How to Make the Perfect Manhattan
By sally cooks on February 26, 2013
A lot of whiskey later…
Here is a lesson in bourbon from a beautiful guest blogger and the newly crowned queen of bourbon. (Full post here: http://www.sallycooks.com/2013/01/cat-mixes-perfect-rye-manhattanin.html) Thanks Cat - Cheers!
C: I’ve always been a huge lover of bourbon. I feel like if you are from the South you either have to love bourbon or drink enough until you finally decide you do. This past weekend I was lucky enough to visit Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN. If you ever get the chance you MUST go there. I could go on forever about it, but basically it is perfect.
another reason to visit
This is the exterior and interior of the Barn, where their insanely delicious dinners are served and where we had our whiskey tasting. The barn is over a hundred years old and it’s amazing how they have preserved it.
I’ve always been more of a liquor girl than a wine girl. Don’t get me wrong, I could drink champagne and white wine with a straw (gotta keep it classy) but when I’m thinking about what to drink I usually go for liquor-based drinks first. Our love of interesting cocktails and infused alcohol is actually another thing Sally and I have bonded over. We also share the “Southern Mom Drinker”. What do I mean by “Southern Mom Drinker”? Well, in the South a lot of women, my beautiful and hilarious mother included, are convinced that if it comes in a wine bottle it isn’t really alcohol, double fisting is fine, and if you fulfill your 8 glasses a day requirement with the stuff you’re fiiiiiiiiiine. But when it comes to hard alcohol it’s considered somewhat “sinful” and definitely something for the boys.
I remember shortly after moving to Washington, DC I took my Momma Jane to Rosa Mexicana and ordered a margarita and she literally gasped, and yes, this was right after she’d ordered an extra big glass of Chardonnay. Anyway, I feel like most girls go for vodka/rum/gin and stay away from the whiskey/whisky/bourbon/scotch because it can be pretty intimidating. There are a billion different types of each from a billion different places – Ireland, Scotland, Kentucky, New York, so how do you know what to order? And more importantly, how do you know what to order without looking like you clearly are just ordering it to try to look cool (been there too many times.)
My hope is that maybe this post will give you the courage to place an order, buy a bottle, or at least ask some questions at a local liquor store and try something different that you may find you love and wonder, “how have I not had this in my life?!”
So, over the past weekend I was lucky enough to learn about American Whiskey (not Scotch, not Irish, this is just red, white, and blue bitches) from Blackberry Farm’s amazing bartender/genius Graham Case. So here is a REALLY basic breakdown of what to look like when you are shopping for a bottle of American Whiskey or thinking about ordering something:
FIRST WORDS ON THE BOTTLE – The first words on the bottle describe what the whiskey is made of. Here are the most popular you will find:
- Rye whiskey – made from mash that consists of at least 51% rye.
- Rye whiskey is actually my favorite. It’s much softer than a lot of the other versions (like the rye grain itself) and is usually mixed with corn so it has both a soft and sweet flavor. Not a whole lot of burn most people tend to avoid.
- Rye Malt Whiskey – made from mash that consists of at least 51% malted rye.
- Malt Whiskey – made from mash that consists of at least 51% malted barley.
- Wheat Whiskey – made from mash that consists of at least 51% wheat.
- Depending on the wheat that is used this is probably the standard taste you think of when you think of whiskey. It’s semi harsh, semi burny but with a little bit of sweetness. Usually a little less harsh flavor than bourbon.
- If you can find a winter wheat whiskey you are in luck! This is good drinking, as the flavor is much more rounded out and there’s less burn and smoke.
- Bourbon Whiskey – made from mash that consists of at least 51% corn (maize).
- Being 51% corn there is a lot of good residual sugar in bourbon which is why it is so popular. It does have that burn so remember that if drinking alone. However, the longer a bourbon is aged, the less that it will burn, so sometimes it’s worth it to invest.
