Ah, Manhattan. Island of dreams. Sea of skyscrapers. Most importantly: cocktail extraordinaire.
The Manhattan wasn't always my cocktail; there was a time when my standard order was a vodka tonic, and an even darker time when my go-to was a cosmopolitan. But about three or four years ago, forsaking my long relationship with vodka, I jumped on the gin and scotch bandwagon and switched to martinis (real martinis, with vermouth, not fake ones without) and Manhattans.
A classic Manhattan is two parts whiskey to one part sweet vermouth, with a couple dashes of bitters thrown in. You can use bourbon, rye, or Canadian whiskey - my favorites are bourbon, which gives the cocktail a delightfully round flavor, and rye, which makes the drink smooth and silky.
The bitters are, in my opinion, an absolute requirement - go for Peychaud's or Regan's Orange if you can. If you're a Manhattanite like me, you may have trouble, since stores can't sell bitters on the island (some archaic holdover from our puritanical blue laws). So if you can only buy bitters on your occasional excursions beyond our borders, and don't feel like going on a hunt, Angostura bitters - which you can find in just about any off-island grocery or liquor store - will do you just fine.
Now, for the assembly. By now you have no doubt heard (perhaps on The West Wing) that shaking a cocktail releases more water from the ice than stirring does, resulting in a more watered-down version. My recommendation is this: if you're going to have your Manhattan up in a cocktail glass, go for a shaken version. If you're going to enjoy yours as I do mine, on the rocks in an old-fashioned, stir away.
Once you've mastered the traditional Manhattan (remember: 2 parts bourbon, 1 part vermouth, 1 or 2 dashes of bitters), you can give its variations (like the Rob Roy) a go. But if you're like me, you'll never find a better version than the original.
Happy cocktail hour!