Ask the bartender: How to make a Manhattan

Categories: Booze News

Sean Kenyon Bio Photo.jpg
Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with almost 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can find him behind the bar at Squeaky Bean -- and here every week, where he'll answer your questions.

But this round is devoted to a treatise (read: rant) about Sean Kenyon's favorite cocktail, the Manhattan.

As the weather gets cooler, my mind and palate wander toward aged spirits and stirred cocktails. Rye whiskey is my favorite aged spirit, and the Manhattan is the quintessential rye cocktail. Created in the Manhattan Club in New York City in the 1870s, it has become one of the staple cocktails that should be in every bartender's repertoire. It is a simple, three-ingredient drink that should be extremely easy to make. Unfortunately, it is the one classic cocktail that many bartenders just can't seem to get right.

The three most common Manhattan fails:

Numero Uno... DON'T SHAKE MY MANHATTAN! It dulls the flavors and makes for a thinner cocktail. A Manhattan should be rich and full-bodied -- so stirring is a must. Pour by the cardinal rule: If a drink is all spirits, stir; if there is juice or sweeteners, shake. There is neither juice nor sweetener in this cocktail.

Second (and I've said this before), don't fear the vermouth. This is the Winston Churchill/James Bond martini effect bleeding over to fuck with my favorite cocktail. Vermouth is an essential ingredient and should be one-third the volume of the cocktail. Just be sure that it is stored cold and tastes fresh.

Third, please don't ever put one of those plastic-looking, bright-red artificial "maraschino" cherries anywhere near my Manhattan. And for the sake of all that is holy, don't pour any of its toxic-looking brine/juice/suspension in the cocktail. I've seen this done a hundred times, and it always freaks me out.

Think about that cherry (or what used to be a cherry) for a minute: It is stripped of its natural flavor and color with a chemical solution, then the flavor and color are reintroduced artificially. No one should consume those "things." If a bar has brandied cherries or real Luxardo maraschino cherries, you are safe. If not, opt for an orange twist.

While the Manhattan was created as a rye whiskey cocktail, there are regional traditions. In the South, the preference is to make it with bourbon. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, Manhattans are generally made with brandy.


Location Info

Squeaky Bean - CLOSED

3301 Tejon St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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