by Lauren Mote
Every person really loves that “certain cocktail”, the drink that stimulates their appetite, cleanses their palate, and loosens them up. My favourite feel good bevy used to be the Negroni – an old-school blend of Campari, Gin and Sweet Vermouth, stirred over ice – but alas, as my palate changes, so does my craving. I have plateaued my absolute love for grain spirits, and in particular my love for bourbon whisky – I give you “Manhattan” – rye (I personally like mine with bourbon), sweet vermouth, and bitters.
In the last two days I have performed two experiments with two bartenders, at two different locations. I call it, “make me a Manhattan”, and to be honest, it didn’t become an experiment until I wrote that sentence.
Round One: The Duke of Devon, TD Centre, Bay St & King St, Toronto, ON
“Make me a bourbon Manhattan…. please. Feel free to use Woodford Reserve if you have it, if not the rail bourbon is just fine. I would like it stirred, and poured over 4 ice cubes. I’m not coo-coo, just a lover of bourbon!” I say quite candidly to our server. She returns several minutes later, amidst the crowd of suits and ties – it’s Happy Hour in the Financial District, “we have no bourbon. What should we use instead?” “Rye Whisky is fine.” At this point, I am stressed – it’s already been proven that the bartender may create something weird, although the traditional Manhattan only has 3 ingredients… Egad! I scurry over to the bar, where the bartender yells over the crowd “ARE YOU THE ‘BOURBON GIRL’?” “YES!” I respond proudly. “WE JUST RAN OUT! YOU’VE GOT A CHOICE BETWEEN SEAGRAM’S VO, CANADIAN CLUB AND CROWN ROYAL”. I chose Crown. The cocktail arrives 10 minutes later with candied cherries and lemon pulp stuck to the glass. After all the waiting and explaining, the cocktail was ok. It hit the spot which was the most important thing, but it really wasn’t super memorable. It wasn’t the bartender’s fault, it was the lack of bourbon that prevented that super long, round, rich mouth-feel that I was originally eager for – like the sensation of an old Bordeaux and a chunk of rare steak.
Round Two: Czehoski, 678 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON
“Make me a bourbon Manhattan…. please. I will take Maker’s Mark, or whatever bourbon you have laying around back there. If I can get it stirred with a couple of ice cubes, that would be awesome.” It arrives several minutes later, revealing its shards of busted ice, filled to the top of the glass. Damn it. The cherry was also m.i.a., however I wasn’t upset about its disappearance from a consumption standpoint as I do not generally eat the cherries, but it saddened me that a Manhattan would leave the bar without its signature garnish. The cocktail was super watered down, and I felt bad – I couldn’t drink it that fast because it was so unenjoyable – I nursed it big time. I eventually pushed it to the centre of the table for immediate collection because my big bottle of Czechvar replaced it. Double damn it.
I will say it was an interesting experiment. As industry professionals here and abroad, the classics are the backbone of the mixologist’s repertoire, and it was just kind of disappointing that a delicious glass of simple ingredients can be forgotten so quickly, or that the passion for the finished product disappeared. I don’t know which one’s worse.
I do love a mean Manhattan though.