My month of Manhattans didn't unearth quite as many highs and lows as my Martini explorations, partly because life's too short to try bad cocktails from every crummy bar in Courtenay Place, and partly because it's harder to get wrong. There are a lot of quite sweet and approachable flavours in American whiskey and red vermouth, unlike the brittle herbal notes of gin and dry vermouth, which can be quite polarising.
Many of my best experiences were in exactly the sort of places that should do a Manhattan well, and they're chronicled over at Texture in the current drink feature. Last week's mystery bar (yes, it was the Lotus Room, the successor to Go Go) also did a very creditable one, despite their obvious preference for creamy and fruity confections. Pod went for a dryer than usual style, which made for a good aperitif, as did the Cavern Club's version. The latter was one of several places that went for a lemon twist in place of a maraschino cherry, either by choice or because they lacked the latter: strictly speaking, that should only be done for a Dry Manhattan, not one that uses sweet red vermouth.
Monsoon Poon was another place that used a twist, and it annoyed me a little since they didn't tell me until the end that they had no cherries (that's like making a Martini when you have no olives and not mentioning it to the customer first). It also ended up lukewarm and bland, since there was far too much vermouth, and it was poured straight into the glass without mixing with ice. The Southern Cross also delivered an unbalanced effort, but in the other direction, and they seem to have gone overboard on the bitters. Plum got the wrong end of the stick entirely: when they told me that they had no sweet vermouth, I asked for a Dry Manhattan instead. What I got was a Dry Martini!
I must say that I couldn't taste any consistent difference between those who used real rye whiskey and those who had Canadian Club (which is not made from 100% rye). Those who made do with bourbon were generally canny enough to compensate with a touch more bitters, emulating the slightly peppery bite of rye compared to the sweetness of bourbon.
Winter should finally be upon us soon, despite the unseasonably warm May, and next month's drink should reflect that. It's also going to be very different from all the drinks of the month so far!