The Adequate Man is almost assuredly a boozer. Most abstainers do so because their sobriety is mandated by either higher-order preoccupations—see Chuck D, Thomas Edison, and Mister Fred Rogers—or legal/medical necessity, as with your cousin Jeff and your other two cousins Jeff.
That leaves the rest of us in the vast, happy middle of the pack, liquor-wise and otherwise. Of course, telling another person how, what, and when to drink is a mark of a joyless pedant who prefers the talk to the walk; there are no hard-and-fast rules forthcoming. But we here at the Adequate Man take seriously our mandate to give you just enough guidance to slide by when it comes to making yourself and your guests the best cocktail you can muster.
This is not as hard as the professionals would have you think. Nor is brain surgery or booze blogging; the new-school celebrity bartenders are far from alone in self-mythologizing, as this brand of grandiosity is common among people with an honest, reasonable interest in protecting their hustle. We came here not to mock them, but rather to emulate them, minus the furrowed brow and the $14 charge for a goddamn This and That with a Splash of the Other.
One of the main advantages professional bartenders hold over we proud hobbyists, home-entertainers, and closet drunks is that they always have the exact right tools for the job. Our goal here is to outfit our home bars so as to have most of the right-enough tools for some reasonable facsimile of one version of the job. To that end, Adequate Man correspondent Leslie Horn has assembled an excellent primer on stocking your own in-house alcoholerie. I recommend reading it twice forward and then once backward before you make your next cocktail.
Now. A big element of adequate cocktailing—aw, hell, a big element of an all-around adequate life—is keeping your expectations in check. Don't try to serve all drinks to all drunkards on any given night; that's what commercial bars are for. The home-tender's goal should simply be to make himself and his guests one damn good drink per shift.
(I don't mean we're trying to limit anyone to a single drink, but I can't think how else to phrase this, so here: Imagine you are having people over for spaghetti and meatballs. How many meatballs should you serve each guest? Hell, sky's the limit, but I figure at least three or four, right? But also, how many meatballs should you serve each guest? Just one: beef, lamb, turkey, whatever meat you chose to ball that night. You feel me? Just one drink, but also several drinks.)
That way you can make sure you stay focused, keep everyone on the same page, and get everything right. If any of your co-drinkers want to go rogue and take it upon themselves to play mix-and-match from the liquor-and-Beefaroni cabinet, hey, good for them. But your only job is to invite everyone over for the drink of the day. There's a quite likely apocryphal legend that Julia Child used to insist everyone in her dining party order the same meal at restaurants, as both a team-building and FOMO-deterring exercise. Weird, but it makes sense. You know those families where the head adult makes three different dinners every night: one for the normal people, then one for the dietarily restricted daughter, and another one for the pain-in-the-ass son? That's noble and generous, and also fucked. We're not throwing that kind of party.
Instead, we're throwing a Manhattan party. This whiskey-based classic is probably the best drink to drink and even more likely the easiest (good) drink to make. So let's start at the beginning.
The Manhattan was invented by a person at a place; it was in either a certain year or perhaps an altogether different one. The original garnish was a cherry or a toenail or whatever goddamn thing. When the history of a drink is clear or at least muddled in an interesting fashion, we'll note it. Otherwise, let's just drink.
To make a Manhattan, you will need whiskey, fortified wine, bitters, and ideally a solid bit of fruit. To make an adequate Manhattan, however, you will want the whiskey to be rye, the wine to be sweet vermouth, the bitters to be Angostura, and the solid bit of fruit to be either a good cocktail cherry or a sliver of lemon peel. You'll also need a pint glass, a measuring device, a couple of ice cubes, a stirring implement, a strainer, and a cocktail glass.
Rye is not the same thing as bourbon, as the former is made with rye and the latter with corn. There are distinctions and variations and nomenclatural rules and so forth—rye and bourbon can both contain as little as 51 percent of the main grain, and distillers are under no obligation to disclose what the rest of the mess may be—and Google can tell you all about it. If you don't have rye, use bourbon. Rye's spicier, though, which helps balance the sweetness of the vermouth.
The official Adequate Man guide to bar-stocking says to use Old Overholt rye, so do that. Unless you want to use something better, in which case spend another $10 to get a bottle of Rittenhouse, which is 100 proof and therefore helps keep the vermouth from dumbing things down too much.
As for the vermouth: Make sure it's red (sweet). Some Manhattan-makers will go equal parts red and white vermouth, but those people are showoffs—this drink style is called "perfect"—and are not to be trusted. Other than redness, a vermouth's most important attribute is freshness. Vermouth will keep for about a month in the fridge; after that, it starts a rapid descent straight into the bowels of hell. You should get a couple dozen Manhattans out of a 750-ml bottle. You can swing that in a month, right?
