Expert Tips To Mix Up The Perfect Manhattan

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A Manhattan cocktail is simple to create, consisting of whiskey (usually rye, but sometimes bourbon — though it doesn't make the best Manhattan), sweet vermouth, and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters. But despite the short ingredients list, making classic cocktails such as this one can still be a little daunting, especially if you're striving to achieve bar-quality results at home. To get some expert advice on mastering the Manhattan, Food Republic interviewed Katie Stryjewski, who is a cocktail blogger (garnish_girl), and the author of "Cocktails, Mocktails and Garnishes from the Garden."

There are some very simple ways to elevate the sophisticated, spirit-heavy cocktail. You can make it into a perfect Manhattan, for example, by using both sweet and dry vermouth in the mix. But in order to improve on the original, you first need to understand the basics. Here, Stryjewski exclusively shared her secrets for the ultimate Manhattan, from how to mix the drink to how best to garnish it. And if you want to experiment further, she also has some great suggestions for adding different flavor profiles for fun variations on the classic — and it all starts with making it stirred, not shaken.

A Manhattan should be stirred, not shaken

If you're wondering whether to shake or stir a Manhattan, cocktail expert Katie Stryjewski is very clear: "Stir, don't shake!" she advised. "As a general rule, you should only shake cocktails that contain citrus juice." This is why you'll usually see bartenders shaking drinks that combine alcoholic liquids with non-alcoholic ones such as juices, cream, or egg whites.

Drinks are usually shaken in order to achieve a light and fluffy consistency, but this is not the aim with a Manhattan. "Shaking a Manhattan will needlessly aerate the drink and ruin the smooth texture of the ingredients," noted Stryjewski. Instead, stir the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters together so that they're perfectly mixed and deliciously drinkable.

Stir gently with ice for a perfectly chilled Manhattan

While stirring the drink will produce the right texture, the temperature of a Manhattan matters, too. Katie Stryjewski suggested stirring the cocktail with ice, which is "enough to combine the ingredients and chill the cocktail." As for how to stir a Manhattan for the perfect taste and a decent chill, you'll want to use a bar spoon and give it a minimum of 20 rotations to get it nice and cool. If you don't have a long-handled bar spoon at home, you could use a clean chopstick, skewer, or a spoon held upside-down to stir the drink in a pinch.

If you're using harder, larger ice cubes, it will need to be stirred for longer than with looser, wet ones — about 30 seconds rather than 15 is a good rule of thumb. Stir the drink gently, so as not to risk aerating the drink and giving it a cloudy appearance and frothier texture — and don't stir so much that the ice melts, and it becomes overly diluted.

Garnish a Manhattan with quality cherries

A garnish is an important part of many cocktails or mixed drinks, not just for its appetizing appearance, but also for the extra flavor and fragrance it brings to the beverage. A cocktail cherry is the traditional option for a Manhattan — but don't just use any old jarred fruits.

To get the best results, you should "consider investing in some good brandied cherries like those made by Luxardo," Katie Stryjewski noted. "It's a great way to elevate your cocktail." Glossy, beautifully dark in color, and with a rich fruity taste, the Luxardo brand is often a mixologist's top cherry choice for making cocktails with a professional finish. Plus, these cherries have more bite to them than other varieties, adding another textural element to the drink.

Store vermouth in the refrigerator for better flavor

If you keep your vermouth on your bar cart or in a cupboard, you may want to reconsider. "Many people don't know that vermouth should be stored in the refrigerator," Katie Stryjewski told Food Republic. "Vermouth is a fortified wine with a lower alcohol content than spirits like whiskey, so its flavor degrades over time, and it can eventually go bad."

When the bottle has been opened, air can get inside, which causes oxidation. This is something that vermouth is especially prone to since it's often made with a white wine base rather than phenol-rich red; red wine is naturally higher in these phenolic compounds, which act as antioxidants and offer more protection against the effects of oxidation. To keep the vermouth from tasting vinegary, the solution is simple: "It should be refrigerated once opened to preserve its freshness and flavor," advised Stryjewski. An open bottle will stay fresh-tasting for two months in the fridge, but it should still be fine to use in drinks for the following eight weeks or so after this, too.

Add an amaro to Manhattans for fun variations

Fancy switching things up and incorporating a new flavor profile in your Manhattan? Cocktail enthusiast Katie Stryjewski has a simple tip. "I love adding an amaro to the mix, like Averna (for a Black Manhattan), Cynar (Little Italy), or Montenegro (Monte Manhattan)," she said. If you're not familiar with the ingredient, amaro is an Italian liqueur with a bittersweet flavor that comes from the herbs, flowers, bark, fruit peel, or spices it's made from. There are lots of different amaro varieties to try — Fernet Branca is one example that is better known.

Unlike traditional bitters, you can add more than just a few drops to your drink to amplify the taste. With bitters, you only want a couple of dashes (a dash is around ⅛ and ¼ of a teaspoon) because the flavor is so strong that it could overpower the other notes in the drink. When using amaro, you can use significantly more: Try mixing the usual two ounces of rye with half an ounce each of amaro and sweet vermouth for a balanced blend. Or follow Stryjewski's example and replace all the vermouth with Averna amaro to make a Black Manhattan, adding a dash each of Angostura and orange bitters for a dark and complex drink. Experiment a little, and you may just find a new signature serve.