3 parts (1.5 oz.) Old Overholt rye whiskey
2 parts (1 oz.) Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
3-4 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters

Yesterday was a snow day for me, so I decided to whip up examples of David Embury’s major classic cocktails. There are six he says everybody ought to be able to make, as a basis for cocktail knowledge, and for further experimentation. I realize I’ve put up plenty of innovations and outlandish drinks, but the really essential standby cocktails haven’t gotten much airtime. That changes now.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make all of them. A trot out to the corner store (good on them, being open) got me the citrus I needed, but I was still short the Daiquiri’s light rum and applejack for the Jack Rose. The others will show up as I load them in, all tagged appropriately.

I started with the Manhattan, one of the most famous and most accessible classic cocktails. The Manhattan is that rare drink that is not merely more, but something else entirely than the sum of its parts. A well-mixed Manhattan does not taste like whiskey or vermouth. It tastes like a Manhattan.

The recipe you see here is a bit of a poor-man’s Manhattan. Old Overholt is perfectly serviceable, but it is bottom-shelf, by rye standards. Now, fortunately, rye whiskey is like applejack, brandy, gin, and dark rum, in that the cheapest stuff you can possibly find will be miles ahead of the glorified ethanol that comes packaged as bottom-shelf vodka, light rum, or nonspecific “whiskey.” I’ll indicate in later posts on the Manhattan what price point we’re talking about. The Manhattan, like many of the classics, falls into the “easy to learn, hard to master” category. It can be varied greatly.

For now, though, let’s talk about the poor-man’s Manhattan. Old Overholt and Jim Beam are the two cheapest ryes on the market. Expect to pay $15 for a fifth. I’ve seen them anywhere from $11 to $22, but $15 is a good estimate. I happened to have Old Overholt, although I tend to prefer the Jim Beam, which is slightly more complex. A tenth-size bottle of Martini & Rossi will hit around $7 or $8 at the most. It is the cheapest vermouth on the market, but as with rye, cheap vermouth is still plenty drinkable.

Never be stingy with the non-whiskey ingredients in a Manhattan, but especially when you’re using bargain ingredients. I say 3-4 dashes here. The bourgeois Manhattan would call for 2-3. The royal Manhattan uses such good stuff the bitters falls to one dash. The vermouth percentage also falls as the whiskey gets better - but I reiterate, don’t be stingy. If your Manhattan is drier than about a 3:1 whiskey:vermouth ratio, you’d be better off with an Old Fashioned.

The end result is extremely drinkable, and a good example of how to do cocktails on a budget. If you (and your guests) are used to drinking nothing but highballs, the Manhattan is a great transition drink. Just be careful with your vermouth, which will eventually spoil if left out. Keep it in the fridge, and you should be fine.