Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book Review: The Manhattan

In the last few years there has been a new theme in cocktail books.  Initially it seemed most cocktail books were a collection of recipes, with some stories interspersed, then more and more books came out from different owners of bars that focused on how the bar came to be, along with different cocktail recipes that the bar may be known for.  Thinking Dead Rabbit, or PDT.  The third family of cocktail books is taking a single cocktail, then diving deep into the history, with the second half of the book containing different variant recipes.  The first of these, at least as far as I'm aware, was Gaz Regan's Negroni, another great example is Robert Simonson's Old-Fashioned.  Now there is a new one on the block.  Phillip Green, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail has written The Manhattan: The Story of the First Modern Cocktail.
The book is packed, with a capital P, full of information.  As with others it's divided into two primary parts.  The first takes a look back at the history of the Manhattan, with the second part containing different recipes from the past, along with some modern variations.  The historical part of this book is just tremendous, and anyone with any interest in cocktail history will enjoy it.  Its quite interesting to see the roots of the Manhattan starting with the origins of the simple basic cocktail of bitters, spirit, water (or eventually ice).  How the creation of Angostura bitters helped shift things along, and then came the popularity of the European produced vermouth.  I enjoyed how Mr. Greene took each piece, and went down the various rabbit holes, producing vast amount of data backed by impeccable research.  A lot of the research is re-produced on the pages of the book with copies of advertisements, or recipes, and in some cases old letters. 
As with many cocktails, how and where the Manhattan was named is disputed with many a bar claiming to be the founding home.  Mr. Green does a fantastic job of breaking down each case, detailing why certain claims are nonsense, and then presenting a most likely case.  I will say, there are portions of this book that are not the easiest to read, meaning it may not be something to just pick up if you want to read something easy.  You are drawn into the book, and following along down a researchers path and to me its fascinating, although I can also see where  some folks could get lost. Overall the first half of the book is an outstanding example of a well researched cocktail book, that would educate even the most knowledgeable drinker.
The second half of the book is full of well written and easy to follow cocktail recipes, broken down into six different categories.  The first is a short section of classic Manhattans, Traditional, Dry, and Perfect.  The next section are inspired variations from the Manhattan Club, then pre world war drinks based on the Manhattan formula of spirit, vermouth, bitters.  Then Americano, Contemporary variations, and finally Sons of Brooklyn, which focuses on drinks based on the different boroughs of New York City.  
Most of these recipes have short stories go along with them, all of them are relatively easy to make. Some have some very specific vermouth's, that really can make a huge difference in the taste of the cocktail.  Almost all of them pack a big punch, as they are heavy on the alcohol.  Again, overall, this is a great addition to any cocktail library as it gives you some really great ideas as a foundation, and will help in creating your very own Manhattan variation.
In summary, a highly recommended read for the cocktail historian, or just someone that wants to gain a little more insight into what makes a Manhattan a Manhattan.
If you're interested, you can purchase the book here.

1 comment:

Steve said...

I've really become enamoured with the Manhattan over the past year or two. I prefer mine with rye whiskey and there doesn't seem to be a shortage of new craft whiskeys appearing on the shelf at Spec's lately, but I'm having a hard time finding any different vermouths. I'll definitely check out the book, I'd love to find some new creative recipes.