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Every cocktail has a story. In celebration of Bourbon Heritage Month, we talked to drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce to better understand how the Manhattan became one of the most popular cocktails in the world. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t invented by Winston Churchill’s mother. 

Elizabeth Pearce

Q&A:

Q: How do you make your Manhattan cocktail?

Pearce: I usually don’t make it. I order it — with rye and Carpano vermouth.  And I like it up.

Q: Why not bourbon?

Pearce: Bourbon is probably an older recipe. I just like mine with whiskey.

Q: So who invented the first Manhattan?

Pearce: There’s no definitive answer. But I can tell you where it didn’t come from. Phil Greene’s book “The Manhattan: The Story of the First Modern Cocktail” debunks a couple of theories. Despite rumors, Winston Churchill’s mother did not invent the Manhattan. There’s also a New Orleans connection. Col. Joe Walker of New Orleans was rumored to have invented it, but it’s unlikely.

Q: So where did it most likely come from?

Pearce: The earliest mention of the Manhattan is from an 1882 upstate New York newspaper. Different social clubs in New York were serving a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters. The drink was named after the different clubs like the Turf Club cocktail, Jockey Club cocktail and, ultimately, the Manhattan Club cocktail.

Q: Is there an agreed-upon Manhattan recipe?

Pearce: The general consensus is whiskey, vermouth, bitters and garnished with a lemon twist. But there were so many variations of vermouth and bitters that there isn’t a true original recipe. 

Q: What made it so popular?

Pearce: The introduction of vermouth. Most of the original cocktails consisted of a spirit, bitters, sugar and ice. But when more European people began immigrating to the United States, they brought what they liked to drink. By the 1880s, bartenders started using vermouth to modify traditional cocktails. And people seemed to really like mixing vermouth with whiskey.

Q: Our Manhattan recipe calls for an orange twist garnish. Are you team orange twist or team cherry?

Pearce: Oh, I like a cherry because they’re fancy. But earlier Manhattan cocktails were more likely to use an orange or lemon — probably because you would’ve had more citrus at your bar. 

Q: If you had to describe the Manhattan in three words, what three would you choose?
Pearce: Brown. Bittered. Stirred.

Q: Do you have any secret Manhattan tips?  

Pearce: I like what’s called an Upside-down Manhattan. Instead of the classic one-to-one ratio of whiskey and vermouth, it calls for a two-to-one ratio of vermouth to whiskey. 

Q: Yeah, the Manhattan is pretty much all alcohol.

Pearce: Right. Also, why not explore other mixers? Why not put a dash of curacao in there? That brings a lot of flavor without bringing a lot of alcohol to an already boozy drink. 

Q: Finally, why has the Manhattan remained so popular all these years?

Pearce: First, it’s really good. Second, it’s simple. All you need is a few ingredients. So when Prohibition happened, you had a lot of cocktail parties popping up. The simpler cocktails were easier to make when you had people over. And that hasn’t changed. Did I mention that it’s really good? 

 

Discover even more about cocktails like the Manhattan at Elizabeth Pearce’s monthly tasting at the Sazerac House. You can also check out her cocktail tours of New Orleans and subscribe to her Drink & Learn podcast. 




Events


Two bartenders pouring cocktail creations in front of a display bottle wall at the Sazerac House

“Global Grooves & Spirits” Featuring The World of 375 Park Avenue...

Monday, July 22, 2024
11:00 am - 6:00 pm

As a part of Tales of the Cocktail: Join Sazerac House in celebrating the fusion of spirits, culture, and music during Tales of the Cocktail 2024. Throughout the week, Sazerac House will host over 40 legendary Sazerac brands against the backdrop of live music and fun. Admission and tastings are always free. Don’t miss out! Monday: Step into a symphony of global flavors taking over Sazerac House. The spirits of the 375 Park Ave. Collection explore the flavors and sounds of Ireland (Dunville), Japan (Kaiyo & Mizu), Scotland (Cutty Sark), Brazil (Novo Fogo), and more. Over four floors these global influences converge, weaving a tapestry of culture and flavor that celebrates the rich diversity of our world.

Bartender pouring a cocktail

Bartenders Society Cocktail Competition

Monday, July 22, 2024
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

For the first time ever – the US finals of The Bartender’s Society Cocktail Competition will be hosted live at Tales of the Cocktail! Sazerac House presents the 2024 edition: “Mixology of the Future” - taking place in the 4th floor, Imperial Cabinet Saloon. Guests will be invited to sample each of the cocktails and cheer on their favorite finalists! Lite bites will be served. Entry is admitted on a first come, first serve basis.

