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, www.boroughmpls.com
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, www.unionmpls.com
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.
St. Paul Grill barrel-aged Manhattan, $15: Jim Beam Bourbon, Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, dried cherries. 350 Market St., St. Paul, 651-224-7455, www.stpaulgrill.com
A blind Manhattan tasting with different bitters convinced Marvel Bar’s Pip Hanson to incorporate Cynar, an artichoke-based Italian amari, alongside the more traditional Angostura.
“It’s not a radical rethinking of the Manhattan, it’s just using a different bitter,” Hanson said. “Especially since we’re not using an enormous amount of it to change the drink in anything other than a subtle way, I would argue that it’s still firmly within the [framework] of what one can call a Manhattan.”
The real fun comes in spirit selection. Hanson’s high-end pick is the sublimely robust Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, which he suggests warming to allow the spicy, unfiltered whiskey to open up. His non-entree-priced recommendation is Old Weller Antique 107 bourbon.
Marvel Bar Old Weller Manhattan, $13: Old Weller Antique 107 bourbon, Antica, Angostura bitters, Cynar. 50 2nd Av. N., Mpls., 612-206-3929, www.marvelbar.com
Summit’s new look
Last week Summit Brewing Co. announced it is updating its barley-brimming logo. The St. Paul brewery will debut its more contemporary look at the Twins’ Opening Day on April 1, along with the renamed Summit Town Ball Tavern (formerly just Town Ball Tavern) in Target Field. The local craft-beer pioneers also will release Meridian Session Ale on April 15, as part of its new Union Series, emphasizing “new raw materials and ingredients appearing on the brewing scene.”
Don’t tread on growlers
A coalition of Minnesota breweries has launched a Save the Growler campaign, aiming to change a state law prohibiting breweries that produce more than 3,500 barrels per year from selling growlers. They argue that the refillable 64-ounce jugs provide an important revenue stream for budding breweries. In an e-mail, Excelsior Brewing Company’s Ben Flattum wrote that a bill is currently being drafted and legislative sponsors have been lined up.
After the deluge
After a burst pipe caused the Seville Club to temporarily close for renovations, the downtown Minneapolis strip club is back in business. Owner Dino Perlman opened its doors Thursday following a monthlong shuttering while recovering from significant water damage.
15 Glenwood Av., Mpls. 612-465-8777, www.thesevilleclub.com
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars and nightclubs.