Manhattan Month Cocktail Basics: Bitters and the Garnish
The Short Version: Like the pinch of salt over a dish, bitters can enhance flavors, round out the cocktail and bring the ingredients together as one cohesive creation. The bitters is usually selected for flavors that complement and marry well with those already in the cocktail. Angostura Bitters is often called out for the Manhattan, but you should feel free to experiment and explore with any that pique your interest most. For our Manhattans with Vya Sweet Vermouth, we often go with Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters.
Common garnishes for Manhattans are brandied and maraschino cherries (especially Luxardo cherries). Both of these garnishes play off of the flavors often found in the sweet vermouth and help to soften the bite from the whiskey. When we use orange bitters in our Manhattans, we will accompany it with an orange peel garnish instead of cherries. By itself, our Vya Sweet Vermouth does well in providing just enough sweetness to soften up the whiskey. Cherries will do the same, and for some, beyond what’s desired. But this is all based on personal preference. The orange peel instead adds a subtle yet distinguishable hint of added bitterness, and the orange aroma and flavor pair perfectly with the holiday spices in Vya Sweet Vermouth.
For our last installment on Manhattan cocktail basics, we’re looking at the two final ingredients: bitters and the garnish.
Like vermouth, bitters has an extensive history and was originally consumed for its medicinal properties. It wasn’t until the 19th century that bartenders started to look at them through the lens of mixology, and how this subtle yet impactful addition could deliver the final touch to a cocktail. It’s resemblance to vermouth doesn’t stop there. Bitters also gets its pronounced flavors from the additions of spices, botanicals and herbs. The number of different plants used can range significantly. Some bitters take the shape of a complex amalgamation of ingredients, while others opt to deliver one or two distinguished flavors, like lavender, orange or even siracha.
Many compare bitters to the pinch of salt you place on a dish just before enjoying. Like the salt, bitters can enhance flavors, round out the cocktail and bring all of the ingredients together as one cohesive creation. Typically, it’s measured and added in just dashes so it doesn’t make up much of the cocktail’s volume, but its secret lies in its potency. In a Manhattan, most recipes call for just one to three dashes of a specified bitters. And like your choice of whiskey and vermouth, the bitters is usually selected for flavors that complement and marry well with those already in the cocktail. Angostura Bitters is often called out for the Manhattan cocktail, but you should feel free to experiment and explore with the ones that pique your interest most. For our Manhattans with Vya Sweet Vermouth, we often go with Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters. We’ll pair that with an orange peel, which brings us to the final piece of this puzzle, the garnish.
The garnish is the jewel on top of the crown, and serves to enhance the cocktail’s flavors and turn your cocktail creation into a visually appealing piece of art. Take the time to peruse social media and the internet for creative cocktail garnishes and you’ll see what we mean. Garnishes also had their up and coming during the 19th century and were incorporated to deliver the complete cocktail experience, both visual and taste. Most of us know that we eat with our eyes before our mouth, and this holds true in the beverage world.
While most garnishes are chosen for their contribution of flavors to the cocktail, that’s not always the case. Some are strictly for visual presentation. When it comes to the Manhattan cocktail, the common go-to garnishes are brandied cherries and maraschino cherries. Maraschino are often known by the fire engine red version we grew up with as kids on top of our sundaes and milkshakes. While they’re inexpensive, these can be polarizing in the cocktail world, and are often very one dimensional. Luxardo Maraschino cherries are a whole different story. They’re expensive, but they never fail to deliver (Luxardo’s can last quite a while in the fridge, which can help justify the price tag.) These would be our recommendation if you’re going maraschino. Brandied cherries are also a great choice and can be bought or made easily at home. A little brandy, sugar, water and some pitted cherries are all you need to make them yourself, and like maraschino cherries, will last a long while in the refrigerator. Both of these garnishes are trusted additions to the Manhattan as they play off of the flavors often found in sweet vermouth and their sweetness helps to soften the bite from the whiskey.
As we mentioned before, some of us at Quady tend to use orange bitters in our Manhattan’s, and that’s accompanied by an orange peel garnish over cherries. By itself, our Vya Sweet Vermouth does well in providing just enough sweetness to soften up the whiskey and round out the cocktail. Cherries will do the same, and for some, beyond what’s desired. But this is all based on personal preference. An orange peel instead adds a subtle yet distinguishable hint of added bitterness, and the orange aroma and flavor pair perfectly with the holiday spices in Vya Sweet Vermouth. Try your Manhattan with cherries or an orange peel and let us know which you prefer! Or, get inspired and create your own garnish idea and share it with us.
With this final entry into the basics of the Manhattan cocktail, you’re now well equipped to mix and explore all that the Manhattan has to offer. We hope you’ll enjoy a Manhattan with us during this Manhattan Month celebration, and as always, be sure to let us know what you think here or on social media using #manhattanmonth.
Cheers! And be sure to check out www.manhattanmonth.com for more on October’s tastiest celebration.