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History of the classic Manhattan

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1860s-1870s | New York, USA

In the language of the Algonquin tribe, historic owners of the land in the heart of New York City, the island was called Mannahatta. They gave Manhattan away to Dutch colonists, in exchange for a supply of blankets and warm clothing worth a total of $24. The Dutch New Amsterdam later turned into the English New York – and it was here, in the 19th century, that the legendary cocktail was born.

The classic story about the cocktail's origins belonging to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's mother – née Jennie Jerome, who supposedly mixed the cocktail in honor of the freshly-installed governor Samuel Tilston – is unfortunately in conflict with historical fact. In 1874, when the aforementioned party took place, Lady Churchill was already in English and was present at an event of no lesser importance: young Winston's christening.

We won't get into events long since gone by. Nobody will argue with the fact that the Manhattan was invented in Manhattan itself. Nor will they dispute that it is one of the first cocktails that uses vermouth: we will note that in Jerry Thomas' legendary 1862 handbook, vermouth is not mentioned even once. Thus, the 1860s-1870s can be considered the approximate era of the cocktail's birth. On September 5th, 1882, a newspaper, The Democrat, wrote that "It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters came into vogue by the name of a Manhattan Cocktail, a Turf Club cocktail, and a Jockey Club cocktail”. Moreover, the cocktail was more often made not with bourbon, but with rye whiskey – and with two times less of it than of vermouth.

A curious fact is mentioned by cocktail historians Anastasia Miller and Jared Brown: in 1893, waiters at leading New York establishments like Hoffman House, Delmonicos, and Café Savarin organized a contest where they would run around with a Manhattan on a silver platter. Even at the end of the 19th century, the cocktail's popularity had grown such that in 1895, it was being served in Japan and Korea.

See the recipe


Historian: Vladimir Zhuravlev
Illustrations: Mine
Journalists: Sara Davis, Samantha Johnson

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