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I've ordered these a few times, and had wildly varying results - hardly surprising, given the general lack of training among bartenders around these parts, but confusing none the less!

So now I'm curious: what should a Manhattan be composed of?

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You started this just to try to make a point about drinks being in scope, didn't you? Not only that, but it's also basically a recipe swapping question. Voting to close... –  Aaronut Jul 14 '10 at 17:35
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Voted to reopen. Not off-topic. See: meta.cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/121/… I do think subjective applies though. –  hobodave Jul 14 '10 at 20:32
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How is this question different from "what is a proper quiche lorraine?" Unless the question clearly asks for something other than a recipe, it should be off topic. Indeed, this question asks specifically for a recipe, and the accepted answer consists of two recipes, so this question is precisely recipe request, hence off topic. Now because this question happens to deal with a product containing ethanol I'll be branded as a member of the fictitious "Prohibition Posse." Sigh. So be it. –  kevins Jul 15 '10 at 20:49
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Voted offtopic because this is a bartending question. If this question about pairing or using alcohol in food prep, I'd say that would be different and on topic. –  Mike Sherov Jul 16 '10 at 0:03
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Probably worth noting here that I'm not asking how to make a Manhattan, or soliciting favorite Manhattan variations. I'm asking for the canonical composition (if such a thing exists...) Consider it along with questions such as, "What is a roux?" or "What is creme fraiche?". –  Shog9 Aug 13 '10 at 20:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

A traditional Manhattan is two shots of rye or bourbon, one shot of sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters and a cherry, shaken and strained into a martini glass. I prefer on the rocks in a rocks glass, myself.

A perfect Manhattan is similar, but uses a half shot each of sweet and dry vermouth. They tend to be more interesting when paired with a higher quality whiskey.

I'm also a big fan of white whiskey (aka, high quality moonshine) in Manhattans.

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Given the discussion thread surrounding this question I would ask, "What is your 'source' for offering these compositions as 'Proper'?" In the context of the OP's question, citing authority makes this more of a definition of a Manhattan rather than a recipe for a Manhattan. (Ok, this is splitting a fine hair, but it could quell the riots brewing above..) –  Cos Callis May 4 '12 at 15:28

Standard pour (maybe a little extra) of your choice of whiskey (bourbon preferred) though brandy is also acceptable. Add a splash of sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters if you prefer. Then garnish with something, I prefer a cherry.

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Manhattan's were originally made with Rye rather than Bourbon, but times change and the modern trend for the latter means that Rye often isn't the first choice. Cocktail supremo, David Wondrich, notes that a decent proof Bourbon will work just as well as Rye in an Manhattan.

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