Derby

Derby cocktail
Derby cocktail

Like the Suburban recipe I have posted before, here is another drink that is named after a famous horse race. However, the Derby in question is not the English version, but the Kentucky Derby, which has been run every year since 1875.

And since the race has always been so popular across the U.S. (popularly referred to as the most exciting two minutes in sport), it seems every bartender across the continent has invented a cocktail in its honour at one point or another. The IBA ‘official’ recipe includes peach bitters, gin and mint leaves, suggesting a strong relationship to a julep, but there are at least two other well-known variants. The IBA may claim the ‘official’ recipe, but I prefer the ‘sour manhattan’ version that has come from Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide: bourbon, triple sec, lime juice & vermouth (making the cocktail one from the ‘modern’ camp).

If it all sounds like the marriage of a Margarita & a Manhattan, you would be right: it is refreshing, but with a good, clean alcohol kick and a rich warmth from the bourbon/vermouth combination. If you had a friend whose automatic first choice of cocktail was a Margarita, I’d hand them one of these. They will thank you for it, and you would have made one more convert from the Margarita/Martini/Cosmopolitan triangle of inertia.

I’d hazard a guess that this recipe does come at least from the Kentucky area; by May (the time of the eponymous horse race), the weather would be warm enough to need a good refresher drink, but evenings would still be cool enough to remind one of the wintery style of the Manhattan.

Proportions:

1 oz of bourbon (Knob Creek here)

3/4 oz of fresh lime juice

1/2 oz of triple sec

1/2 oz of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso here, it needn’t be too rich).

Dashes of bitters (I used the Jack Rudy aromatic cocktail bitters here)

Glass: 3oz Martini

Shake well, and strain into a Martini glass, garnish with thin lime wedge.

The Manhattan variations

Simple 3oz Manhattan
Simple 3oz Manhattan

It must be clear by now that my favourite drink is the Manhattan. Unlike a Martini, I have never been served a bad Manhattan – dull, perhaps, or not cold enough, but never bad. 

A Manhattan is basically a whisky Martini: the basic combination for the cocktail is a spirit, flavoured with a vermouth in a 2:1 ratio & then added some zip by the dashes of bitters.  If that combination works for gin & whisky, then it must work for other spirits? And of course, it does.

Here in no order of preference, is a list of the cocktails that have used the same ingredient selection, except for the base spirit:

Palmetto – aged rum, vermouth & bitters (also called a ‘Cuban Manhattan’).

Harvard – cognac, Italian vermouth, Angosturas bitters

Chancellor – blended scotch, port, dry vermouth, bitters.

El Chanceler – blended scotch, or a ‘mild’ single malt, madeira, dry vermouth, bitters*

Affinity – blended scotch, sweet & dry vermouths, dashes of bitters

Rob Roy – Scotch whisky, vermouth & bitters.

Fourth regiment – whisky & vermouth in a 1:1 ratio, then dashes of three bitters: celery, orange & Peychaud’s.

Tijuana Manhattan – tequila, vermouth & bitters.

Perfect cocktail – gin, sweet & dry vermouths, bitters

Presidente – white rum, sweet & dry vermouths, dashes of grenadine

* My own recipe: a portuguese version of the Chancellor, using Madeira.

Bitters (3)

The first batch of House bitters is bottled.
The first batch of House bitters is bottled.

The bitters I have made from the ‘House’ recipe in Brad Parson’s Bitters book are now bottled and ready to use.

I was really pleased by the way my first attempt turned out: the sour cherries in the recipe have given the bitters a fantastic fruity kick, with vanilla and star anise notes from the spices. I would like to make the recipe a little stronger next time; perhaps I need to find a stronger alcohol base for the extraction in future.

I have bottled the bitters in some herbal remedy bottles that I picked up on my shopping trip to Baldwin’s, and these not only give the bitters a professional touch, but also make them easier to use. The design of the label is taken from the Periodic Table, and I took the idea of ‘Bt’ element name from the original ‘BTP House bitters’ recipe, in homage to Brad Parsons.

3-4 drops at a time of the bitters adds a fantastic depth of flavour to my drinks, and I have successfully used this recipe in my Manhattan and Old-Fashioned cocktails recently.

I am now thinking about the flavours I want to use in the next batch – perhaps using traditional English flavourings like sloes or similar.

Manhattan: Rye

Simple 3oz Manhattan
Simple 3oz Manhattan

Purists will disagree, but I like my Manhattans perfect – not made to an exact recipe, or served without flaws, but made with a mix of sweet and dry vermouth. The dry vermouth – in this case, Noilly Prat – seems to complement the spicy hit of rye whiskey (Canadian Club), and the small amount of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso) adds the roundness the cocktail is known for.  A few drops of Abbott’s bitters to add a pleasant spicy, vanilla-ish dimension, and that’s it. Just perfect, in every way. I add one maraschino cocktail cherry, and one that’s had some bitters added to the syrup in the jar to darken it a little more. Another option is a slice of orange peel, but the cherries seemed nicely retro this time.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of whiskey

1 pony of dry & sweet vermouth

4 drops bitters.

Glass: Small, or 3oz, Martini glass.

Shake until ice cold & strain into the glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

Historical footnote: The Manhattan is named after the club where the drink was first mixed in 1874. The Manhattan Club’s bartender was asked to create a drink for a party. The party, in honour of a politician named Samuel Tilden, was hosted Jennie Jerome – who went on to become Lady Randolph Churchill, and mother of Winston Churchill.