Manolo's Food Blog Manolo Loves the Food!

October 3, 2009

Whiskey cocktails

Filed under: Spirits — Mr. Henry @ 10:08 am

angostura.jpgPlacing 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.


  1. My Grandfather-in-law, a Southern and life long rye and bourbon drinker, always stated the practice of adding bitters to whiskey began with the Prohibition. The liquor then consumed was often “home” produced and the bitters were needed to make the drink palatable. He agreed with you that good liquor should never be be tainted with additives.

    BTW he drank bourbon (only 2 drinks per day) pretty much until he died at the age of 92. So maybe your rye drinking this week will prolong your life.


    Comment by Long Island — October 7, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  2. Mr. Henry’s Irish grandfather drank bourbon or rye every day of his life, too. He smoked cigarettes for 60 years, lived principally on eggs, steak (topped with a big pat of butter), mashed potatoes and ice cream.

    With his drinking, however, he had a firm rule: Drinks before dinner, usually two, and nothing after dinner.

    Comment by Mr. Henry — October 7, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

  3. Sounds like they shared a very similar health plan.

    And yes drinks were always before dinner. Rarely after. The exception was a party.

    Comment by Long Island — October 7, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

  4. I recently searched for bitters in Chapel Hill, N.C. (where I live and work). The slightly uppity grocery stores did not carry them, but on the shelves of the humble Food Lion I found a bottle.

    Comment by Alison — October 7, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

  5. I beg to differ on a couple of issues. Bitters is an excellent flavoring for an old-fashioned, or a manhattan. If you choose not to sully an excellent whiskey, either do not use one, or just drink it neat the way God intended. In terms of rye for these drinks, that is an East Coast preference. Anchor Brewing notwithstanding, the West Coast has always been a bourbon coast, not a rye coast. In some heathenish areas of the country, they will also make these drinks with brandy.

    Comment by Fever — October 7, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

  6. American rye? Who ever HEARD of such a thing?

    All of these cocktails are tasty, whether with rye or with bourbon, but a Jack Daniels Manhattan, 2:1, is just about as good as a cocktail can get.

    There’s a great line from some ancient slapstick movie whose title I cannot remember. The guy who played Mr. Howell on Gilligan’s island was (again) a blithe rich twit, in this case at the controls of a private plane. He gets up to refresh his drink and hands a youthful Mickey Rooney the controls. Rooney squeaks, “But what if something goes wrong?”

    He replies, “What could go wrong? It’s an Old Fashioned!”

    Comment by raincoaster — October 7, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

  7. Manhattans are better with blood orange bitters.

    Comment by Dr. Brazen Hussy — October 7, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

  8. Oooh, blood orange bitters. Have not tried those. Note to self…..

    Comment by Fever — October 7, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

  9. Another funny thing about bitters is that one bottle can easily last longer than most marriages.

    Comment by Phyllis — October 11, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress