Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Manhattans in Manhattan

In New York for a few day's to taste and learn about Italian wines, thanks to the Italian Trade Commission. Came up a few days early to throw out a sleeping bag in my son's apartment in Brooklyn and live like a graduate student for a few days. Damn, it's exhausting!

So it was Saturday evening, we were sitting in a noisy bar, drinking a beer and watching bad basketball while we pondered our next move. I was exhausted and tempted to head back to the Apt, but that meant back to the cold streets and endless subway steps, and I think that's what we were doing when Travis mentioned an energetic Sake bar. Then the  notion of a cocktail emerged, T's eyes lit up, he said "I know just the place!" And we wound up at the Pegu Club, a quiet 2nd floor lounge dedicated to administrations of classic and classically inspired cocktails. "A bit of the restorative" as Bertie Wooster would say.

The temptation here is to write a review, but there are plenty to be read online. I ordered a "The Little Italy", a variant of the Manhattan, with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, a delicious true maraschino cherry, but the kicker was Averna, the dark bitter Sicilian digestif. One sip and the world changed before my eyes. The sweetness of the cherry and the vermouth darkened by the various earthy chocolate bitters took all edges from the whiskey. The drink glowed on the table, a source of new life.

So, last night, after a relaxed dinner at the Apt, Travis broke out the Sazerac 18 year rye, a bottle of Averna and instead of the vermouth, a bottle of Chinato. Chinato is an herbal infused, fortified wine made in the Piedmonte, typically from Barolo. The leading flavors are quinine, clove and cardamom among many others. We had a bottle of Vergano Chinato made from Grignolino which has a brighter cherry component than richer, darker Chinato's made from Nebbiolo.

The first try was the classic Manhattan ratio of 2:1. On the first sip, it didn't seem that the Chinato had disrupted the massive flavor of the Sazerac 18, but on reflection the cherry was shining with a glowing brilliance all around the edges. Quite nice. But Travis wanted more. He cut back on the Chinato and added a good splash of Averna and a couple of drops of Angostura bitters for good measure, stirred on ice and poured.

Wow! The cherries were still glowing around the edges both from the whisky and the Chinato, but the rich vanillas and toastiness of the whisky were now dragged into undertones of bitter chocolate by the dark and bitter Averna. Delicious.

Damn, we just didn't have a cherry. And to paraphrase Trapper John, "A Manhattan just isn't a Manhattan without a cherry."


  1. That classic ratio is 2:1, I believe.
    My ratio was 4:3 rye to chinato with a goodly splash of Averna and two dashes of Angostura.

  2. I stand corrected. Photos by Dave added!

  3. Finally....

    Little Italy, Pegu Club's Manhattan variant

    Chill 5 ounce coupe or glass.

    Fill mixer with ice and add:

    2 ounces rye
    3/4 ounce sweet vermouth, preferably Carpano Antica Formula
    1/2 ounce Cynar

    Stir vigorously. Place Luxardo Maraschino cherry in glass and strain the drink into the glass.