In this week’s “Shaken and Stirred” column in the Times, Jonathan Miles looks at the Manhattan cocktail, its origins, and its ingredients. Now, I’ve often heard that rye is the traditional backbone for the Manhattan, and that’s certainly the way I prefer them, but I never knew why rye is the tradition.
Miles doesn’t exactly answer that question, but he does, I think, point us in the right direction. He talks to Ralph Erenzo, co-proprietor of Tuthilltown Spirits, in Gardiner, New York. Miles writes, “In all likelihood, that rye whiskey came from upstate New York, because, as Ralph Erenzo points out, ‘There were 1,200 distilleries operating in New York before Prohibition.'”
Prior to Prohibition, rye was the prevailing whiskey in the Northeast but because so many distilleries shuttered during the dry years, rye fell out of favor. It seems logical, therefore, that rye was the go-to spirit in such cocktails as the Manhattan.
Erenzo and his partner, Brian Lee, have just released a new spirit, Hudson Manhattan Rye, a 92-proof bottling made solely of rye. Because Erenzo and Lee developed this bottling to work well in a Manhattan, Miles also provides LeNell’s recipe for a Perfect Manhattan, with a couple of ounces of rye, a half ounce each of sweet and dry vermouth, and some orange bitters. She used this formulation to best bring out the character of the Hudson Manhattan Rye.
I was lucky enough to acquire a bottle this weekend, although I initially balked at its price tag–$40 for a 375-ml bottle. But on a per-ounce basis, I’ve paid more for spirits and not been as satisfied. I’m still developing my palate enough to provide tasting notes, and I’m not always confident about describing a spirit’s aromas and flavors to other people, but I will say, this stuff is peppery and spicy. It might be the most rye-tasting rye I’ve had. It’s so delicious, in fact, that I was initially saving it to be a special-occasion sipper, but after reading this article, I had to try the Manhattan recipe.
I had Carpano Antica sweet vermouth (which I love), Noilly Prat dry, and some orange bitters I picked up at Marlow & Sons. Delicious. Maybe the best Manhattan I’ve had yet.