Formal introduction aside, instead, a confession:
I have been a bartender for as long as I can remember.
One of my proudest moments and earliest memories was on a canoeing trip one spring with my father and his college roommate. Only eight years old, but I clearly remember stocking beer in a West Virginia river to keep it cold, and joyously running to grab one when needed. No such thing as a craft microbrew then, but what qualified in those days was Coors, unheard of in 1974 on the east coast. The cans had the distinguishing feature of two circular pop-top tabs that I carefully had to press down before presenting. The care and effort that went into service then, as a small boy, was absolutely no different than patiently stirring a Manhattan and giving it proudly to a guest today.
I mention the Manhattan because I believe it is the quintessential cocktail and best starting point for this blog- 2 parts Whiskey, 1 part Sweet Vermouth, bitters, cherry or lemon peel. Simple and elegant there’s a reason it’s been around over a hundred years. The 1870’s origins seem blurry, the popular story being it was created at the Manhattan club in New York for Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s mother at an event for presidential candidate Tilden. She may have been pregnant in England however, so probably another good story not holding too much weight. I prefer historians who site evidence that a man named Black, a bartender in lower Manhattan, came up with it.
It only makes sense, then, that I pick a classic Boston bartender to represent this cocktail, Jamie Walsh, of Stoddard’s in Boston. He started making this version for a general manager restaurant friend as his “shift drink” and it stuck.
Manhattan (Jamie’s “shift drink” version)
2oz Old Overholt Rye
.75oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and stir thoroughly.
Strain into a pre-chilled rocks or cocktail glass, garnish with a cherry.
Note: a nice variation is to use an orange peel garnish.