE ALSO: Thirsty Thursday — The Manhattan - Learn how to order and enjoy the Manhattan cocktail
Depending on the account, the Manhattan was invented sometime between 1860 and 1890 in Manhattan, New York. The original recipe either had equal parts vermouth and whisky or also contained gum sap and absinthe. And the architect was either a bartender named ‘Black’ or Dr. Iain Marshall. Also Winston Churchill’s mother was somehow involved, or she wasn’t because she was in France and pregnant. Regardless, I am bored with speculation on the origin of this drink and we are going to move on.
There is a heated contest among Manhattan enthusiasts. Is the Manhattan prepared with rye whisky, bourbon or Canadian whisky? The answer is actually an economic story rather than a question of qualified superiority. However, if you are interested in what each will do to the taste of your Manhattan, here are some basic flavor profiles:
Rye is distinctive, novel, original and bitter.
Flavor: Spicy, sweet and oaky
Canadian whisky is safe, balanced and diverse flavor profiles
Flavor: Sweet, honey, toffee, caramel and oaky
Bourbon is smooth and loyal
Flavor: Sweet, smoky, vanilla, buttery, fruity, oaky and corn
An unsurpassed comparison between bourbon and rye was made in the New York Times: “…rye whisky, bourbon’s sharper-tongued cousin. (For an analogy, think of the difference between rye bread and corn bread)” Thank you Mr. Jonathan Miles. Not considering, it’s all whisky and I gesture at you and your preference with endorsement. You cannot go wrong; it is the Manhattan, not the Kangaroo Cocktail (see below).
The Inebriate Economist says; Very few bars carry a good rye if they carry rye at all. Canadian Club has been nonsensically popularized by Don Draper and will be available in both dives and premium bars. This common blend is one Canadian mix that retains a ridiculous amount of rye in it. So if you are looking to experience an original Manhattan, but none of your elementary campus bars carry rye whisky, substitute Canadian Club.
The Legendary Collegian says; The Kangaroo Cocktail is a euphemism for the vodka martini. I apologize for beating a dead, well I guess, kangaroo– but the next time you get a martini and decide it is okay NOT to insist on gin in the libation, please remember that it is also known as a Kangaroo Cocktail you little boy.
This debate exists because of 100 year old economics rather than an actual flavor profile argument. Rye whisky was in the original formula. American rye whisky became scarce and expensive because of the American legal climate and dramatically decreased domestic production resulting from prohibition. Therefore, Canadian whisky was used because of its availability. Most interesting is the introduction of bourbon into the cocktails recipe. There was an immediate demand for the ‘American whisky Manhattan’ as soon as the 18th amendment passed. This sentiment was stronger than a desire for the preservation of the American rye whisky Manhattan. What resulted was the bourbon Manhattan because rye whiskies have a significant aging process. Bourbon does not and was used as a quick substitute. The bourbon Manhattan remained relevant because patrons enjoyed the sweetness of bourbon relative to the spice of rye. So each camp in the debate represents a different period of history. Rye whisky is pre-prohibition, Canadian whisky is during prohibition and bourbon is post prohibition.
The Inebriate Economist says; the residual effect of this sudden demand for an American Manhattan is even broader. When the repeal of prohibition passed, bourbon primarily was transported by river and it became very and immediately available to the American South West and the Gulf Coast. The transport to the Northern states was much slower which is why many of those states retain Canadian whisky as the primary spirit today because of it availability across the border relative to waiting for the American product to travel north; a Manhattan in New Orleans will utilize bourbon, but one in Michigan will most likely utilize Canadian whisky.
Here’s to you,