“The Manhattan was the first drink I learned to make,” recalls bartender Mike Raymond. “I was seven years old or so.” Raymond’s father and grandfather were both Manhattan drinkers, and being enlisted for mixing assistance as a child might well have helped put him on his current path. He grew up in the Northeast but started bartending (professionally, that is) while in college in Atlanta, and today he owns two bars in Houston: The new cocktail palace the Cottonmouth Club and whiskey-focused Reserve 101, which celebrated its tenth birthday earlier this year.
“It’s a really incredible drink to stand the test of time. You don’t need to do a whole lot to it,” Raymond says. “For me, there’s a certain amount of family tradition, of course.”
With about 350 whiskies on offer at Reserve 101, Raymond has a lot of options to choose from. And the drink’s history leaves room for improvisation, too: The original nineteenth-century version invented at New York’s Manhattan Club calls for spicy rye whiskey as a base, while popular post-Prohibition recipes tend to call for sweeter bourbon instead. Raymond splits the difference with Wild Turkey 101, a high-proof bourbon made using a high proportion of rye in the mash bill, which gives it some of the peppery and fruity notes associated with rye whiskey. If you like your Manhattan gentler, Raymond recommends Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon, or, if you’re a rye whiskey traditionalist, Old Overholt.
As for sweet vermouth, Raymond recommends two brands that are affordable and easy to find: Martini & Rossi Rosso from Italy or Dolin Rouge from France. His bitters pick is the classic Angostura, but when it comes to the cherry garnish, he does suggest you upgrade a bit with brandy-soaked Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. “I enjoy the booziness of a Manhattan,” he says, “but you still get to finish with a sweet hit—the cherry.”