Manhattan Cocktail

The Great Toronto Cocktail Challenge: The Manhattan

So up until now, I've been holding off writing about Manhattans. It's a cocktail that you can find virtually anywhere, and many places do it quite well, but I don't know how many places do a really superb job with the drink. The thing is, in Ontario anyway, we're a bit limited. Sure there is lots of whiskey to choose from, but when you start looking at sweet vermouth and bitters, the selection drops dramatically.

But I wanted to do it, because it's kind of the granddaddy of all those sweetened whiskey cocktails (even if it isn't really) and one of my absolute favourites.

So I definitely wanted to include a Manhattan, but I just wasn't quite sure how to go about it. What if I chose a place and was enormously disappointed? Sure, the opportunity is there, BarChef does a $45.00 smoked Manhattan that is apparently divine, but I'm weary of too much trickery or tinkering. I don't want a riff on a Manhattan; I want a Manhattan. So with that in mind I set out to find one, and as far as I'm concerned there is really only one place to go: The Black Hoof.

The first time I tried this cocktail was on a Sunday back in the winter over at the — sadly, now defunct — Hoof Café. It was an evening of Manhattans and fried chicken, and might have been the best culinary experience of my life; this was the perfect excuse to have another, sans fried chicken.

So, it's already clear that Black Hoof makes an extraordinary drink, let's take a look at why.

Manhattan - 3oz, $16.00

Ingredients:
Whiskey
Sweet Vermouth
House Bitters

Top Notes: 9/10
A Manhattan, while full of big flavours, is a delicate cocktail and for that reason it is a stirred one - lest the drink get bruised and become cloudy. This one is fully intact and served with a house preserved cherry that puts those neon saccharine orbs to shame. This cherry is dark and chewy and a little sour — it's so good in fact that I'm taking a point off for only getting two (they're tiny). I could eat a bowl full of them.

The Back End - 10/10
This is a drink that makes you understand why people drink cocktails over straight spirits. It is the perfect combination of complimentary flavours that creates something that is better than the sum of its parts.

The key to a perfect Manhattan are the ingredients. Sure, it's whiskey, vermouth and bitters, but knowing just which types — and then getting your hands on them — is part of the trick. A Black Hoof Manhattan uses Alberta Springs rye, Carpano Antica vermouth, and house made bitters. The beauty here is that it's all about the drink; no one is trying to buy you with expensive whiskey. Alberta Springs is pretty smooth and pretty neutral, just the thing to let a really good vermouth shine. Carpano Antica is a rich and slightly spicy fortified wine that mingles really well with the whiskey. Combine that with the house bitters and you've got pretty much the perfect Manhattan.

Finish - 10/10
What makes this a perfect Manhattan is the attention to detail, every ingredient serves a specific purpose and a choice was made to fulfill that purpose. But that's par for the course at the Hoof, nothing "doesn't matter" and the Manhattan is no different. As it should, the cocktail stands on equal footing as the food, something that more restaurants should take note of. Neon red maraschino cherries aren't okay, nor are cheap generic ingredients of any other kind.

That doesn't mean you need to spend a fortune on "top shelf" spirits; it just means you need to care — and at Black Hoof, they do.

Total Score 29/30 (97%)

Previously in the series


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