In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, drinks expert Gary Regan delved into the long history and rich character of the most regal and storied of cocktails.
No, not the Martini.
Titled "The Manhattan Project," Regan's article covers that other legendary drink served in a V-shaped glass. Of the same generation as the gin-based Martini, the whiskey-based Manhattan enjoyed greater prominence and popularity for decades. Even after Prohibition, the Manhattan continued to rival the Martini for dominance at the bar until a demand for lighter spirits--coupled with the ascendance of vodka and, later, the Margarita--pushed the Manhattan into semi-retirement as king of the cocktail heap.
I've always thought of the Manhattan-Martini divide much as I have the difference between dog people and cat people. While you can certainly love both, there's one that will always have a special place in your heart, whether it's the crisp, dry, reverential notes of the Martini or the more lush, robust, belly-laugh of the Manhattan.
As Regan points out, this old liquid raconteur is getting its second wind. The resurgence of rye whiskey has helped--while you're still more likely to find them made with bourbon, Manhattans were originally mixed with rye--as has the growing interest among bartenders in using different types of bitters and vermouth. For a new-fangled Manhattan you can try the drink served at Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco, which is made with Eagle Rare ten-year-old bourbon, Averna and house-made bitters, or you can reach back to Tammany Hall days by mixing yourself a classic Manhattan with Rittenhouse 100-proof rye whiskey, sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica is a lovely, old-style vermouth), a couple of dashes of Fee Brothers' Whiskey-Barrel-Aged Aromatic Bitters, and a dash or two of maraschino liqueur or, better yet, absinthe. And yes, you can still garnish it with a cherry.
Are you a Martini or a Manhattan person? And how would you like it?