The Manhattan is one of those classic cocktails that begs for a riff. The basic recipe is pretty straightforward: two parts whiskey, one part sweet vermouth, and two or three dashes of bitters. It’s best served up in a coupe glass after a good stir with ice.
"Bourbon choice—that dictates everything else," says Frank Magnasco, a bartender at Little Italy’s Juniper & Ivy, whose take on a classic Manhattan, The Tribeca, earned him one of six finalist slots in the Manhattan Experience national cocktail competition, happening Monday in New York.
It’ll be a homecoming of sorts for Magnasco, who spent three years at New York’s famed Tavern on the Green—and before that at Tribeca’s White Street—before moving to San Diego last fall.
The competition is sponsored by Woodford Reserve, so Magnasco had the option of using Woodford rye, regular Woodford, or Woodford’s double-oaked bourbon. He liked the smoothness of the double-oaked, and after trying four different sweet vermouths, went with Carpano Antica because it paired best with the bourbon’s vanilla flavors.
For bitters, Magnasco went with Bittermens' orange cream bitters for subtlety, and Woodford’s spiced cherry bitters to bring some fruitiness to the cocktail. He named it Tribeca (a Manhattan neighborhood) "to honor that point in my career and create an elegant, elevated Manhattan."
For his garnish, Magnasco cuts an orange peel "pocket square" that he expresses over the cocktail, rubs lightly over the stem and outside of the glass, and then clips it to the rim, "for the olfactory experience," he says. "I didn't want to just dunk the orange peel in the glass." Its triangle shape pays homage to Tribeca.
The competition called for two cocktails—a Manhattan and a riff on a Manhattan. For the latter, Magnasco wanted to create something that was relatively easy to make and didn’t require esoteric ingredients. He figured the caramelized, vegetal quality of an easy-to-make roasted fennel syrup would go well with Woodford Reserve. The sweetness of Cointreau paired with Dolin's dry vermouth turned the cocktail into a Perfect Manhattan variation.
"The taste, when I put this into a glass, was really surprising," Magnasco says.
Fennely, It Has Happened to Me
2 oz Woodford Reserve
.25 oz Dolin dry vermouth
.25 roasted fennel syrup*
.5 ounce Cointreau
Dash of Angostura bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a glass. At Junpier & Ivy, it’s served with a bit of saffron salt on the rim and garnished with a bit of fennel root that’s been dipped in simple syrup and dehydrated.
*Easy fennel simple syrup: Roast fennel on 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Make a basic simple syrup, but include the piece of roasted fennel.
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