The Italian Manhattan Project: Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto

In which I try to create an “Italian Manhattan” but wind up blindly reinventing…one of my favorite classics

I’d say I “invented” this one, but I’m fast learning that claims of beverage authorship rank among amateur drinksters’ most dangerous lies, along with “I’ve only had two” and “I picked up the check last time.”

More about this below.

But here’s the story: I began playing around with an “Italian Manhattan” over a year ago, when I discovered the lovely Italian apertif Cocchi Americano, collected a few Italian amari, and fell into mixocological rumination.

The right amaro, I reasoned, could plausibly stand in for red vermouth, the Cocchi for white, yielding a kind of Manhattan Perfetto. [A “Perfect Manhattan” is a version of the classic whose vermouth dose is equally split between dry and sweet. A more complex version, an acquired taste.]

A Measured Spirit Craig Stoltz cocktail recipe blog
Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto, aka the Italian Manhattan. Created in Bethesda, Maryland by way of Brooklyn. Not Italy.

This turned out to be harder than I hoped — even to my palate, weakened by years of actually drinking my failed experiments instead of dumping them in a shoe like a proper gentleman.

The Cocchi comes across like a herbal, slightly citrus-y vermouth with a surprising bitter finish that to me “dries” it out.

This led me to seek balance with what turned out to be either too much amaro, the wrong amaro, or both. I tried Averna, Cynar, Ramazzotti, and the unpalatable [I don’t care what “they” say] Fernet-Branca. The vermouth stand-ins swamped, overwhelmed, or disrespected the rye, all without bringing much sweetness to the effort. The whole thing was just a lot of bickering in a glass.

So I got out of the Italian Manhattan business entirely for about six months. [Into the creative vacuum rushed among other things the Hillbilly Martini, which I’m not sure was a productive diversion.]

But then, not long ago, I made an Old Fashioned sweetened with Maraschino liqueur. I loved it. Back into my brainpan oozed the Italian Manhattan Project. Maybe if I relieved the amaro of the burden of sweetening…

Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto cocktail recipe

  • 1.5 oz. bourbon
    • Not rye. This I explain below.
  • .75 Cocchi Americano
    • Fun fact: the Italian word “Americano” is derived from the word “amer,” meaning “bitter.”  It has nothing to do with “Americans,” who by contrast are demonstrably tasteless.
  • .5 Montenegro amaro
    • This liqueur has an orange-y, floral body, a slightly bitter finish, and something like tobacco hovering in the background. 
  • .25 Luxardo maraschino liqueur
    • Not the cheap maraschino knock-offs. I’m not being snobby. The knock-offs just won’t work here. Besides, they suck.  Okay, I guess that is snobby. 

Stir, strain, serve up. No garnish.

Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto cocktail tasting notes

  • This is probably the most balanced drink I’ve mustered. I usually prefer spirits-forward beverages, but in the right proportions this one got sweet and round, with the other ingredients playing major roles. As a result, none dominates. Like I said, balanced.
  • Overall: Bourbon with citrusy and herbal notes with a bitter finish moderated by the maraschino.
  • After making several versions with rye, I switched to bourbon. This softened the flavor immediately. The sharpness of the rye was no longer competing with the burrs of the Cocchi and Montengro.
  • Does it taste like a Perfect Manhattan? A bit, I suppose, with the dry and the sweet combining nicely against the bourbon. But it’s less a vermouth-replacement exercise than its own thing. More distinctive and … internally coherent, if that’s something you can say about a drink.
  • No bitters, other than the qualities that the Cocchi and the Montenegro bring. Angustura pushed things over the edge.
  • Bonus: Maraschino is cherry based. It plays the traditional cherry role of the Manhattan. Double bonus: It’s made it Italy too.

So, did I “invent” this drink? Um, no

Cocktail recipe hounds will instantly recognize this as a minor twist on the delightful  classic Brooklyn: bourbon/rye, maraschino, dry vermouth, and Amer Picon. Replace the vermouth with the Cocchi and the Amer Picon with Montenegro, and well, there I am.

Funny thing is, I love the Brooklyn. It’s a kind of secret handshake among the cocktailnoscente. I had no idea that with all my head-down earnest lab work I was blindly entering a neighborhood I know and love through a back alley.

The name? Italian for “the perfect man’s hat.” Man-hat. Man-hat-tan.

Ahem.

But go ahead and make it. Or make a Brooklyn. It’s better.

Author: Craig Stoltz

Cocktail enthusiast with no professional standing, former Time.com Top 25 blogger, and ex-Washington Post editor. I live in Bethesda, Maryland.

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