Do you ever make cocktails at home? I’ve been mixing up gin and tonics for years – requires a LOT of skill, like opening a bottle of tonic water, pouring that and some gin over ice, squeezing in a lime, and stirring. So maybe it’s not really all that skilled after all.
But I only started attempting anything beyond that about a year and a half ago when, inspired by a tequila-based cocktail I had enjoyed at Tres (back then, Tres Agaves), I decided to put a fresh twist on the processed sweetener (grapefruit soda) by substituting juice from a freshly squeezed-by-me grapefruit and club soda. My version of La Paloma set in motion an exploration of cocktails that hasn’t stopped since.
From sparkling vodka elderflower lemonade and apple brandy limeade to a gin-based version of a dark ‘n stormy (or, depending on how you look at it, a ginger beer/ale version of a gin and tonic) and creamy candy cane cocktail, you might think me a purveyor of purely clear liquors.
The cucumber infusion that wound up as my bride’s specialty cocktail and the lemon peel and vodka infusion that became limoncello after a few months would do nothing to convince you otherwise.
However, in real life, I dabble in the brown stuff more often than the clear.
On Saturday, I spoke on a BlogHer Food Conference panel about the resurgence and modernization of vintage recipes. During the panel, I gave a longer-than-it-should-have-been-because-my-hands-were-shaking-and-ohmygosh-how-do-I-answer-questions-while-simultaneously-keeping-track-of-what-I’m-mixing demo on how to make two versions of the timeless (and my favorite) Manhattan cocktail.
I learned that:
- Food conference audiences are much kinder – and more forgiving – than the lawyers and judges that hounded me mercilessly back in moot court and appellate advocacy (and throughout law school generally);
- Wearing my hair down is a fairly effective way to mask how deeply scarlet my cheeks turn when I get nervous speaking in front of a crowd;
- I don’t have a good personal definition for “vintage” because I think it can mean almost anything and I’m okay with it being that vague;
- Shaking a cocktail is a great strategy for masking shaking hands;
- Staring at co-panelists with my best “no way do I have a respectable answer for that” face is a great way to encourage them to jump in with their best answers and take pity on a first time blog conference speaker;
- People still make and eat jello salad;
- I have no PC response to someone asking about jello salad (perhaps because jiggly jello itself totally grosses me out);
- Admitting nervousness is okay, especially when it results in coworkers turning into my personal cheerleading squad;
- Jay must be the most patient and supportive person alive to sit through a food panel in a room filled with foodie bloggers as obnoxious as I am; and
- Most importantly, the best way to combat nervousness is to sample personally the results from the cocktail demo (note to self: do demo at the beginning next time … or even a practice round before the panel starts).
I also learned that, while live blogs certainly capture the gist of things for those unable to attend, they’re not 100% accurate (how could they be when the live blogger is trying to capture the thousands of words spewing out of my mouth in rapid succession without many – or any – pauses?), which makes them inadequate for recipe-sharing purposes.
Because this version of a Manhattan is by far my favorite cocktail and because I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out, I’ve written up a detailed recipe below, inspired by the groom’s cocktail we developed with our wedding bartender last October. I’d recommend starting with a decent but not incredibly expensive bourbon like Maker’s Mark (after all, you will be mixing it, not drinking it neat), and then you can experiment with rye whiskey (what was originally used in the drink; but I prefer bourbon’s slightly sweeter but more robust flavor) as you see fit.
You should know that Manhattans originally had a 2 parts to 1 part liquor to vermouth ratio, but I like mine a little less sweet and use a 2 to 3/4 ratio. I also substitute some of the vermouth for a maraschino liqueur by Luxardo. Don’t worry; it doesn’t taste like the sickly sweet cherries you’re thinking of, but rather has a slightly bitter sweetness that tastes similar to almonds. There’s a wide variety of bitters on the market, including some fun flavors (grapefruit, lavender, celery, even chocolate, to name a few!), but I prefer a more traditional orange bitters – and sometimes, when I’m feeling a little feisty, an orange/grapefruit combo. And as the title tells, I prefer to pop a few cherries into bourbon a few days or a week in advance – or just keep a supply handy – for garnish; sometimes with an orange peel.
Experiment as you wish. The most important thing is to make it how YOU like it. Even if that means using those dratted bright red jarred candied monstrosities for garnish.
One last thing is that I can’t recommend large spherical ice or large cubed ice enough (both linked to in the recipe below – check them out). They melt much more slowly than the usual sized cubes, so your drinks stays cool without becoming diluted beyond recognition. To this point: I can use the same sphere cube for two full Manhattans, thus optimizing my ice usage.
So yes, as a matter of fact, I think I will have another.
Manhattan with Maraschino Liqueur
Makes 1 cocktail
large sphere or cube ice
old fashioned glass
2 oz. bourbon (or rye whiskey – take your pick)
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo)
2 dashes orange bitters (recommended: Scrappy’s)
Bourbon-Bathed Cherry for garnish (recipe below)
Dislodge spherical or cube ice from tray, and put into old fashioned glass. Pour bourbon, vermouth, maraschino liqueur and bitters over the ice.
If desired, peel wide slice of orange peel away from orange, and with white pith facing away from glass, twist/squeeze peel over glass to release oils (optional: drop orange peel into glass as part of garnish). Note: I did this for my demo at BlogHer Food and sometimes do it at home, but it’s not entirely necessary if you’re out of oranges. Perhaps just add an extra dash of orange bitters.
Plop a Bourbon Cherry into the glass, carefully swirl the glass a few times to chill the drink, and enjoy!
Bourbon-Bathed Cherries & Cherry-Infused Bourbon
Makes as many or few cherries for garnish (or snacking) as you wish
handful of fresh cherries
airtight container for storing them
enough bourbon to cover the cherries
Wash and dry cherries. Remove stems (and pits, if desired). Transfer cherries to a jar, tupperware or other airtight container. Pour enough bourbon over them to cover cherries completely. Let sit, refrigerated and covered, for at least a few days and up to a month or so.
Option to replenish the jar with new cherries (and more bourbon, as needed to cover), or to use the cherry-infused bourbon in a cocktail.