cocktailmanhattan.jpg
The tinkering impulse that led some bartenders to issue so-called martinis made without gin or vermouth has lately found expression in the Manhattan, one of

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Meddling With the Manhattan

cocktailmanhattan.jpg
The tinkering impulse that led some bartenders to issue so-called martinis made without gin or vermouth has lately found expression in the Manhattan, one of six basic drinks listed in David Embry's 1948 classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

"The beautiful thing about the Manhattan is it's practically the only American classic drink that's survived," Samir Hassan, owner of Paratii Craft Bar in Ballard, says. "You have a lot of people spoiling it."

Washington Post spirits columnist Jason Wilson this month chronicled his summertime search for the ideal Manhattan, a task that's involved plenty of ingredient swapping and shifting. He's experimented with Manhattans made with white vermouth instead of sweet vermouth and rum instead of whiskey. Reading his account of Manhattans goosed with Tuaca and root tea liqueur, I was reminded of the once-popular game of Rummikub, in which players meld numbered tiles into sequences, perpetually rearranging sets so everything on the table ostensibly stays the same--and often making a dreadful mess as they do so.

Around Seattle, bartenders are subtly riffing on the drink: At The Chieftan, subject of today's First Call, Kyle Barkus uses Fernet Branca instead of sweet vermouth.

"I have nothing against putting a twist on a Manhattan and calling it something different," Hassan says, echoing serious drinkers aggrieved by the popular practice of applying the term "martini" to anything served in a conical stemmed glass. "But don't call it a Manhattan."

Hassan continues, "I'm not a purist. I don't think there's anything wrong with an appletini. But it's not a 'tini. I can make you a Manhattan with apple-cinnamon rye, and it tastes really good, but it's not a Manhattan. People go too far."

The Metropolitan Grill tomorrow is hosting its second annual Met Manhattan contest, in which five staffers will compete to create the restaurant's next signature Manhattan, using a private selection bourbon from Eagle Rare, Elijah Craig, or Woodford Reserve. Last year's winning Manhattan stuck fairly close to the classic Manhattan script: Server Joan King's recipe called for Woodford Reserve, Italian red vermouth, cherry bitters, orange bitters, and Angostura bitters. This year's top finisher will be on The Met's menu starting Saturday.

Hassan gives Paratii customers the choice of rye or bourbon--"You can use bourbon, I'll give you that," he says--but prefers rye for his Manhattans. "If they say 'Make me a Manhattan with rum,' we'll kind of have a heart attack, but we will do it," he adds. Patrons are also offered their pick of vermouths, which Hassan says is often the offending ingredient in a poorly made Manhattan. "Hopefully, you keep vermouth in the fridge," Hassan says. "That's one of the biggest problems, the vermouth gets bad."

The ingredients should be stirred, not shaken, he stresses. "I freak out when I see someone shaking a Manhattan," he says.

Hassan likes the elegance of a Manhattan served up, but doesn't flinch at pouring a Manhattan over ice. Unlike, say, Chartreuse, a few cubes don't alter the cocktail's fundamental character.

"Manhattans should be like Champagne," Hassan says. "The name should be protected, in my opinion."

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