The Brandy Manhattan

Celebrating Middlebrow Cocktail Culture

March 23, 2015
by brandymanhattan

Expensive Vodka is a Rip-off


Liquor Truism #1: No bottle of vodka is worth more than $30.00.

I base this statement on three facts. 1) Vodka is not aged in any way. They pour it right out of the distillery vat into the bottle and ship it off straight to your local Wal Mart. Aging vodka does not improve it in any way. 2) You can practically make it in your bathtub. 3) Just about no one outside of Russia drinks it straight.

Of course, some vodkas DO taste quite good. I am particularly fond of Ketel One. But I can honestly say I’ve never the kind of sublime experience drinking vodka that I’ve had sipping scotch, bourbon, or even gin. Whatever flavor exists in vodka is added, in the same way that cheese flavor is added to Cheese Whiz.

So why would you ever pay as much for a bottle of vodka as you would pay for a mid-range bourbon or average scotch?

Having concluded that, there are a few additional observations to add to the truism.

  • Never pay less than $12.oo for a bottle of vodka. You can get get a bottle of vodka for $6.99 but all the orange juice and chunks of fruit in the world is not going to cover up the gasoline flavor. On a budget, buy Smirnoff.
  • No one over the age of 15 should drink flavored vodka. There’s a reason there is no apricot scotch or watermelon bourbon.
  • Vodka rules the morning. Bloody mary anyone?

August 16, 2013
by brandymanhattan

The Disguised Relish Tray


I was treated to a birthday dinner the other night at a restaurant recently opened here in Milwaukee – Blue Jacket, a cozy joint in Walker’s Point that offers small plate dining, along with planks and large plates. Their emphasis is on sourcing ingredients locally and from the Great Lakes Region, a philosophy I heartily endorse.

I chose the Meat Plank, my girlfriend chose the Cheese Plank. Everything, from the super thin sliced smoked meats to the complex, aged cheeses to they tiny pickled asparagus and beet slices was exquisite. We took our time, enjoying the perfect weather on the patio, enjoying each other’s company, discretely eavesdropping on our fellow diners.


As nice a dining experience as this was, afterwards I was struck by an interesting observation. I’ve been making plans to travel take in some classic supper clubs, after reading Ron Faiola’s excellent book Wisconsin Supper Clubs, An Old-Fashioned Experience, and supper club dining occupied my thoughts as I began developing this blog. Thinking back to all my classic experiences with supper club dining, the evening at Blue Jacket reminded me of nothing so much as the relish trays, lazy susans, and bread or cracker baskets brought to the table prior to serving the actual meal at a supper club.

That’s what small plate dining really is: paying full meal prices for the relish tray and bread basket.

I have no complaints; it was a terrific dining experience. But about two hours later, I was hungry again.

What does this have to do with Manhattans, you may ask? In addition to the meal and appetizers, I also sampled one of Blue Jacket’s summer cocktails – To The WindBlue Jacket features a beverage program (terrific idea!), curated by Bittercube founders Ira Koplowitz and Nick Kosevich, featuring cocktails focused on Rum and Gin maritime traditions. More on Bittercube and their fine products in a later post.

Despite the nautical name, I immediately identified To The Wind as a Manhattan. Here’s the ingredients: Johnny Drum Private Stock, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Port, Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters. It was not served on ice, which I expected, but it was sublime and delicious. And it was garnished with two cherries that seemed to have been aged in raspberry brandy.

Technically, it was not a Brandy Manhattan, so there was no violation of my scriptures on ice and cocktail shakers. I am bringing this up to demonstrate that I am not a fanatic when it comes to my take on cocktail culture. I can enjoy a high-end drink just as well as the next guy. And small plate dining.

But now I’m really yearning for a big plate of juicy prime rib, a huge baked potato with sour cream, and a nice Brandy Manhattan overflowing with ice.