Cocktailing: Some bartenders dare to mess with the classic Manhattan

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 1, 2013 - 2:58 PM

Some creative and rebellious mixologists dare to tinker with the time-honored bourbon cocktail.


Whiskey, vermouth, bitters.

From speakeasies to supper clubs, the Manhattan has been a cocktail pillar for more than a century. The cherry-garnished anodyne-in-a-glass is an American classic to rival Humphrey Bogart and Duke Ellington, but depending on the bar, a signature Manhattan can look considerably different.

Stray too far from the pre-Prohibition recipe, however, and even the Twin Cities’ most boundary-pushing mixologist will cry foul.

“We tend not to get outside the box when it comes to a classic drink like a Manhattan, just to not mess with that,” says Pip Hanson, head bartender at Marvel Bar in Minneapolis’ North Loop. “It’s such a noble drink, and it’s so good, that to mess with it is kind of doing an insult to a spectacular drink, because it doesn’t need any help.”

Still, local cocktail creatives are finding ample room to put their own twists on this esteemed after-dinner potation without betraying its roots.

Borough and Parlour’s spirit sage, Jesse Held, is responsible for one of the metro’s most adventurous takes. When devising his Parlour Manhattan for the North Loop cocktail bar, the Northstar Bartenders Guild president thought a touch of cinnamon would help bring out the acidity in its Antica vermouth. The resulting flavors reminded him of apple pie, inspiring further fooling-with, and Held added an apple-infused brandy to his bitters-biting concoction.

While also substituting an orange-peel shaving for the usual Maraschino cherry garnish, he says its two-part-spirit/one-part-vermouth formula keeps it in the Manhattan canon. “People have this idea of what a Manhattan should taste like, and then they taste something like this — it surprises them,” he says.

Parlour Manhattan, $8: apple bonded brandy, Bulleit Rye, Antica, cinnamon, Blackstrap bitters. 730 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-354-3135,


Johnny Michaels, the local drink-slinging guru who shaped the cocktail program at downtown Minneapolis hotspot Union, is also bending the drink’s whiskey/bourbon archetype with his brandy-based Union Manhattan. He says putting a less common brandy Manhattan on the menu was a tribute to the Upper Midwest. “Whiskey is everywhere all over the city — and I love whiskey, don’t get me wrong — but this is Minnesota,” Michaels said. “Minnesota and Wisconsin, they’re the biggest brandy drinkers in the country.”

Michaels’ ruby-hued libation, with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, comes in the customary lowball glass. It saturates the palate with a more syrupy mouthfeel than its whiskey counterpart. Michaels’ creation also calls for Cocchi Barolo Chinato, which he describes as an Italian happy-hour wine made with finer grapes and a different bittering agent than most vermouths. Union staff batch out the spiced wine with Angostura bitters, lightly carbonating the mix to give the drink “a little action on the tongue.”

“It’s not completely flat like a regular Manhattan,” Michaels notes.

Union Manhattan, $12.50: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, carbonated Cocchi Barolo Chinato, Angostura bitters. 731 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-455-6690,


While known for its sophisticated scotch program, the St. Paul Grill doesn’t have the cocktail capabilities of a mixology joint. So, to spruce up its Manhattan, Justin Spano, the corporate director of beverage for Morrissey Hospitality Companies, which operates the hotel restaurant, ages the bourbon/vermouth blend (no bitters) in 4.5-liter white oak barrels for at least 45 days.

He says aging the small batches in medium-charred barrels (as opposed to a heavier char) enhances the Manhattan without altering the profile too much. “It’s a classic Manhattan; you don’t want to re-create the wheel completely,” Spano says.

While vanilla hints hide under an oaky (and boozy) blanket, this almost-too-generous 10-ounce pour is for those who relish a time when men were men and martini lunches were a thing.

  • related content

  • Bartender Jesse Held made his version of a Manhattan at Parlour/Borough in Minneapolis.

  • Bartender Johnny Michaels mixed a brandy-based Union Manhattan at the Union Bar and Restaurant.

  • A Manhattan mixed by Johnny Michaels at the Union Bar and Restaurant.

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