Cinzano and Martini & Rossi are perfectly fine sweet vermouths that will set you back about $7 a bottle. Alternatively, you can spend twice as much for Dolin or thrice as much for Carpano Antica. If you do so, you will have ever so slightly superior Manhattans, along with whatever emotions you experience upon realizing you're the sort of person who spends double or triple what he needs to. This is why I recommend the high-flyers go with Noilly Prat for $11; you needn't be wasteful to be slick.
Now, bitters. The truest statement in Leslie's very honest Adquate Man guide to stocking your home bar is "Fuck off with your five varieties of fennel bitters." If you're a serious cocktail person, or even just a poseur who writes about the stuff often enough, you might own—and maybe even use—dozens of different bitters. But most decent people, can get by with, say, three. You'll want to have Angostura, Peychaud's, and either the Regans' or Fee Brothers version of whichever basic fruit or herb flavor is most likely to strike your fancy often enough to go through five ounces before you die. (I find lemon to be useful for times when your garnish situation is compromised.)
Now all we have left is something to measure your booze in, a pint (or other large) glass in which to stir it, a glass to drink it out of, ice to do what ice do, and stirring and straining apparatuses of some sort. I like to drink Manhattans out of five-or-so-ounce cocktail coupes: the stemmed numbers with short, wide, curved bowls. You can also go with a standard triangular martini glass. Best to avoid any of the giant 12-ouncers employed as frozen-margarita-troughs at chain restaurants and seaside tourist bars, though. Manhattans are all-alcohol drinks traditionally served without ice, so you don't need an oversized vessel to get you where you're going.
About the ice: I mean, just use ice. Couple of cubes of whatever comes out of your freezer. I'm all for bespoke ice at that kind of bar, but your home isn't that kind of bar.
All right, let's get down to it.
1. Get out your pint glass and your measuring device, which is ideally one of those double-headed jiggers that hold one ounce on one side and two ounces on the other. The most important thing is to make sure you get the ratio right. You want two parts whiskey to one part vermouth. So if you don't have the means to measure exact ounceage, just make sure to use twice as much of the brown as of the red, i.e., eight thimbles of whiskey to four thimbles of vermouth. Measure that out and dump it in your glass.
2. Add a few dashes of bitters—seriously, man, just a few. Maybe five at the absolute maximum. A little goes a long way, and I've never run into anyone who preferred a ton of bitters in his Manhattan; in my experience, there's no boozing analog to the otherwise-sane person who just loves rivers of ketchup on his home fries or a half-pint of Sriracha on his eggs.
3. Add a couple of ice cubes, or just a single cube if they're big. You don't want too much ice in there, because that makes it harder to stir and waters down your drink.
4. Stir the ice cube(s) around the booze for longer than seems necessary. Like, do it for 10 or 15 seconds, till you get bored, and then do it for 10 or 15 more. Since there's no ice in the final drink, you've really got to chill your booze before it hits its final resting place. Cracking the ice with the back of a spoon before adding it to the mixing glass will increase the surface area of ice to which the liquor is exposed; sometimes I do this, sometimes I don't. It gets things marginally colder, but also commensurately more watered-down.
5. Strain the drink into your (ideally pre-chilled) glass. You should probably own a strainer. But all is not lost if you don't. If you've made it this far, you almost certainly have fingers; claw 'em over the top of the mixing glass if you've got to. Just try to minimize your drink's exposure to ice chips and flakes of your dirty, dead palms.
6. Garnish, if you dare. I like a lemon twist, because I've usually got lemons and knives around. Slicing off a perfect twist isn't the easiest thing in the world the first few times you try, but mangled ones taste just as good, so don't sweat it. Just avoid getting the pith (shitty white part) in there. You just want the yellow, because that's where all the magic cocktail oil lives.
A lot of people prefer a cherry, which is cool as long as you've got nice boozin' ones handy. Don't use those sugary bright-red abominations they sell next to the powdered mai tai mix at the supermarket. Luxardo sells nice, if pricey, cherries, and your local source for artisanal mustard, pickles, and associated bullshit probably has all sorts of deluxe bourbon-soaked or otherwise-improved versions.
So there we have it: the Adequate Manhattan. Once you've tried the basic version, feel free to mess around as your heart desires. It's your house, and cocktail castle doctrine allows you to use as much or as little vermouth as you want, swap out this bitters for that, even shake the damn drink like a froth-loving monster if you see fit.
Now drink up, get comfortable, and let us know what other cocktails belong in the Adequate Man's repertoire.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Image by Sam Woolley.
The Concourse is Deadspin's home for culture/food/whatever coverage. Follow us on Twitter.