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The Manhattan Project: Making the Manhattan Great Again

So, in our first foray into the world of spirits and cocktails, we visited the haciendas of Mexico to talk about the origins of one of our favorite happy hour drinks; the margarita. In our next installment in the history of spirits and cocktails, we now visit the oldest vermouth driven cocktail: The Manhattan. There […]

So, in our first foray into the world of spirits and cocktails, we visited the haciendas of Mexico to talk about the origins of one of our favorite happy hour drinks; the margarita. In our next installment in the history of spirits and cocktails, we now visit the oldest vermouth driven cocktail: The Manhattan.

There is no doubt the Manhattan originated in one of the five boroughs of New York City, and I’ll let your imagination run wild in guessing which one. But once again, we have a contentious origin story for the great American classic that has seen a boom in popularity in recent decades.

Some historians point to Jennie Jerome, the famous Lady Churchill (mother of Sir Winston Churchill) as someone who helped create the iconic drink. Some will say in 1874 during a party thrown for then-presidential hopeful Samuel J Tibbet at the Manhattan club, that this masterful pairing of Rye whiskey, vermouth, and aromatic bitters was created. Heck, many history books will attest to this as being fact. However; David Wondrich per Imbibe! Magazine and notable author in cocktail history disputes this as fact.

According to Wondrich, during that time period, Lady Churchill was in England about to give birth to the great Sir Winston Churchill instead of galavanting at cocktail dinners trying to raise money for a presidential candidate. Instead, Wondrich points to William F. Mulhall; a bartender at the famed Hoffman House who applied his trade as a bartender for over thirty years as being someone who has the secret to the origins of this particular cocktail. According to Mulhall, a man who went by the name of “Black” (yes, that’s it) “who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the 1860’s.”

Regardless of the origin of this American classic, it predates any vermouth driven cocktails such as the Martini (YES, A PROPER MARTINI GETS VERMOUTH PEOPLE!), Martinez or Rob Roy. Alas, I digress. Another point of contention amongst bar aficionados is the proportions for a Manhattan in and of itself. Some will go the 2 ½ ounces to ¾ ounce vermouth ratio. Some prefer a Canadian blended whiskey with little to no vermouth and no bitters. My standard recipe for a Manhattan is as follows:

  • 2 ounces of Bourbon or Rye Whiskey (I prefer Rittenhouse 100 proof Rye made in Maryland)
  • 1 ounce of Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica is without a doubt my favorite.)
  • 3 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters.

 

Add all three ingredients to a glass filled with ice and stir – never shake a drink with no citrus as it bruises the booze – and garnish with an orange twist (unless you have proper brandied cherries, no maraschinos in my bar please.)

Before I go onto some variations in the cocktail, let’s again take a look back through history to understand how certain variations and taste profiles have come to be.

During prohibition, we as Americans obviously could not make (unless for medicinal purposes) any alcohol to be sold or consumed in the United States. That lead to backyard stills and sub-par alcohol. So, people looked to Canada as one of the leading exporters of actual distilled alcohol that helped add the authentic flavor that people were used to. So as that generation and the next came of drinking age, more and more Canadian whiskey was drank. Due to its charcoal filtered finish, it doesn’t have the same “bite” in the finish as traditional American bourbon or Rye whiskey. Hence the need for less vermouth and not so much with the bitters. Baby boomers and some of their children still prefer our northern cousin for a Manhattan due to its easy drinkability. Being the traditionalist that I am and having a slight penchant for harsher undertones that to me provide more character and depth to the cocktail, prefer the American standard of bourbon or rye.

With all of this being said, the Manhattan cocktail is one that bartenders of the modern era love to re-create with the abundance of spirits that are available on the back bar of institutions with a serious drive for complexity. With the reemergence of Amaros, Amaris, and vermouth in particular; there are so many layers of flavor that can be added to the drink itself. With a deft hand and understanding of the spirits themselves and how they blend together, different combinations and variations are able to be re-created. Here is my latest, softer and summer themed Manhattan recipe deftly named: Making Manhattan Great Again.

  • 2 ounces of Maker’s Mark Bourbon
  • ½ ounce of Averna Amaro (probably the most accessible amaro in Pennsylvania)
  • ½ ounce Luxardo Apricot liqueur
  • 2 dashes of Orange bitters (Regan’s number 9 is my favorite)
  • Garnished with an orange twist

 

Until the next installment of cocktails in Network Magazine, I hope you all continue to drink fresh ingredients, buy local, and always trust a good bartender!

