One of the downsides to the craft-cocktails boom, it seems to me, is the tendency of too many bartenders, perhaps wanting to show they know how to put the “artisan” in “artisanal,” to offer their interpretations of classic drinks rather than just mixing and serving the real thing. The results aren’t always a plus. At one place here in town, for example, they’ve replaced the tequila in their Margaritas with mescal, added a liqueur I’ve never heard of, and now call the drink–I’m speaking from memory here–a “Conchita 2.0.” I think I’d prefer the Margarita. Rye is so ascendant in certain joints nowadays that if you want a real old-fashioned Old Fashioned—that is, the kind with bourbon in it—you have to practically beg. One drinks menu I came across recently featured what it called “our version of the traditional gin & tonic,” and I remember being taken aback for a moment and wondering, how did they figure out a way to mess with that?
All of which is to say, I’m generally against drinks-tinkering, ok? So when I tell you I’ve come up with a worthwhile variation of the Manhattan, you’ll have to take my word for it that I didn’t mean to, and that it happened completely by accident. Still, the drink tastes awfully good. I was at home getting ready to mix myself my nightly after-dinner drink (a Manhattan, as it happens) when I saw to my horror that I’d run out of sweet vermouth entirely. Not a drop in the house. But that’s no reason to abandon the project, I decided, so in a semi-desperate search for a vermouth substitute, I scanned the bar and saw at the end of it a bottle of . . . tawny port.
Oh, stop making that face, and open your mind up a little bit. Next, I poured some bourbon over ice in a tall glass, added a splash of the port, and strained it all it into an old-fashioned glass containing a large single cube. No bitters. No garnish. I took a sip. What I tasted is a drink that’s surprisingly satisfying. It’s slightly sweeter than the traditional Manhattan is, but has an impressive depth of flavor. I’ve had many more since.
Inasmuch as high-concept mixologist types have surely mixed everything with everything else by now, I can’t possibly be the first one to think to put port in a Manhattan. (My twitter pal Robert Simonson tells me he’s even seen the drink listed on fancy-cocktail menus.) No matter. You won’t see me swapping in mescal for tequila anytime soon. But port Manhattans are worth a try.