Black Manhattan + cocktail cherries.

Not exactly black but we’ll let it off just this once.

Black Manhattan.

A relative newcomer in Cocktailville, the Black Manhattan was created in 2008 by Todd Smith at Bourbon and Branch, San Francisco. A cocktail of quietly elegant simplicity it should be a breeze for any reasonably well stocked home cocktailista to prepare. Simply a modern twist on the classic Manhattan Todd’s black version subs Averna for the Italian (sweet) vermouth and adds a dash of orange bitters to the usual Angostura to tie it together. Averna is an Italian amaro from the island of Sicily that has an earthy bittersweet flavour and while not a million miles from an Italian vermouth has somewhat more depth and complexity. While the range of amari (because saying “amaro’s” would just be wrong) is quite wide there are a group of “typical” ones in the centre that have at least some degree of interchangeability. Of those that I’m on speaking terms with Averna, Ramazzotti and Lucano all make excellent Black Manhattans and while Averna is the original and probably most widely available I particularly enjoy Ramazzotti especially when paired with Rittenhouse rye. Since we’re making this as good as we possible can we need to talk about the classic garnish of every Manhattan, black or otherwise:

Cocktail cherries – the lowdown.

The bad, the good and the ultimate.

When I was young and foolish I used to think those bright neon red “maraschino” cocktail cherries were rather nice. Until I found out how they were made: Take some perfectly good cherries of any variety other than the actual Marasca variety and then bleach them in sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride. Once thoroughly bleached, soak them in disodium 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfonatophenyl) diazenyl] naphthalene-2-sulfonate and some other shit. No, really. I could go on but there’s surely no point other than to explain that there are better alternatives to the FAKE* maraschino cherry. While I have messed around with preserving cherries with some limited success I’m now convinced that the best policy is just to lay out some cash for the real deal. Luxardo, the Italian liqueur manufacturer, supply genuine Maraschino cherries and they are dark, plump, firm little globes of deliciosity. They’re pretty pricey though, especially the further from home they get. While the Luxardo cherries are definitely worth the money, those on a budget could do worse than the Amarena cherries jarred by Fabbri or Toschi** which are almost as good but are usually a bit cheaper – or at least you get more for the money as well as a much classier jar. The only downside is that, as you can see, they tend to be less regular in shape and a little smaller. Anyway, you’re tired of reading now so I’ll let you go away and make yourself a delicious:


Black Manhattan.

2oz / 60ml Bourbon or (preferably) rye whiskey.

1oz / 30ml Averna or a similar amaro (see text).

1 dash Angostura bitters.

1 dash orange bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled stem glass.

Garnish with a cocktail cherry. If a few drops of syrup from the jar fall into the glass that might not necessarily be a bad thing…

Toast Todd Smith – the Manhattanator.

[This is quite a strong cocktail, especially if using a higher proof whiskey. I have no problem with scaling it back to 1.5oz (45ml) and 0.75oz (22ml).]


*The USA dropped the first word of the original “imitation maraschino cherry” designation in 1940.

**Italian delicatessens can be a good source for these.

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