Liquor 101: the Manhattan Continuum
When I was hanging out with Vince the One Eight bartender during my Ivy City distillery crawl, I asked him what proportion he usually uses for whiskey to vermouth in his Manhattans. His answer caught my attention.
‘It depends,’ he said, ‘on the whiskey … and on the vermouth.’
Vince had developed a whole theory of a Manhattan Continuum. His ratio of whiskey to vermouth could vary from 5:1 to 3:1, depending on the relative quality of whiskey to vermouth. Have a good whiskey and an ordinary vermouth? That’s a 5:1 Manhattan. Do you only have a mixing whiskey? You can still make a satisfying Manhattan, just boost the vermouth to a 3:1 whiskey to vermouth ratio. Relatively evenly matched whiskeys and vermouths get a 4:1.
On the spot, we added a small amendment to the Continuum: whiskey-heavy Manhattans get an orange twist garnish, while vermouth-heavy ones get a Luxardo cherry.
It’s so simple and so clear. And it has dramatically changed my approach to Manhattans, and my enjoyment of them.
As I’ve worked with it, I’ve adapted the Continuum a bit, ending up with a broader and a sweeter range for my own Manhattan tastes. My driest Manhattans are 4:1, and I’ll go as sweet as 1:1 if I really want to feature the vermouth. The principle remains the same, though. When mixing a Manhattan, I don’t ask, ‘What’s the right proportion?’ or even, ‘What proportion do I feel like today?’ Instead I ask myself, ‘What’s the relative quality of the whiskey and the vermouth?’ I’ve made a lot of good Manhattans that way.