The classic Manhattan was probably the first real cocktail that I came to enjoy as I graduated from shots and Mind Erasers after college. At the time, the fancy cocktail trend had yet to hit San Francisco, so the cocktails I drank had the quality you might expect from a dive or airport bar. They usually included a heavy dose of Maker’s Mark, a bit of sweet vermouth, bitters, and a cherry. Similar to the Negroni, every bar will have all of the necessary ingredients for a Manhattan. Unfortunately, your bartender might prepare it without measurements and with an aversion for vermouth and stirring cocktails.
There’s a reason that certain classic cocktails like the Manhattan have withstood the test of time that they’ve continued to remain relevant in a drinking culture that’s inundated with new products vying for the attention of the all-mighty consumer. They’re easy to make, and in many cases are an example of a perfectly balanced cocktail. A blend of at least three of the following: strong (alcohol), sweet, sour, bitter, weak (water).
Using classic recipes as guidance, I find it fun to explore slight variations. A while back I stumbled upon a bottle of apple brandy boasting 50% alcohol by volume. This particular bottle from Laird & Co. is a blend of brandies and not ideal for sipping neat, but is perfect for a fall-inspired version of the Manhattan. The high alcohol content keeps the drink from being too sweet, allowing for the chocolate notes of the Carpano Antica to shine through, as well as the bitters. Dry curacao is an orange liqueur made with brandy and other spices that pairs extremely well with apple brandy, introducing additional notes of baking spices.
This drink is best paired with a cold night in the comfort of your own home, sans cherry because a citrus peel provides a better contrast to the other ingredients (and just tastes better).
2 oz apple brandy (I recommend Laird’s 100 proof)
.75 oz sweet vermouth (I recommend Carpano Antica)
.25 oz dry curacao (I recommend Pierre Ferrand – if you don’t have this you could simply increase the amount of sweet vermouth by the same amount)
2 dashes bitters (I recommend Bad Dog Sarsaparilla – feel free to go with Angostura or explore some of your other favorites)
Garnish with a clove-studded orange zest
Add all liquids to your mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir until chilled, approximately 10 seconds. Strain into the coupe (for extra flare, rinse the glass with water, shake it out, and then drop it into the freezer while you prepare the rest of the drink).
Peel the zest of the orange and express the orange into the drink by lightly squeezing it with the orange of the zest facing down. Rub it around the rim of the drink (the oils will add a great layer of citrus to the cocktail). Poke holes in the zest with a toothpick and push in a few cloves. I’d recommend taking the garnish out after a short time so that it doesn’t overpower the rest of the drink or finding a creative way to keep the cloves outside of the liquid.
Photography and styling by Hannah Levy.