The modern Manhattan has been my drink of choice for decades, which I previously wrote about here. But that may have changed on January 21, 2017 when my wife Cindy and I went to La Rive Breton (LRB) in Leonardtown, St. Mary’s County (you can read about our experience that evening by clicking here). That’s when I experienced my first Black Manhattan.
LRB’s craft cocktail menu describes their version of the Black Manhattan as “redemption rye, averna amaro, bitters, amarena cherry.” That’s quite different from the modern Manhattan, which typically uses bourbon (not rye, which was the original version), sweet vermouth, Angostura aromatic bitters, and a maraschino cherry for a garnish. Interestingly, LRB doesn’t specify what type of bitters they use.
For me, it was love at first sip. The first thing I noticed about the drink, before even tasting it, was that the cocktail was much darker than a typical Manhattan. That’s because of the Amaro (there are several brands, Averna being one), which is the Italian word for bitter. Amaro liqueur has a bittersweet flavor and is much darker than a sweet, red vermouth.
Novelty has its own attractions.
What else do I think makes it so good? It has a great depth and complexity of flavor. But I admit that may be just in comparison to my old standard. Novelty has its own attractions. Don’t think for a second, though, that I’ve given up on the modern Manhattan. For one thing, a lot of places don’t have the ingredients on hand for a Black Manhattan. Some bartenders have never even heard of it.
The Black Manhattan was invented around 2008 by bartender Todd Smith
Origin of the Black Manhattan
How did the Black Manhattan come to be? From various reports, the Black Manhattan was invented around 2008 by bartender Todd Smith at the prohibition-era inspired San Francisco watering-hole called Bourbon & Branch, of which he was a co-founder. Smith’s now a partner in another San Francisco spot called ABV. Jon Santer, another bartender who participated in the opening of Bourbon & Branch tells the story of those beginnings here.
Making a Black Manhattan
Liking the cocktail so much, I wanted to make it at home. The first problem I ran into was my local purveyor of fine spirits stocked neither Averna Amaro or orange bitters. He could obtain the Amaro through one of his distributors, but was unwilling to get such a small item as the bitters, because he couldn’t sell it at a reasonable price and make a profit. So I got orange bitters via Amazon.com.
Here’s the basic recipe I used, based on a number of sources:
- 2 parts rye or bourbon whiskey
- 1 part Amaro
- a couple of dashes of orange bitters (some suggest using 1 dash of aromatic bitters, and a 2nd dash of orange bitters)
- a cherry to garnish (there are a variety of cherries you can use)
- ice (in a mixing glass or shaker to chill the ingredients)
Your choices from among these ingredients will certainly affect the flavor of the final cocktail. Bourbon tends to be sweeter than rye. If you mix your bitters, that will also make a difference. What I found really interesting is that a some folks recommend “Angostura bitters” instead of “orange bitters.” The thing is, when most recipes say to use “Angostura bitters” they are talking about Angostura’s aromatic bitters — that seems to be what most people think of when they hear “Angostura bitters.” The reality is that since 2009 Angostura has made both their original aromatic bitters as well as orange bitters.
How I make a Black Manhattan
- Chill a cocktail glass by either putting it in the freezer for a few minutes, or filling it with ice, then water. Set aside.
- Fill a cocktail shaker or glass about half-way with ice.
- Add two parts Bulleit rye whiskey, using a shot glass or jigger to measure.
- Then add one part Averna Amaro, using a shot glass or jigger to measure.
- Put in a couple dashes of Angostura orange bitters.
- Stir for about 30 seconds.
- Add a cherry or two, perhaps on a cocktail pick, to your empty, chilled cocktail glass.
- Strain the cocktail from the shaker/glass into the cocktail glass. ♦