Placing at risk the delicate health of his liver, all week long Mr. Henry devoted his attention selflessly to the study of rye whiskey, with especially spirited focus on the celebrated American whiskey cocktails – the Manhattan, the Old-Fashioned, and the Sazerac.
Results are in. Adding bitters, vermouth, or anything else to good rye whiskey is needless embellishment. It’s gilding the lily. It’s screwing the pooch.
It’s a case of rye gone awry.
The Manhattan cocktail may be the best of the bunch, but finding Angostura bitters on upper Broadway is not easy. Four liquor stores and three grocery stores were sold out. Could the Manhattan cocktail be dying out in Manhattan?
Curiously, sweet red vermouth, shot of bitters, and rye whiskey which constitute the Manhattan are somewhat less than satisfying until pulled together by the unmistakable synthetic flavor of a maraschino cherry. The Manhattan is a tonic that tastes like a stomach-ache remedy mixed by an old time apothecary, appropriate if you’re using firewater rye whiskey from your own still but inappropriate for the mellow rye whiskeys available today.
The Old-Fashioned is just rye, bitters, sugar, and splash of soda water. Once again, why confuddle a balanced whiskey with bitters? (And by the way, in case your stores don’t stock it, Angostura bitters smells just like Fernet Branca, the classic Italian amaro.)
The Sazerac is the most curious one of all because it requires a teaspoon of Pernod (or any other licorice liqueur) and a splash of Peychaud’s bitters, slightly milder than Angostura but very much the same kind of preparation. Once again the image of a long-whiskered apothecary springs to mind, this one in a Mardi Gras hat.
Following the recommendation of the reliable Eric Asimov, New York Times spirits correspondent (a fine career, don’t you agree?), for mixing purposes Mr. Henry bought a bottle of Michter’s, which was quite good but fell short of the richness found in more expensive straight ryes like Hudson Valley Manhattan rye.
At the suggestion of Mr. Hess, a correspondent from California, Mr. Henry searched for Old Potrero, a rye distilled by the Anchor Steam Brewing Company, one of America’s great breweries. Alas, Old Potrero is not to be found anywhere on the Upper West Side. Neither is Templeton rye from Iowa. In fact, good rye whiskey is scarce on local shelves. Yet again the Founding Fathers would be scandalized by the habits and customs of modern Americans.