Whiskey Culture: A Short History of Manhattan

23 December 2021
Whiskey Culture: A Short History of Manhattan

In 1882, The Democrat newspaper remarked that, “It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters came into vogue. In the same article, it was mentioned that this spirit had been known as Turf Club cocktail, Jockey Club cocktail and a Manhattan cocktail. Well, how did this famous cocktail come about?

Indeed, many cocktails have a story of origin, or in other words, they have recipes that have been lost in the dusty pages of history… Like so other cocktails, Manhattan also has several theories about how it came about. The most popular of these that Dr. Iain Marshall discover the mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters at a party was held by Lady Randolph Churchill at the Manhattan Club in New York. However, this story goes no further than a rumor because Lady Randolph was pregnant with Winston Churchill at that time.

Whiskey Culture: A Short History Of Manhattan

A bartender working at The Hoffman House in 1880s says that, a gentlemen nicknamed “Black” who lived near the hotel invented this famous cocktail. This new is remarked in Valentine’s Manual of New York, a book from 1923.

Of course, there are several recipes too. The first written recipe of Manhattan is found in a book called The Modern Bartenders’ Guide (1884). The book includes two different recipes for Manhattan:

Manhattan Cocktail No.1:

1 pony French vermouth

1/2 pony whiskey

3 or 4 Angostura bitters

3 dashes gum syrup

Manhattan Cocktail No.2:

2 dashes Curacao

2 dashes Angostura bitters

½ wine glass of whiskey

½ wine glass of Italian vermouth

Another recipe comes from The Flowing Bowl written by William Schmidts in 1891:

2 dashes of gum syrup

2 dashes bitter

1 dash of absent

2/3 pony whiskey

1/3 pony vermouth

Whiskey Culture: A Short History Of Manhattan

Through the end of the 19th century, the cocktail’s ingredients changed and diversified with the new century. While gum syrup and absinthe have been gradually disappeared from glasses, Angostura bitters replaced by orange bitters. Although it is not known exactly when bourbon whiskey was included in cocktail recipe, it is thought that rye whiskey has been in the recipe from the very beginning. Another interesting point about whiskey which is used in Manhattan cocktail is that the widespread use of Canadian whiskey. The general opinion is that it was easier to find Canadian whiskey during the Prohibition Era in United States, that is why, the Canadian whiskey began to be used in mixture of Manhattan. On the one hand, although Canadian whiskey and bourbon types are used in Manhattan, the best whiskey for cocktail is considered rye American whiskey.

Whiskey Culture: A Short History Of Manhattan

Of course, there are several types of recipes, yet Manhattan is generally prepared around three main ingredients: rye whiskey, vermouth and Angostura bitters. To get the most delicious Manhattan, the mixture should be prepared very carefully. Firstly up, glass should be chilled with ice cubes and then ingredients mixed for about 30 seconds. Of course, all these steps require quality ingredients as well as dexterous hands. For us, one of the best choices for Manhattan’s key ingredient whiskey would be rye whiskey from Nashville, the land of Mr. Jack.