Tales from Barrel: Stalwarts

– Parker Girard, Bar Manager

Here at Barrel, we make a TON of whiskey cocktails.  But when it comes down to it, the cocktails we make more than any other are the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan, arguably the two most important and influential whiskey cocktails in the world.  They’ve spawned countless variants and riffs over the years, and without the popularity of these cocktails, it’s likely Barrel as we know it would never exist.

Today, we’ll be looking at the entries regarding these cocktails contained within Dave Arnold’s “Liquid Intelligence,” as the exact specifications for these cocktails vary slightly depending on which guide you consult.

1.)  Old Fashioned

“Mix volume:  72.6 ml
Finished volume:  90 ml
Start:  39.8% abv, 9.4 g/100ml sugar, 0% acid
Finish:  32.1% abv, 7.6 g/100ml sugar, 0% acid

2 oz (60ml) bourbon (47% abv)
3/8 oz (11ml) simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Build over a large rock in a double old fashioned glass with an orange twist.”

The Old Fashioned is, essentially, a cocktail by its oldest definition (sugar, spirit, bitters), and speaking personally, is easily one of my favorite cocktails of all time.  It’s interesting that Arnold chose to use bourbon in this cocktail, as most of these old classic cocktails call for rye in their original texts.  It should also be noted that this is the only built drink of the three, and should always be served over ice.

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2.)  Manhattan (with Rye)

Mix volume:  88.3 ml
Finished Volume:  129.2 ml
Start:  39.8% abv, 4.9 g/100ml sugar, 0.18% acid
Finish: 27.2 % abv, 3.4 g/100ml sugar, 0.12 % acid

2 oz (60ml) rye (50% abv)
0.875 oz (26.66 ml) sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir and serve in a coupe glass with a cherry or orange twist.

According to highly unlikely cocktail lore, the Manhattan was invented by Winston Churchill’s mother?  I’m not buying it.  Note the differences and similarities between the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.  Both of these cocktails have 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters and 2 oz of whiskey (regardless of mash bill preference).  In fact, the real difference between these two cocktails is the choice of sweetener (sweet vermouth vs. simple syrup) and the choice of glassware.  The difference in sweetener means there’s some acidity to the Manhattan, which overall, leads to a slightly more balanced drink chemically speaking (think of acid and sugar as yin and yang).

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All this is great, but why can you serve a Manhattan on the rocks, but you can’t serve an Old Fashioned up in a coupe?  I remember a while back, when a customer was complaining about a Sazerac they had ordered at a different restaurant, and when it arrived at the table, they found it was served with ice.  As a cocktail nerd, I’m appalled by the idea of ice in a Sazerac, but why?  The idea to serve a Sazerac over ice is, technically speaking, not an unreasonable conclusion to reach.  I suppose it all has to do with the identity of the cocktail, and how it was traditionally prepared.  It could be argued that the Old Fashioned only improves with the dilution of water, and in my opinion, that’s absolutely true.  But under that logic, wouldn’t a Sazerac improve with the addition of water?  Why are Sazeracs stirred in a separate glass, and not built over ice in the serving glass?

But then again, without these little rules, what would this industry be?  How many unwritten rules are there in baseball?  You wouldn’t cross over the mound, just like you wouldn’t put ice in a Sazerac.  You wouldn’t bunt to break up a no-hitter, just like you wouldn’t serve an Old Fashioned without ice.  It all makes sense in a very abstract way.

At this point, I’m just spitballing.  Over the last 13 months here at Barrel, we’ve made  3,868 Old Fashioneds, and 2,100 Manhattans, and that’s not even including variations on our menu, barrel-aged versions, or experiments we’ve conducted behind closed doors.  And that number’s only going up.