The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Drinkblogging: The Battle for Manhattan

It's one of my favorite cocktails, the Manhattan--it's simple to make, the recipe is easy to remember, and along with the Martini is one of the most ideal after-work cocktails for sipping on the balcony while you take your tie off and decompress.

But for most of the time we've been in France, I've had to do without. Here's why: You need only four ingredients to make a Manhattan, but most of them are difficult to come by in France.

Bourbon or Rye:
I'm told that while bourbon is perfectly acceptable in a Manhattan, the true and original Manhattan is made with rye whiskey. But you know, I've never even tried it: I always have a bottle of bourbon around, so no real need to go buy something else. Plus, when I see rye at the ABC store, I don't know the good brands from the lousy; I know which bourbons I like.

Here in France, it's moot: ask for rye at the local caviste, even a really good one like Malleval, and they'll scratch their heads and point you toward the American whiskey shelf (much, much smaller than the adjacent Scotch section). Bourbon is not too hard to find here, though the varieties are few and the prices exorbitant. Jack Daniel's costs about the same as Glenfiddich or Lagavulin, and your small-batch brands like Woodford Reserve or Blanton's approach 50 euros.

Sweet Vermouth:
This one's easy and inexpensive, thankfully. The French drink lots of vermouth at apero time, and a bottle of Martini Rosso is about 5 euros at Monoprix.

Angostura bitters:
A Manhattan calls for just a few drops of bitters, but they make all the difference, providing much needed balance and interesting complexity to a drink that would otherwise become too sweet, even cloying. So I spent a lot of time scouring the beverage aisle, the baking section, and the ethnic foods section at Monoprix, Casino, Carrefour, Auchan... Malleval came to the rescue finally, though they had to bring around a ladder and climb up to the top shelf in the back. I was expecting sticker shock, and I got it: 22 euros. Oh well, it is used so sparingly it should last me a while.

Maraschino cherry:
Again, a small thing, but so so important. As important as the olive in a martini. A Manhattan is not a Manhattan without one, and for that reason I had not had a Manhattan in the nearly two years since we moved here. Maraschino cherries as we know them are not sold in France. Full stop.

Let's get a little background on the Maraschino cherry. Originally, cherries soaked in Maraschino liqueur were sold in the US and primarily used in baking or topping desserts, but then along came Prohibition and our government in its eternal wisdom rightfully protected us from the evil that would result from people slurping the liquid out of their jars of cherries. An entrepenurial sort devised a way to take regular cherries, drain them of their fluids and color, and replace those with an unnatural-looking bright-red (or green, or whatever) sugar syrup. Thus were born the jars of $1.99 Maraschino cherries one finds on the shelf at Harris Teeter next to the cocktail onions.

Of course, in France this type of flavorless aberration is not regarded as edible, by humans anyway. I looked everywhere for it, unsuccessfully. I even considered making my own, by buying some cherries at the marche and soaking them in a jar of Maraschino liqueur (not commonplace itself, but possible to obtain). So I started checking the booze aisle at the usual stores for Maraschino. Then one day last week, miracle of miracles: an actual jar of actual honest-to-DeGaulle Maraschino cherries, next to the weirdo eaux-de-vie at Auchan. I scooped it up and sprinted to the checkout, not even noticing the price sticker.

"You paid FOURTEEN EUROS for some damn Maraschino cherries?!?!" was V's (entirely justified) response when I got home. I don't mind. I'll probably even drink the juice.

To sum up, the ingredients for this drink cost me a total of 81 euros, or $117.45.

[Takes sip]

Yep. Worth it.

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