- Corn Whiskey – made from mash that consists of at least 80% corn (maize).
Lots of options how to choose?
And yes, we did consume that much. Plus a whiskey pairing at dinner that night. No. Big. Deal.
So, basically in the process of making whiskey the makers put the alcohol into charred barrels. Then they let the alcohol sit in these barrels for years. Depending on the length of time and the amount of heat the barrel has been exposed to, as heat will cause the wood to expand and absorb liquid imparting more of that smoky flavor, the whiskey will mature, then be mixed with water (you didn’t set out to buy rubbing alcohol), and be bottled up and delivered to your liquor store. So now that we know what the first words on the bottle mean here is a short list of the second part of the bottle you might run into.
SECOND WORDS ON THE BOTTLE – These words tend to describe how the batch was made. Most whiskey batches are made from the contents of hundreds or thousands of barrels being mixed in together and then syphoned off into the bottle you take home. Others use more exact methods for crafting flavor by limiting the barrels to control the quality of the whiskey they throw into a batch.
- Small batch – means the bottle you are drinking is literally from a small batch, meaning the maker has paid particular attention to these barrels to ensure a really good flavor. Whether it was a certain amount of aging or charring that went into the barrel, it’s all very controlled for a certain flavor outcome.
- Cask Strength – this means you are getting a strong bottle that does not have the water most whiskeys have. These can run you 65%+ alcohol per bottle.
- Double Barrel – means that the bottle you are drinking came from a two-step process where the whiskey was first aged in one barrel and then moved to another for later aging. This gives depth of flavor, so they say, because all wood is different in the way it imparts flavor.
Alright enough of the boring stuff but hopefully that at least helps! If I had to make a suggestion on a “starter” whiskey I’d definitely recommend this Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Kentucky Rye. It’s a bit of an investment but seriously, seriously worth it. Or there is always another one of my faves, Basil Hayden's Bourbon. Basil Hayden’s always reminds me of Sal because she’s one of the few girls who will chug it with me and I love her for it. Now onto the good stuff. THE DRINK.
THE PERFECT RYE MANHATTAN
(from Blackberry Farm and Epicurious, because at that point I was 6 bourbon tastings deep, so ingredients, shmingredients was my thought at the time so I needed a bit of a reminder. Oops.)
This drink is actually called the Perfect Manhattan because it’s made with equal parts sweet vermouth and dry vermouth, whereas most are just dry vermouth. But that’s why this is perfect, it’s way better. Try it, I promise you’ll love. But more importantly, this is Sally’s blog and I know this is right up her alley – can’t wait to make you one Sal!!!
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
- 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura or orange bitters
- Maraschino cherry or small piece lemon peel for garnish – Actually, preferably a moonshine infused cherry!
- Find yourself that pretty cocktail shaker we used for last week’s cocktail and throw in the whiskey and some ice, feel free to eyeball as a little extra never hurts!
- Throw in that delicious sweet and dry vermouth and a dash of bitters of your choice. Traditional works, but this would really be great with some sort of specialty bitters. The Bitter Truth has an amazing selection if you want to splurge for the Orange bitters. They tend to be available in most liquor stores and even some grocery stores these days too.
- SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE
- Pour into a gorgeous glass and serve with a boozy maraschino cherry. SO SO SO delicious.
A FEW OTHER NOTES:
- Don’t be afraid to talk to your liquor store owner. Most tend to be knowledgeable and can guide you to a new liquor, whiskey or not, that can be an exciting change of pace and something you’ll love. Tell them what flavors you tend to love and they’ll help find you something fabulous.
- If you want to do your own whiskey tasting, Graham (Blackberry’s famous bartender) recommends pouring 1 oz into a glass of each that you want to taste. Taste half at room temperature then taste the other half in a glass with a giant piece of ice. The water actually causes a chemical reaction – flavor explosion – and usually you will like it even better. It’s a fun way to really find what you are going to love!