“Brass, Beats & Bourbon” Featuring the Sazerac Portfolio Brands

Tuesday, July 23, 2024
11:00 am - 6:00 pm

As a part of Tales of the Cocktail... Join Sazerac House in celebrating the fusion of spirits, culture, and music during Tales of the Cocktail 2024. Throughout the week, Sazerac House will host over 40 legendary Sazerac brands against the backdrop of live music and fun. Admission and tastings are always free. Don’t miss out! Tuesday: Which is more iconic? New Orleans music or New Orleans cocktail culture? Today, you don’t have to decide as we meld the two iconically-New Orleans traditions together. Experience classic offerings from the Sazerac Portfolio as the Sazerac House comes alive with the vibrant sounds of New Orleans, setting the perfect backdrop for a day of NOLA-centric experiences! Enjoy the distinctive character of Sazerac Rye, the smooth elegance of Wheatley Vodka, the rich depth of Buffalo Trace, the tropical allure of Myers’s Rum, and the bold flavors of Fireball. These beloved brands will elevate your cocktail experience, perfectly paired with the soulful brass beats filling the air. 

Drew Mayville Master Class: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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As a part of Tales of the Cocktail... Join Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Master Distiller, Drew Mayville, and Archivist, Nick Laracuente, for a rare opportunity to sample the complete Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC). THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT!

Three bottles of Premium Agave Spirits displayed on an oak bar, shown during Tales of the Cocktail at the Sazerac House.

“Rhythms of Agave” Featuring Sazerac Premium Agave Portfolio

Wednesday, July 24, 2024
11:00 am - 6:00 pm

As a part of Tales of the Cocktail... Join Sazerac House in celebrating the fusion of spirits, culture, and music during Tales of the Cocktail 2024. Throughout the week, Sazerac House will host over 40 legendary Sazerac brands against the backdrop of live music and fun. Admission and tastings are always free. Don’t miss out! Wednesday: Dive into the lively world of agave spirits paired with the electrifying rhythms of Reggaeton. The Sazerac House will transform into a fiesta of flavors and beats, celebrating the rich heritage of agave spirits with a modern twist. This special day will showcase an array of exquisite agave-based cocktails featuring the depth and complexity of premium tequilas and mezcals, including Mango Shotta – Sazerac's newest innovation, a tequila-based shot combining bold mango and spicy jalapeño, perfect for the summer.

Mango Shotta Cocktail Competition

Wednesday, July 24, 2024
3:00 pm - 6:00 pm

As a part of Tales of the Cocktail... We’ve held a nationwide contest, inviting bartenders to show us how they “Paint the Town Mango”. We’re inviting the top five contenders to show up at the Sazerac House for a showdown during Tales of the Cocktail for their chance to be crowned the Top Dog. Attendees are invited to the Imperial Cabinet Saloon to sample each of these spicy and sweet concoctions while enjoying our hosted taco bar. #inourspicyera

DJ and Vinyl Albums

Cocktails & Vinyl featuring “In Our Lifetime” a collaborative Rec...

Thursday, July 25, 2024
2:00 pm - 5:00 pm

As a part of Tales of The Cocktail... Join Sazerac House in celebrating the fusion of spirits, culture, and music during Tales of the Cocktail 2024. Throughout the week, Sazerac House will host over 40 legendary Sazerac brands against the backdrop of live music and fun. Admission and tastings are always free. Don’t miss out! Thursday: Some of our favorite moments in hospitality are when the two crucial captains from local establishments, the bartender and the DJ, are in perfect harmony. Sazerac House proudly hosts the debut of “In Our Lifetime,” a record made in collaboration between Sazerac and Turning Tables. This special event features Geoffrey Wilson playing select songs from his 45 collection and tracks from “In Our Lifetime” alongside a pop-up with San Diego mainstay Part Time Lover. The featured record features 13 songs, each paired with a unique cocktail crafted by 13 influential bartenders. These bespoke creations will be showcased alongside the custom vinyl record, available upon donation to Turning Tables.

“Last Stop Lounge: House Revival” Featuring 375 Park Avenue Spirits

Friday, July 26, 2024
12:30 pm - 3:30 pm

As a part of Tales of the Cocktail: Join Sazerac House in celebrating the fusion of spirits, culture, and music during Tales of the Cocktail 2024. Throughout the week, Sazerac House will host over 40 legendary Sazerac brands against the backdrop of live music and fun. Admission and tastings are always free. Don’t miss out! Close out your week as strong as you started it - with the infectious beats and classic spirits that define the Last Stop Lounge! Explore the iconic Irish Coffee, perfected by New York’s Dead Rabbit and their global whiskey selection. Keep the house bumping and your heart pumping with Bloody Marys, Corpse Revivers, and the many brunch cocktails you’ve come to love.