In which I wax poetic on my favorite drink and learn how hard it is to take a good photo of a cocktail…
The Early Years
I’ve never heard of anyone putting together a list of desert island cocktails before (and a quick peek at the web proves me right) but for certain, the Manhattan would be #1 on my list. That is, as long as I could make it using my favorite ingredients.
The Manhattan is for me something of a primordial cocktail experience. I can recall when Martinis started to become popular and fashionable again in the early 90′s but while I could appreciate the aesthetic, I couldn’t really get behind the flavor. My inclination was to order a bourbon on the rocks and be done with it. Of course bourbon pickins’ were generally slim back then and I drank more Wild Turkey than I’d care to admit. If I was lucky, I’d find a bar with a bottle of Old Grand Dad, a brand I still use to this day.
I am sure it was my little brother who steered me towards my first Manhattan. No, that’s not quite right. What he steered me towards was a Maker’s Mark Manhattan with an orange peel garnish. Very precise and at that time, often a challenge to manifest. Not every bar had Maker’s (yet) and not every bar had oranges laying about (isn’t that funny to think about today). Oh, and pretty much every one of those drinks had the shit shaken out of it till it was frothy and often a bit too diluted. Still, I was hooked and the Maker’s Mark Manhattan became my first real cocktail.
Some years pass, the dot com boom…booms and Maker’s becomes the well pour at a lot of bars. Single barrel and small batch bourbons are the rage. Orange peel still cannot be counted on. I learn I must ask to have my drink stirred, not shaken. I decide it would be fun to make drinks at home. After a bit of tinkering, I gravitate away from Maker’s and towards Old Grand Dad 100 Proof Bottled in Bond. My palate is shifting.
A few more years pass. Many Manhattans are consumed. I have switched from commercial “maraschino” cherries to the candied ones from Italy called amarena. This is a big step up in flavor and cost. I eventually found a store that sold these cherries in bulk. They also sold candied orange peel in bulk as well. Hmm…. Since I like candied citrus peel (yes, and good fruitcake too) I decided to buy some and see if it would work as a garnish in the Manhattan. After my very first drink I knew I was onto something and the first version of the Candied Manhattan was born.
The next thing I tried was to see the effect of soaking the peel in different liqueurs. I tried Luxardo Maraschino but it didn’t quite mesh with the other flavors. Orange cognac on the other hand worked much better. Then I added a vanilla bean to the mix which made things even yummier – so much so that I decided to slip a scant teaspoon of the orange-vanilla cognac into the drink itself. This became the second version of the Candied Manhattan.
Next I discovered the effects of using better and more exotic vermouth. For a while I settled on Carpano Antica and then someone turned me onto Vya. I think the distinctive orange note (from the Orange Muscat, natch) complemented what I had already put together just a bit better than the Antica (which if you’ve never had straight, is totally delicious). Behold version three.
Bear with me pilgrim, we are almost to the recipe…
The Joy of Rye
About the same time as I started playing with the vermouth. I discovered the joys of drinking rye (cue sound of heavenly choir). I read all I could find out about rye and the history of American whiskey making. Wow! The Manhattan had clearly been a rye based cocktail back in the day and so I would start to make the Candied Manhattan with rye as well. I tired several brands like the newly revived Michter’s, Sazerac and Rittehouse 100 Proof. (I eschewed Pikesville and Old Overholt, brands which I cannot quite bring myself to take seriously.) I liked the Michter’s the best but it’s rather an odd fish: a bit of an expensive pour for a mixed drink but not quite in the “sipping neat” class of some other ryes. I also liked the 6 y/o Sazerac but not in the Candied Manhattan. I find it’s got a tendency to “top” the other ingredients in most any of the drinks in which I’ve tried using it – though it makes a great Old Fashioned where it can reign unchallenged. Ultimately, I settled on the Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled in Bond for my “everyday” rendition of the drink.
Sliced, Not Stripped
The final tweak involved the candied fruit garnish. Last time I went to the store to replenish my stock of orange peel strips, I found they were also selling candied orange slices. I bought a package, soaked ‘em in my orange-vanilla cognac and totally fell in love with them them. With the slices you have the added flavor dimension provided by the flesh of the fruit along with the more earthy peel. A perfect reward at the end of the cocktail – if you can wait that long.
The Candied Manhattan
2 oz Rittenhouse 100 Botttled in Bond Rye
1 oz Vya Red Vermouth
1 scant teaspoon of Orange-Vanilla Cognac liqueur (recipe below)
1 – 2 dashes bitters (Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Aged recommended)
Prep a chilled martini glass by putting 2 amarena cherries (*) and one candied orange slice or two strips (if this is what you are using) on the bottom.
Stir or gently shake ingredients to mix and chill.
Pour into prepared glass.
Orange-Vanilla Cognac Liqueur
1 cup orange cognac liqueur (e.g. Prunier Liqueur d’Orange)
1 vanilla bean
A small clean re-sealable plastic container
4 – 6 oz. candied orange peel or slices
- Score the vanilla bean with the tip of a knife and put it into the container.
- Pour the orange cognac liqueur over the bean.
- Add some or all of the candied fruit.
- Store in the refrigerator.
- Soak for 4 – 7 days before using.
- Replenish with orange-cognac liqueur as necessary.
- Replace the vanilla bean after it no longer adds significant flavor to the liqueur, about one month.
NOTE: If the candied fruit sits in the liqueur too long (more than about 2 weeks) it will start to become soft. I recommend only soaking moderate amounts of the candied fruit at a time, keeping pace with your Manhattan habit.
(*) – Most of the Italian candied cherries you find are actually amarenata – not the true amarena which is wild, smaller and softer. Both are pretty delicious however. One day I will write about my cherry fetish. Promise.