I’m always happy to return to my favorite food group: the Manhattan. This time, it’s the Black Manhattan.
The Black Manhattan sticks pretty close to the original Manhattan formula, substituting an amaro (Averna) for the usual sweet vermouth. The resulting flavor is quite unlike the standard Manhattan—less whiskey-driven, more bitter and earthy, and much more herbal. The name comes from the very dark coloration of the Averna.
The Black Manhattan showed up around 2008 or so; bartender Todd Smith, who worked at San Francisco’s Bourbon and Branch at the time, gets credit for its creation. At that time, I knew very little about amaros, and did not particularly have a taste for them. The flavors were well outside my comfort range—too big, too bitter, too… weird.
Still, the drink seemed interesting enough to add to the notebook—“things to try some other day.”
My comfort zone expanded with time, of course, as did my familiarity with “big flavors,” so when I recently came across that old note, the Black Manhattan concept seemed quite attractive. I had fallen in with various amaros, but not Averna; the opportunity was at hand.
The Black Manhattan
- 2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey (Buffalo Trace, Bulleit 10)
- 1 oz Averna
- 1–2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters (optional)
Stir all ingredients with ice until cold; strain into a well-chilled cocktail stem. Garnish with a brandied cherry.
The original recipe calls for bourbon. Rye-influenced bourbons like Buffalo Trace and Jim Beam Black are good matches for the Averna, as are straight rye whiskies like Rittenhouse. I’m all for the bourbon and its slightly sweeter profile.
There are plenty of amaros besides Averna, and the Black Manhattan encourages the idea of experimentation. For example, staying with the “black” motif, you could use Zucca (a rhubarb-based amaro) in place of the Averna. Zucca is a nearly opaque dark brown, but that’s where its similarity to Averna ends—it is much less sweet, and has a more bitter, earthy, almost leathery flavor profile.
Alternatively, you could use both sweet vermouth and your amaro of choice. The possibilities are endless.
And that’s why I love the Manhattan: a simple, robust drink, and a classic model for so many variations.
“The Black Manhattan Cocktail” at cold-glass.com : All text and photos © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.