The Manhattan Project

August 2, 2013

Written By: Eric Jackson

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. - Robert A. Heinlein

Acting boldly and alone, I'll add "make a Manhattan" to Heinlein's list. Never had a Manhattan? Well, we're going to change that, my friend. Every craze starts somewhere, and we're bringing the Manhattan back.  
The Cast:

  • Mr. Fell Merwin - host, mixmaster
  • Mr. Bill Sinks - proprietor of Bluegrass Beverages
  • Mr. Milton Curtis - President of Curtis Builders, LLC
  • Mr. Eric Jackson - Irritable blogger and Manhattan fanatic

The Manhattan cocktail dates back to the 1870's according to Wikipedia, if you trust that source. Many variants of the classic have been concocted.
The basic ingredients for the traditional Manhattan are:

  • 2 parts Rye whiskey
  • 1 part sweet Vermouth
  • A dash of bitters
  • Maraschino cherry as a garnish

Our choice of ingredients included:
The Ryes (and wheated and one blue corn whiskey)

 The Vermouths

  • Martini & Rossi - Extra Dry White Vermouth
  • Martini & Rossi - Sweet Vermouth - light and smooth
  • Dolin -Sweet Vermouth - hints of sherry and licorice
  • Carpano Antica Formula, sweet vermouth - heavy licorice, bitter finish

 The Bitters

  • Angostura Bitters
  • Angostura Orange Bitters
  • Peychaud's Bitters


  • Lemon twist
  • Bada Bing Cherrys

Our Manhattan aficionados tried 10 separate concoctions on Friday, July 26th at the home of Mr. Fell Merwin. Here's what transpired...
First, the thought of besmirching these fine beverages with candied cherries was anathema to our collective constitution, so we resorted to the dye and preservative free, Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherrys, dark, rich and pure. After all, we're not hobos.
Second, we're not opposed to a little experimentation with tradition. Our first trick? The White Manhattan.
1. Corsair Wry Moon, Martini & Rossi White Vermouth, Angostura Orange Bitters, lemon twist. This concoction was widely appreciated; light and surprisingly refreshing. Perhaps more of a "Wry" Martini; while certainly off the beaten path, it's worth a try.
2. Sazerac Rye, Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth, Bada Bing Cherry (no bitters). This variant was clean, silky, light and simple. The withholding of bitters and the use of Sazerac and Martini & Rossi's Sweet Vermouth made for a very mild Manhattan. We all agreed this was a Manhattan any lady (or man) could appreciate.
3. Russell's Reserve Rye, Dolin Vermouth, Peychaud's bitters, Bada Bing Cherry. This full-bodied mix had more structure, more oak, more pepper.
4. James E. Pepper 1776 Rye, Carpano Antica Formula, Angostura Orange Bitters, teaspoon of Bada Bing Cherry juice. Spices, licorice, an explosion of flavor that fades to dry and fresh with a crisp bite...surprising considering the heft of its ingredients. This is a MANhattan, voted #1 by Curtis & Merwin .
5. Russell's Reserve Rye, Carpano Antica Formula, Peychaud's Bitters, Bada Bing Cherry. Definitely less spicy than the James E. Pepper and not as intense as #4 but great all around, nicely balanced, a very "adult Manhattan," says Mr. Sinks. 

At this point in the game, Milton piped up with some sage wisdom. "I've never been a big Manhattan drinker...but I really liked the last three...hooked."
6. James E. Pepper and Bada Bing Cherry Juice. OK, technically it's not a Manhattan but WOW! Cherry Dr. Pepper with a kick! All agreed this would definitely be a fine aperitif or digestif (an alcoholic drink served before - aperitif - or after...the digestif)
7. Woodford Reserve New Cask Rye, 1/2 Dolin & 1/2 Carpano, dash of Angostura Orange Bitters and dash of Peychaud's Bitters, Bada Bing Cherry. You can't fool these tongues. The smooth, refined taste of Woodford came right through. "Beyond smooth" with that Woodford finish...very "summery" for a Manhattan. An interesting combination with the mixed vermouths and bitters. Highly regarded by all.
8. James E. Pepper 1776 Rye, Dolin Vermouth, Angostura Orange Bitters, BadaBing Cherry. This, we all agreed was the smoothestManhattan so far...a sexy, crazy, citrus taste explosion. We don't say those sorts of things lightly, even at this advanced stage of the project. Voted #1 by Jackson & Sinks
9 . W.L. Weller 19 Year Old, Carpano Vermouth, Angostura Orange Bitters, Bada Bing Cherry. There really isn't any reason to tell you about this mixture, as you'll never have it. There is no use in even trying. This bottle of W.L. Weller is one of the few 19 year olds ever tasted, a gift from Mr. Mark Brown, president of Buffalo Trace Distillery to Mr. Bill Sinks of Bluegrass Beverages. Let's just say it was really, really good... Go ahead, call me a tease!
10 . Balcones True Blue Corn Whisky, 2/3 Dolin Vermouth, 1/3 Carpano Vermouth, Angostura Orange Bitters, Bada Bing Cherry. Very rich, big and bold with a mineral flavor...exactly what you'd expect from corn whiskey.
Finding the right combination that does it for you isn't something new. You must experiment before you find "the one." Fortunately, Bill carries many different fine rye whiskeys to help you launch your own "Manhattan Project." You don't marry the first girl you meet and you certainly don't drink the same concoction for a lifetime. Live free and drink well.