In Search of the Great White Manhattan

Does the Manhattan have an evil twin and if so, what would it be like?

In his recent Savoy post on the Seventh Heaven Cocktail (No. 1) Erik Ellestad made passing reference to a “White Manhattan” – a cocktail which I had never heard of before but which I am sure must exist someplace already (*) and which I thought would be fun to try making. My thoughts on this were as follows:

  1. Keep to the Manhattan template as closely as possible, following the 2:1 ratio of spirit to vermouth and to include a bitters.
  2. Use a high-rye white dog as the spirit.
  3. Use a French-style vermouth such as Dolin blanc or Lillet blanc.
  4. Use a bitters which adds little or no color to the cocktail.

[*] Erik says they are making one at Nopa but are using Death’s Door White Whiskey which is bottled at a much lower proof than the Wasmund’s. Neyah is also using Benedictine for the sweet component, but more about that below.

The White Dog

There are several rye-heavy offerings available (and more coming it would seem). A trip to Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley turned me into the owner of bottle of Wasmund’s Rye Spirit from Copper Fox, made from a mash of 2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley and bottled at 126-proof. According to the label it’s run off a pot still at 150- and 160-proof, which leaves plenty of grain character. Trying it neat, I could easily detect both the spice of the rye and the sweetness of the malt, which had been itself given a light fruitwood smoke when it was kilned. The whole production made me think of a rye genever except with a lot more kick.

Armed with my rye dog, I went home to start mixing…

White Manhattan #1 (“The Pure”)

1 1/2 oz. Wasmunds Rye Spirit (126-proof)
1/2 oz. water (to bring the rye spirit down to approximately 100-proof)
1 oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters
Long wide orange peel strip, for garnish

Stir over large ice 50 times to chill and dilute
Strain into a small cocktail glass
Twist orange peel strip over glass to expel some oil and then drop into the glass

So #1 is a simple-minded inversion of the Manhattan substituting white goods everywhere possible. If you are a Martini drinker (and I am not) you’d probably like the #1. It’s sure as heck pretty and not without merit. However, to state the obvious: one of the things which makes the Manhattan so delectable is that it’s something of a sweet cocktail, with the Italian vermouth balancing the spice of the rye. The #1 was just too dry for my taste. So, to my list of criteria for this cocktail, add:

  1. Use a liqueur (ideally colorless) to bring back some of the sweetness and complexity that an Italian-style vermouth would have contributed.

I also found that I really missed the complexity that a “dark” bitters like Angostura or TBT Old Time Aromatic adds to a cocktail. The Regan’s, much as I like it elsewhere, just didn’t seem to bring all that much to the mix.

White Manhattan #2 (“The Opal”)

1 3/4 oz. Wasmund’s
1 oz. Dolin blanc (or try Lillet blanc)
1/4 oz Cointreau (replacing the water from the #1)
3-4 drops Angostura
Long wide orange peel strip, for garnish

This was more like it. Still on the dry side, the Cointreau brings plenty of orange and sweet into the mix while the Angostura seemed to amplify the smoky/woodsy malt components of Wasmund’s. A winner!

The only downside of the #2 is that the few drops of Angostura (a welcome addition) slightly tinted the cocktail which had really wanted to be perfectly clear. It was lovely to look at however and I think this version easily merits the sobriquet: “The Opal.”

I’ll continue to tinker with the White Manhattan—I’ve got a few more ideas up my sleeve—and report on any new variations which I feel merit a write up.

[NOTE: careful readers will notice that there was no orange peel in my photo of the #2. The situation was great afternoon light on the back deck or a trip to the store to buy some oranges. The light won out.]


4 Responses to “In Search of the Great White Manhattan”

  1. Like the garden pictures! Isn’t it awesome that the light is back enough that they are possible?

  2. Unfortunately my browser doesn’t show your pictures.

    Anyway – I just think, that 1.5 cl of Cointreau pushes the drink too far away of an original Manhattan…

    Maybe a sweeter white vermouth would do?

    You also might consider TBT bitters – what I experienced is, that they have far less color compared to Angostura – but still have a lot of spices.

  3. @dominik mj

    Dolin and Lillet blanc are about as sweet as a “dry” vermouth gets. Not sure how I could push that much further.

    In place of the curacao I could try something more herbal. I do intend to try Benedictine, which is what Neyah White at Nopa uses.

    I’m definitely wanting to try the cocktail with some of the TBT orange bitters, which I remember as being pretty clear but with more traditional bitter character. I am waiting for them to arrive here in San Francisco.


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