Several years ago, I found myself in Louisville, Kentucky, with a bunch of old-school writers and bartenders—a potent mix guaranteed to produce excessive behavior at the best of times. We had already been together for a couple of days and pain was being felt by all, but never admitted. I’m not suggesting in any way that this is a wise way to go about one’s business. In my defense, I was a lot younger—and also something good came out of the experience. Not just this drink, but the story of the blind dog and the squeaky lobster, which I’ll tell you sometime over drinks.
Anyway, the celebrations from the night before were still lingering—the launch party for a new Whiskey, the subsequent decanting to the hotel bar to quadruple check the Spirit’s quality versus its competitors, the Bloody Marys in the morning with breakfast…you get the drift. So when legendary writer, raconteur and bon vivant Gary Regan sidled up to me and suggested a swift libation, my resolve was non-existent. But no one could refuse a drink with Gary even though I knew that he’d suggest something potent. He immediately clocked my hesitation.
“Reverse Manhattan?” I must have looked even more gormless than before.
“You know,” he went on.
I shook my head. Again, in my defense, this took place at a time when in the U.K. knowing that the Manhattan was in fact a mixed drink bestowed upon you some sort of expert status. But to be honest, the intricacies of the cocktail world were then still unknown to me.
“It’s a Manhattan…” He paused. I knew he was sussing out whether I even knew what that was. I knew he knew. He knew I knew he knew. I nodded.
“Well then,” he went on. “Just reverse the amounts of Vermouth and Bourbon.”
I signaled agreement with a weak smile and off he went to make the drink.
It was, as you might expect, delicious. Light, bitter-sweet with a mild rabbit punch of booze. It also made sense for a moment when something gentle was certainly appropriate. The fog began to lift.
I didn’t know you could do such things with cocktails, that you could play with recipes, reject orthodoxy, flip things around, be creative.
We had another. This was acceptable, Gary explained, as it was a light drink. He then explained that what we called the Reverse Manhattan was, in fact, the original recipe for a vermouth heavy drink. The Bourbon-heavy Manhattan, which we knew, was in fact the reverse of this recipe.
So were we drinking an original Manhattan or a Double Reverse? The headache began to creep back across my skull.
“Best not think about it,” Gary said and off he went to fix us another round.
The Reverse Manhattan
- 1 part Bourbon
- 2 parts Sweet Vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Brandy cherry
Add all of the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandy cherry.
*Cover image credit: Brent Hofacker