But in more than two decades of drinking them, I had never made one for myself. Manhattans were restaurant drinks; plain bourbon on the rocks was for home. Even if I might want to fix a Manhattan, I didn't have any vermouth on hand; and I never bought vermouth because I never fixed Manhattans.
During a recent trip to the liquor store, though, I finally thought to buy some vermouth. What I didn't think through, though, was which vermouth to buy. I wound up grabbing a bottle of Tribuno, figuring in my innocence the brand of vermouth matters about as much as the brand of maraschino cherry.
I was mistaken.
The Manhattan I made (4 parts rye to 1 part sweet vermouth, with a dash of bitters, stirred and strained) tasted like a watery rye. Later I tried a brandy, cider, and vermouth cocktail, which tasted like watery brandy and cider.
I came to realize my old joke got it backwards. A Lower East Side is a Manhattan made with cheap vermouth.
And then I asked myself, if it's going to be cheap anyway, does it have to be vermouth?
I asked myself this because I happened to have in my refrigerator a bottle of cheap sangria, concentrated to a near-vermouth proof through poor man's freeze concentration:
Poor Man's Freeze ConcentrationStarting with Madria, a perfectly quaffable bottled sangria, freeze concentration produces an extra-sweet, extra-dark, extra-alcoholic wine that I'm looking forward to trying mulled as the cold weather sets in.
Place a quantity of beer or wine in a freezer until it's frozen solid. (If freezing in the bottle it came in, remove some first to allow room to expand as it freezes.) Remove from freezer, invert container, and allow to melt at room temperature until half the original volume of liquid is obtained.
So why can't a sweet, concentrated wine with added flavors be used in place of sweet vermouth in a cocktail? It's not as smooth as a good vermouth, but if it were I'd just be making a Manhattan, right? I use bourbon for the extra sweetness, and depending on the bourbon an extra splash of simple syrup may be called for.
Weekend Whiskey Lower East SideI suppose this would also work starting with homemade sangria, though that sort of defeats the purpose of a cheap Manhattan.
2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz freeze concentrated sangria
splash simple syrup
Mix with ice. Strain into cocktail glass, or serve on the rocks. Garnish with cherry.