The Manhattan

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Let’s toast the Fourth of July with one of the greats. Some say it is the greatest. ‘I think the Manhattan is the best cocktail on earth,’ writes Gary Regan in his authoritative guide The Joy of Mixology. The drink is customarily dated to 1874, when it was created by a barman at the Manhattan Club in New York for a party thrown by Jennie Churchill in honour of a Presidential candidate. In November of that year she gave birth to Winston, so it seems feasible that a lifetime of heroic drinking was initiated by a Manhattan absorbed while still in the womb. A nice story but research has shown that Jennie was in France at the time of the party. Moreover, there are several references to the ‘Manhattan cocktail’ in the years before 1874, so it seems the drink was named after the island rather than the club.

Some authorities insist that rye whiskey should be the only spirit utilised in a Manhattan but I followed the suggestion made by Marilyn Monroe at the impromptu sleeping car party in Some Like It Hot: ‘We have some bourbon – let’s make Manhattans.’ (I stopped short of using a hot-water bottle as a shaker.) The result is a drink of great finesse and style, given intriguing herby complexity by the bitters and sweet vermouth. A version known as the Perfect Manhattan (in which the vermouth element is half sweet and half dry) is not so perfect. By Christopher Hirst


For one drink

40ml rye or bourbon whiskey

20ml sweet (red) vermouth

2/3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Stir thoroughly in a mixing glass with lots of ice. Strain into cocktail glass. A maraschino cherry is optional (they did without in Some Like It Hot).