Rule 37: The Meletti Manhattan

Modern Drunkard Magazine’s articleThe 86 Rules of Boozing, by Frank Kelly Rich states:
Rule 37. Try one new drink each week.
The Rule 37 series of posts chronicle my attempts to accomplish this feat every week.
For the recipes of R37s past, click the Htf do I make these drinks? tab.

This week’s Rule 37 is a twist on a favorite. The Law of Cocktails states that when you change the ingredients in a cocktail, it becomes a new cocktail. I’m not talking about switching brands: a Tanqueray and tonic versus Bombay Sapphire are both still “gin and tonics.” More along the lines of changing out the gin for another liquor, or switching the tonic to club soda. When you change an ingredient, it becomes a different drink. There is no such thing as a “vodka martini” (a Martini, by name, is made with gin. With vodka it becomes a Kangaroo, or, according to Dale DeGroff, a Silver Bullet). There is no “Strawberry Margarita” (a Margarita is tequila, triple sec and lime juice).

This Manhattan, is not a Mahnattan.

This whole mess started when I visited Bin Ends, a local wine/spirit/craft beer shop, last Thursday night to partake of a liqueur tasting. Some months ago, I saw a bottle of “Amaro Meletti” in Bin Ends, and, being interested in expanding my amaro education, bought a bottle (amaro is an Italian bitter herbal liqueur, usually taken as a digestivo. Campari is a popular one). I figured since it was only $18, it was worth a try. After tasting, I was extremely impressed with the Meletti: it smells wonderfully of eucalyptus, and other miscellaneous herbal playthings, and tastes as it smells. It’s quite nice neat (at 32% abv it’s perfectly sippable), over ice, or with soda. Intended as a digestivo, it’s a very soothing after-dinner tipple. The Lady Friend quite enjoyed it, as did Wifey, though Irish Lad said it reminded him of cough medicine. However, I was sold on it, and made a point to taste the rest of the Meletti products at the Bin Ends event.

There were four liqueurs offered: the amaro, the sambuca, the anisette, and “Cioccolato” the chocolate liqueur. As I tasted, I chatted with the sales rep, Nick, of Origin Beverage Company, an alcohol distributer and subsidiary of Horizon Beverage in Avon, MA, though specializing in more crafted, unique products (they carry Bully Boy, for example). I wound up talking about all sorts of boozy things with him for about 45 minutes, and he suggested a cocktail recipe that would include my amaro: a variation on the Manhattan.

A true Manhattan is 2oz whiskey (usually bourbon, though historically rye was used), 1oz sweet (red, Italian) vermouth, and a dash (I like several dashes) of bitters (again, usually Angostura, though there are many more on the market now). For the variation, the amaro would be used in place of the vermouth. Nick recommended a high-rye content bourbon, as the rye spice would help to cut down the amaro’s herbal sweetness. I figured if you’re going to use a high-rye bourbon, you may as well use a proper rye (which launched into a rye discussion). I decided to break out the big guns: Rittenhouse 100 proof for this one.

The Meletti Manhattan

– 2 oz Rittenhouse 100 proof Rye
– 1 oz Meletti Amaro
– 3 generous dashes Peychaud’s bitters (for an extra anise flavoring. felt the cinnamon of Fee Bros or Angostura would be too much)

Always STIR a Manhattan, after pouring the ingredients into an ice-filled mixing glass. If you think you’ve stirred too long, look at the clock, realize it’s only been ten seconds of stirring, and stir some more. Stir until the walls of the glass are cold and frosted.
Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

The general rule is to stir drinks that are composed of spirits, and shake those that contain fruit juices. Stirring keeps a transparent drink nice and clear (think Manhattans, Martinis, Negronis) whereas a shaken fruit drink (Daiquiris, Margaritas, Whiskey Sours) will be cloudy. Because the fruit juice is opaque, it doesn’t matter that shaking it will introduce ice shards and bubbles into the liquid. Shaking also helps to slosh liquids around the ice in the shaker, and cool the drink faster, which is why you have to stir a bit longer than you would normally shake. In both cases, you want to mix and cool the drink, also adding the final ingredient, water, which will dilute the drink slightly, making the alcohol a bit more palatable. Yes, water is an ingredient in cocktails, and a very important one.

So, now that we’re through with my rant on stirring, how was the drink?

Well, it nosed with an herbal/eucalyptus of the Meletti. Almost a slightly stale, vegetative aroma. Not quite earthy, but more like damp green leaves. Really masks all other odors, including the Rittenhouse, which is a high-proof spicy rye powerhouse. The amaro is VERY aromatic.

The taste: wow. That’s really odd, but interesting. For the first several moments, the Meletti and Rittenhouse trade flavors back and forth in a taste bud tug of war. The herbal tastes of the Meletti, far more flavorful than the sweet vermouth it replaces, attempt to usurp the Rittenhouse, yet the rye will not be taken so easily. The taste sensations switch from left to right in your mouth with the eucalyptus menthol of the amaro on the left, and the spicy high proof rye on the right. In the end, the rye wins, with a lovely bitter spice, and some alcohol kick to the finish, though a slight lingering ghost of the herbal essence (not the shampoo, though almost as orgasmic) remains.

The bitters are lost in the conflict. I’m sure there’s some anise lurking in there somewhere, but it’s like a rowboat in between two battleships at sea.

After a sip, the Lady Friend had some thoughts of her own to contribute:

“The whiskey is supposed to be the star of this drink.”
“If you’re going to use a nice whiskey like Rittenhouse, you don’t necessarily want to overpower it.”
“…not that it’s bad.”

She reiterated her silly little female opinion that I should rework the ratios to account for the flavorfulness of the Meletti. Perhaps, but as-is, I think it’s far more interesting, as the two flavor profiles struggle for dominance. Not a Manhattan in the traditional sense, but still a mighty fine cocktail.

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