Cheers!

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Margarita Mondays and Taco Tuesdays

A Brief Look at Mexican Food in American Culture By: Lucas Heckenberger, Lehigh Valley’s Cocktail Connoisseur We’ve all heard of them; Margarita Monday! Taco Tuesday! Avocado toast, and guacamole on everything. How did these things become so popular today? Where do these traditions actually come from? Let’s take a look. In this day and age, […]

A Brief Look at Mexican Food in American Culture
By: Lucas Heckenberger, Lehigh Valley’s Cocktail Connoisseur

We’ve all heard of them; Margarita Monday! Taco Tuesday! Avocado toast, and guacamole on everything. How did these things become so popular today? Where do these traditions actually come from? Let’s take a look.

In this day and age, many people have taken the time to study and look back at the history and origins of cocktails, rather than try and mass replicate them. The margarita has a muddled past, and there are a few people who claim to have invented the iconic classic.

The first claim to creation is in 1938 at a restaurant called Rancho La Gloria in northern Mexico. It was created for a patron who was allergic to all spirits, except for Tequila. The original recipe was most likely equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. Another story takes place in Ensenada, Mexico at a Hussong’s Cantina. Don Carlos Orozco is said to have been experimenting with tequila, Controy (a close cousin to Cointreau) and lime. Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German ambassador to Mexico at the time, was the first to try the drink and he aptly named it Margarita after her.

However, there is one theory that I personally think holds truer than the others. There is a cocktail called a Daisy that shared many similarities to the Margarita. The most notable distinction is the base spirit of brandy versus tequila. Somewhere along the way, someone substituted tequila for the brandy and used lime instead of lemon and simply renamed daisy into its Spanish counterpart, Margarita.

As is with anything over time, things change and evolve. I will never mix up an equal part margarita, and most restaurants do not. Here is my recipe for a proper margarita:

  • 2 ounces Blanco Tequila (Herradura, Espolon, or Tres Agaves are my go-to’s.)
  • 1/2-ounce Cointreau (much better than Triple Sec.)
  • 1-ounce Fresh Lime Juice (If you see sour coming out of a gun or a jug, opt for a different cocktail!)
  • 1 ounce of Simple Syrup (Equal parts sugar and water, dissolved together.)

Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice and strain on the rocks or served up. I do not care for salt as it dehydrates you and probably makes hangovers worse if you knock more than a few back!

Personally, I always start with a drink and then move on to something more along the lines of a snack. That’s where the guacamole comes in. This delightful dish has origins that date back to the 1500s and the Aztecs. Guacamole literally translates to “avocado sauce.” The base recipe has been relatively untouched since the 1500s; guacamole, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime, salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lime. It wasn’t until the 1930s that avocado and guacamole became popular in the states. Rudolph Haas, a postal worker in southern California during the era, purchased a seedling and started cultivating in the 1930s and later patented the Haas avocado, the most popular brand today.

So, after a couple of rounds of margaritas, some guac, it is now time for the tacos!

Oddly, the term taco doesn’t necessarily have origins in the food world alone. In the 1800s the charges used to clear silver mines were known as tacos due to a paper being wrapped around the gunpowder and then charged to clear the way. One of the first mentions of the food taco is known as “tacos de mineros” or, miner’s tacos. Who knew?

Due to the nature of working-class neighborhoods in Mexico and the southwest, coupled with the number of migrant workers, taquerias were very prevalent in many neighborhoods. Tacos are more commonly known to be either a corn or flour tortilla with some kind of meat and vegetable wrapped in between. Today, there are fish tacos, pork, vegetarian and plenty of other kinds of varieties. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the taco craze really hit America. Maybe you’ll recognize the name Glenn Bell. If not, I’ll let you in on a secret; he went on to found Taco Bell. Despite not having invented the taco itself, Bell simply used American business acumen and began franchising in neighborhoods where there was no exposure to tacos otherwise.

Since then, many of these traditions have become staples of any kind of cuisine across the US. But, that’s the beauty of it. It fits into any category of food, almost any influence and is found on menus everywhere. We’re lucky to have so many that specialize here in the Valley, and it makes sense. Almost 85% of the foodservice industry consists of people of Latin descent. Without them, we wouldn’t enjoy so many of these staples we do. So, raise a glass and a shell, and celebrate the simplicity and humility of a staple to our cuisine.

Salud!

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