Someone recently asked me to name my stranded-on-a-desert-island cocktail. I told that person you can take the lady out of Manhattan, but you can’t take the Manhattan out of the lady. (Besides, theoretically, you can garnish a Manhattan with pineapple instead of cherries or orange zest, right?) I could live without that cocktail, but I wouldn’t want to.
Luckily we’re not stranded out in the middle of the ocean, and a proper Manhattan is well within reach — especially with the right rye as a base. So what is the perfect rye for a Manhattan? I asked these three bartenders for their input:
Mike Vacheresse often jokes that Travel Bar, the Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn joint he co-owns, curates, and makes all the cocktails for is a “neighborhood bar with a whiskey problem.”
“I have two ryes in my well,” he says. “Old Overholt 86 proof and Rittenhouse. I use Overholt when I want the modifier to shine [such as in the Summer Manhattan, a menu staple since the beginning, lightened up with Dubonnet Rouge and orange bitters]. Rittenhouse is big and bold, and requires an equally bold modifier.”
For this reason, he stocks Carpano Antica for the house Manhattan, made the traditional way:
- 2 oz Rittenhouse rye
- 1 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
- 2 to 3 dashes bitters
- Garnish: cocktail cherry or twist
Stir all ingredients with ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish.
Erik Tennyson, head bartender at Rye in San Francisco, is a fan of that city’s OG craft rye, Old Potrero, which has been produced at Anchor Distilling (now Hotaling & Co.) since the 1990s. He says that a rye is integral to a Manhattan because “it’s driven by the spiciness of the whiskey, which is not as prevalent in the more corn-heavy bourbon.” He explains that Old Potrero — which, as the name would suggest, is made on a pot — still has “a weight that most ryes lack, and it results in a denser, more full-bodied cocktail that doesn’t need a lot of sugar to beef it up. The fact that it is a 100% rye also means that those spicy and floral rye notes are front and center, and meld with sweet vermouth seamlessly.”
- 2 oz Old Potrero Rye
- .75 oz Cocchi Torino
- 3 dashes of Angostura
The 7 Best Classic Rye CocktailsMove aside, bourbon. Rye is the traditional whiskey for these cocktails.
Tennyson has special instructions for preparing the cocktail with these ingredients, because he believes a Manhattan shouldn’t be over-diluted. “I stir a Manhattan about 30% less than I stir a Martini,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be as cold. A Martini should be as close to freezing as possible, so that condensation will form on a cold glass almost immediately. Manhattans taste better when they are cold but not freezing. Think like 45 degrees Fahrenheit or so.”
As for the garnish, “Always use a high-quality cherry like Luxardo,” Tennyson recommends. “It’s like a little gift at the end of your drink. It should pop and almost crunch. A mushy cherry is just sad.”
Paula Lukas is the head bartender at the Hyatt Union Square, New York City. To serve Manhattans in Manhattan, she goes for Powers Irish Rye as her base. “It’s very balanced, with just the right amount of spice,” she says.
She notes that her specs are the classic 2:1 whiskey to vermouth. Though she has a personal preference: “However, if it was for myself, I prefer a perfect Manhattan with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth and also a few dashes of orange bitters as well as angostura,” she adds.
Castle & Key Restoration Rye is part of a new generation of Kentucky rye brands, though its roots are grounded in the past. The distillery’s stunning European gothic architecture dates back to the late 1800s, though it had been shuttered for decades since Prohibition. Restoration is a rye that has been produced at the revived facility in distinct batches since 2014.
Nik Kosobucki, bartender at Peychaud’s in New Orleans, is a big fan. “I really love Castle & Key Restoration Rye in a Manhattan because of the balance it brings to this classic cocktail,” he says. “The proof and spice of Restoration Rye is the perfect complement to the vermouth and bitters.”
- 2 oz Castle & Key Restoration Rye Whiskey
- 0.5 oz Punt a Mes
- 0.5 oz Carpano Sweet Vermouth
- 1-2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Add all ingredients into a tin shaker with ice, stir, strain into a glass and garnish with a Luxardo Cherry for best enjoyment.
Rachel Sergi is the founder of Cocktail Queen USA consultancy based out of Washington, D.C. She says her rye of choice is Lock, Stock, & Barrel Vatted Blend because “at 50% ABV it shines in the drink.” She explains, “Many times, I find the base spirit gets overrun by the choice of vermouth. Not with this rye.”
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