There comes a time in everyone’s life when one needs a Manhattan. During the past few weeks, that time had come for me. Actually, it came for me several times. I’ve recently been turned on to rye whiskey, and although folks online spoke up about various brands they like when I mentioned my sudden craving on social media, I learned that it’s not something that one comes across every day in Paris.
I went to three wine and liquor stores in my neighborhood and none of them had any on their liquor shelves, and none of the salespeople had ever heard of it. One offered me Scotch, which was kind of funny and someone on Twitter suggested that I explain to them that that’s like offering something sparkling wine because, really, it’s the same thing as Champagne*.
I happened to find myself near the Place de l’Odeon (actually, I wasn’t really all that near, but I made a detour) and went into La Maison du Whisky, where I knew that I would find a knowledgable ear. I love learning about new things and Paris is great because there are so many specialty stores manned (and women’d) by people who work there that are really dedicated to what they offer. And unlike other places where they often want to upsell something to you that you don’t really need, that doesn’t happen in Paris too often and I offer myself up as a blank slate, so I can learn from the masters of their craft.
As someone who started his restaurant career washing dishes and taking out the trash, and was a martial artist many years as well, I firmly believe in starting at the bottom and learning from “those who came before you”…how the word “sensei” in Japanese is often translated to.
So I told that masterful fellow at the shop that I wanted to make Manhattans, and needed rye and vermouth, but worried about the cocktail people getting on my case for making the wrong choices. Which made him look at me funny – making me realize that he doesn’t have a blog. I said, “I’m not really a cocktail snob because I don’t know all that much about this stuff”, to which he replied, “Well, I am a cocktail snob, and let me tell you, you’re alright.”
Brimming with confidence, I left feeling completely at ease with my two new bottles because after all, enjoying a cocktail is the most important part, not overanalyzing the nomenclature. Although one liquor company is certainly determined to teach the French what nomenclature is, and isn’t – in English**…
But let me tell you, there’s nothing that will make you more at ease than a couple of Manhattans.
(I know there are lots of sticklers for details, but I’ve gotten used to head-scratching cultural mash-ups, such as ads in the métro promoting French bleu cheese, using a woman in a Chinese dress, promoting a recipe for “sushi” made with raw salmon and cheese.)
So I went home and after washing out my eyeballs, I found myself in my kitchen, armed with a bottle of Dolin vermouth, which proudly declares that it’s Made in France on the bottle (in English!). And of the three or four bottles of rye that they had in stock, I went with Pikesville. (For those who write me asking what you can bring or send me, I’m switching from gold bullion which, unfortunately, no one’s taken me up on – to Hudson Manhattan rye, which is out of my budget.) I love the mix of slightly smoky flavors with fruit notes in rye and I think I need to figure out how to bring a barrel of it back from the states on my next visit. Or let visitors do it.
So back home, I had some griottes confits (candied sour cherries, a recipe from Ready for Dessert) that I had put up last summer and used them instead of maraschino cherries, which I would need some of that gold bullion to afford here. And even though I used to eat a whole jarful of them as a kid, now I find them rather, um, sweet, and don’t mind one once in a while. But I’d rather squander my euros on rye and vermouth.
Honestly, I don’t know if there is anything a Manhattan can’t do. It took me to the sixth arrondissement for rye and vermouth, and on the métro there, I got a lesson in American whiskey as well as a chance to learn about the multicultural possibilities for le fromage bleu. However I’m going to try to stick with tradition on this cocktail, and take a pass on any nontraditional sushi.
Related Posts and Recipes
Whiskey versus Whisky (New York Times)
The Manhattan (Michael Ruhlman)
Guide to Rye Whiskey (Serious Eats)
Classic Manhattan Cocktail (Leite’s Culinaria)
Maker’s Mark Manhattans (Food+Wine)
How to Make the Perfect Manhattan (Esquire)
*Yes, I/we know it’s not.
**The fine print translates it into French, like any ads in a language other than French are required to be.