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Since I wrote that blog post last year about this time, I've made a point of having a Manhattan whenever possible before dinner. Just this year, I've had lots of variations on the basic theme of bourbon-vermouth-bitters.
- At Tortoise Club, a cozy men's-club-type restaurant (350 N. Street) that opened a few months ago, I recently had an outstanding Manhattan of Carpano, a fancy-ish vermouth that's currently showing up everywhere, and Templeton rye, a local spirit from Iowa, just excellent. Rye is the original spirit in Manhattans, though Bourbon is now the default choice at most bars.
- At Mercat la Planxa (638 S. Michigan) I had a Catalonian interpretation of the Manhattan called La Mora, with Bullit Bourbon. In this preparation, agave nectar stood in for vermouth with mint pepper functioning as a bittering agent. It was really good, and I liked that it pushed the boundaries of what can be done with the basic trinity of bourbon + sweet herbaciousness.
- At Old Town Social (455 W. North) the Manhattan uses Woodford Reserve (an excellent bourbon…usually too excellent for me), Averna (a Sicilian digestif) and black walnut bitters. There are so many different bitters abounding at bars in 2013 that the subtle changes one can exact on a Manhattan are, indeed, infinite.
What all this variation has taught me is that the deep structure of the Manhattan is rich enough to generate numerous variations. I've even changed my preferences: I used to prefer the perfect Manhattan (with sweet and dry vermouth) with a cherry, and that's still a fine drink, but now I'm tending to prefer just sweet vermouth and a rim and twist of lemon, as I feel this combination of sweet and sour provides more balanced beverage.
Anyway, this You Really Should Drink This video segment focuses on the Manhattan at Barclay's American Grille where Joe (could there be a more perfect bartender name?!) knows his stuff and shows it with every beautiful Manhattan he mixes up.
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