Popular legend pegs the Manhattan’s invention to New York City’s Manhattan Club around 1880. Shortly after its debut, it became one of America’s most popular drinks, and it’s easy to see why: The timeless mix of American whiskey and Italian vermouth, accented with a couple dashes of bitters, is well-balanced and tasty. All these decades later, it’s still in high demand.
Like any classic cocktail, the Manhattan has spurred many riffs, including other drinks named for NYC boroughs and neighborhoods, like the Brooklyn, Bronx and Red Hook, which call on other spirits and liqueurs. But one riff, the Reverse Manhattan, simply reverses the typical 2:1 whiskey-to-vermouth ratio and makes vermouth the star.
Though vermouth is mainly used today as a modifier, Justin Lavenue, the co-owner and operator of The Roosevelt Room in Austin, points out that it was poured more liberally in the mid-to-late 1800s. That includes in Manhattans, as 19th-century drinkers were likely to have enjoyed a recipe that featured equal parts whiskey and vermouth, or possibly more vermouth than whiskey.
“In a lot of ways, the Reverse Manhattan is an homage to how people used to drink vermouth and an homage to the genesis of cocktails as a whole,” he says. “If balanced correctly, [it] can be a wildly delicious drink.”
Of course, the quality of the vermouth counts here. Rather than relying on one bottle to do all the work, Lavenue enlists three high-quality Italians—Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Punt e Mes and Carpano Antica Formula—in precise ratios. You don’t have to combine your vermouths, but Lavenue’s recipe yields a blend that is rich and herbal with a hint of bitterness, and it stands tall next to the rye whiskey.
The next time you want a Manhattan, try this about-face version. The Reverse Manhattan is a recognizable take on the classic that brings all the flavor with less of the alcohol, so it’s a great option for starting or ending your evening with a lighter-than-usual whiskey drink.
2 ounces sweet vermouth blend*
1 ounce rye whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: marasca cherry
Add the sweet vermouth blend, rye whiskey and bitters into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a marasca cherry.
*Sweet vermouth blend: Combine a 750 mL bottle of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, 19 ounces Punt e Mes and 6 ounces Carpano Antica Formula vermouth. Will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks.