The Brandy Manhattan

Celebrating Middlebrow Cocktail Culture

September 1, 2013
by brandymanhattan

It’s Brandy Month!


In order to spotlight and flesh out my Primal Cocktail List, I’m going to focus each month on one of the categories of liquors and the associated cocktails. First up, no surprise, is Brandy.

Here’s the tentative schedule:

September: Brandy

October: Gin

November: Vodka

December: Whiskey

January: Rum

February: Tequila

I may slip in links, comments, and posts on different subjects out of sequence as needs and my interest compel me.

For this month, I will expand out from the Brandy Manhattan to it’s sexy sister, the Brandy Old-Fashioned, look at Cognac, and whatever else seems appropriate.

“Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.”
― Samuel Jackson

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.

August 15, 2013
by brandymanhattan

Why the Brandy Manhattan?


This is not a Brandy Manhattan. Not in my world.

First of all, where’s the goddamn ice?

Here’s how you make a proper Brandy Manhattan. Fill a tumbler (or more properly, the Old Fashioned glass) with ice brimming to the rim. Sprinkle in a dash or two of bitters. Using a jigger or measure, pour in one part sweet vermouth, then two parts VSOP brandy. Stir once or twice with a swizzle stick or bar spoon. Garnish to taste. The maraschino cherry is the default, I like dilly beans, olives, or pickled mushrooms. No blue cheese or garlic stuffed olives to pollute the mixture, please.

The result should look like this:

headerThat is a drink that will last a while on the bar in front of you or at your table during dinner. It’s a glass full of booze, leavened with ice, humanized with a small piece of fruit.

Serious drinkers – not drunks, mind you – pace themselves and drink for effect. This requires a cocktail that isn’t going to go warm and flat in eight minutes. (See illustration above) The ice melt aids in maintaining that pace; by the time you finish, you’re savoring the slightest memory of the drink.

Where would you order my Brandy Manhattan? Most likely, not in Manhattan. Queens, perhaps, or Long Island, definitely. In a bar that is always dark in the afternoon, where you can buy a pickled egg and watch a ball game quietly while the bartender ignores you. This is the ideal setting for serious drinking.

Order one anywhere in the state of Wisconsin. No one will make the mistake of pouring the contents into a shaker before serving. In fact, here’s a tip. If you order a martini in Wisconsin, make sure you clarify with the bartender you don’t want it served on the rocks. We are serious drinkers here, and have little patience with cocktails with no shelf life.

The Brandy Manhattan is a serious drinker’s cocktail, but it is also a friend to the working man (or salty working woman). If some place drizzles Remy Martin and Lillet Rouge in your glass, pours a few drops of artisanal bitters on top, and calls it a Metropolitan,  charging you $18, you didn’t order a Brandy Manhattan.  (Feel free to indulge yourself with this recipe at home, however.) Order a Brandy Manhattan in any decent bar, though, and if you’re lucky you’ll get Paul Masson VS and E & J Vermouth in a clean glass for $5.

If meatloaf and grilled cheese sandwiches are comfort foods, then the Brandy Manhattan is a comfort cocktail. It’s the perfect compliment to prime rib and a twice-baked potato in a vintage supper club or a great companion while you sit on your patio savoring the aroma of  ribs smoking on a grill.

A good cocktail should provide a reliable complement to a comfortable life. Unlike fruity boat drinks or flaming concoctions, the Brandy Manhattan can serve as a Tuesday evening at home drink, or a Saturday on the boat drink, or a Friday night at the HobNob supper club drink.

The objective of this blog is to explore and celebrate comfortable living: plain, but rich in pleasure. We will sweep aside pretension and glitz and focus on the good life: good food, friendship, fine music, and cheerful times.

…and simple cocktails full of booze.