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Chris Amirault

Whither "Perfect"?

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Try as I may, I cannot get over the belief -- nay, the conviction -- that "Perfect" drinks aren't perfect at all. Indeed, Manhattans are perfect -- not "Perfect" -- when you use only sweet/rosso vermouth; cutting it by half to add some dry vermouth is, well, nuts.

So where does this "Perfect" language come from?

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I mixed up a Perfect Sazerac rye Manhattan for a guest tonight. Boissiere sweet and Noilly Prat dry. Used a healthy dash of Ango bitters and a couple of drops of Fee Whiskey Barrel aged as well. I gave it a straw taste and it was pretty danged tasty, even if I have to say so myself. Served it with a lemon twist because that seemed right. Word back from the server was the guest was happy. So was I. It's even better when you use really good vermouth like half Dolin Dry and half Dolin Rouge. I do that at home for recreational use...

Not sure what the origin of the phrase "perfect" is. I'm sure there's a silly story in there somewhere. Where's Dave Wondrich when you need him? Paging Mr. Wondrich...

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i like when i get a request for perfect manhattans. they are always for interesting people. the term "perfect" being associated with what it does to the drink is awesome. it also reminds us of a lesson we forget a lot.

there is no correctness of taste. there is only authenticity of taste. do you really like it?

so many food writers look for correctness (often with their evil "balanced" term), but that obviously constrains the expressive power of works of culinary art. we don't all have to like the same things and as long as your liking is authentic then "to each their own".

we can also learn to like things and that is a key to sustainability. according to the theory of cognitive dissonance, when confronted with something you don't like (fernet?), you have a motivational drive to reduce the dissonance. one option is simply starting to like it. and of course that happens every now and then. if we analyzed the phenomenon we'd find service techniques we could use to make it happen quicker and easier (foot in the door strategy). wouldn't that be cool?

its gonna take a lot of work. for starters we have to learn to speak differently. there is no "too" salty but rather saltiness which goes beyond the role of increasing the threshold of perception of an aroma (flavor enhancer) and instead becomes a distraction from the other senses.

...and not the favorite distraction of a particular culture. sometimes we love the blinding distraction of acidity or other times the burning distraction of high alcohol. either way they draw your attention away from aroma, but sometimes that is cool. distractions can clear the mind and dispel anxiety. used carefully they can also make you pay attention to what you're consuming and what artist doesn't want their work to get attention?

the journal of contemporary aesthetics published an interesting paper on taste.


Edited by bostonapothecary (log)
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I'm obviously exaggerating for effect here.

Interestingly, the folks who have asked for Perfect Manhattans at my bar have done it because "it's their drink." Usually with Jack Daniels, too. I've tried to have a conversation about it and can't get to the bottom of it.

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"Perfect" with regards to flowers refers to ones that are essentially hermaphrodites--I wonder if this could be a related usage.

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Chris, at least it wasn't Jack and Coke. :wacko:

I am one of those who do not enjoy sweet drinks much. (And chefs, every duck and pork does not have to have fruit in it. OK?) Sugar is my enemy in most drinks. After mixing (sweet) ingredients for flavor, I usually need to temper the drink with acid. Our arsenal of sugar-removers is limited: acidic fruits, acidic wines (sherry, vermouth, etc), vinegar, and maybe chemicals (phosphate). Adding acid substantially changes the flavor, as well as our perception of bitter, salt, and perhaps umami.

Some tastes are easy to manipulate. Want more bitter: grab the dasher. More sweet: the squeeze bottle. More salt: the cellar. But removing "excess" sugar is hard.

Why are ingredients are sweet? Is it historical, when spirits were perhaps harsher? Or is it the effect of bathtub gin and moonshine during prohibition? Do processed foods have anything to do with it? Or am I am outlier -- a standard deviation or two from the norm? Does this have anything to do with the late 20th century popularity of very "dry" Martini's and scotch/rocks, now replaced by sweet-tini's?

My grandfather's drink was a perfect Manhattan. Maybe it's in the genes.

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Ok, so who's got a perfect Perfect Manhattan? What ryes/bourbons, vermouths, bitters, ratios, garnishes?

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I like many equal parts drinks, especially when using cask strength or overproof spirits. Never go too long on the bitters, as you've already got plenty of character from the vermouths and spirits.

Affinity: 1 oz The Macallan Cask, 1 oz French Vermouth, 1 oz Italian Vermouth, 1 dash ango. Lemon Twist.

Whisper: 1 oz Handy Rye, 1 oz French Vermouth, 1 oz Italian Vermouth.

Ashtray Heart: 1 oz Smith & Cross, 1 oz French Vermouth, 1 oz Punt e Mes. Rinse glass with smoky Mezcal.

Underhill-Lounge French Vermouth is usually Dolin Dry or Noilly Prat. Underhill-Lounge Italian is almost always Carpano.


Edited by eje (log)

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Well as for the word, "perfectus" in Latin means completed, finished, carried out fully. It came to mean something like spiritually complete and also "having all essential parts." There are a lot of other meanings too, but I'm pretty sure the last one (having all essential parts, i.e. both sides of the coin, sweet and dry vermouth, the complete spectrum of vermouth, etc.) as an extension of the meaning "complete" is at work in the phrase perfect Manhattan.


Edited by Alcuin (log)

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For fun, I tried Wathen's, CAF, and Vya, 4:1:1, lemon peel, no bitters (a mistake, in hindsight). Not the best dry vermouth choice probably, but a nice drink, if a bit austere (in a scotch/rocks kind of way).

Also a softer Bourbon might be good. Maker's Mark? Or 2:1:1 with Booker's?

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Round 2. 1 oz Booker's, 0.5 oz CAF, 0.5 oz Vya dry, 1 dash Fee WBA, home-spiced cherry, served down and cooked. Very, very good. I'd still like to try another dry vermouth. Been meaning to try Sutton Cellars....

I think that this is really a different drink than a Manhattan and shouldn't be compared to it.

Anyone else take Chris's challenge?

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[...]

I think that this is really a different drink than a Manhattan and shouldn't be compared to it.

[...]

Well, you do sort of start getting esoterically existential at this point, "At what point does the combination of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters stop being a Manhattan?"

Is a reverse Manhattan still a Manhattan? Is a Manhattan with dashes of Curacao or Absinthe still a Manhattan?

In our current climate of mixological lumpology, I would say pretty much any combination of Whiskey (what if it's Canadian?), Vermouth (is it optional?), and bitters (likewise?) is a Manhattan. I know the Manhattan you made is more of a Manhattan than many I have been served. Heck it has Vermouth.

But if you want to make up a new name...

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But if you want to make up a new name...

I should have been more articulate. I think the name's fine. (Gibson ... I mean really?)

I intended it to be analogous to comparing a Ransom Old Tom Old Fashioned to a traditional one. Or a traditional Daiquiri to one made with Smith & Cross. Or a "Perfect" Daiquiri made with half lime and half grapefruit juice.

The lack of sweetness in the Perfect Manhattan makes it a differnt sort of drink -- dry and austere, rather than sweet and comforting. Comparing them is as difficult as comparing scotch / rock to a Martini. Well, not quite. :)

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we can also learn to like things and that is a key to sustainability. according to the theory of cognitive dissonance, when confronted with something you don't like (fernet?), you have a motivational drive to reduce the dissonance. one option is simply starting to like it. and of course that happens every now and then. if we analyzed the phenomenon we'd find service techniques we could use to make it happen quicker and easier (foot in the door strategy). wouldn't that be cool?

This has to be the most awesome paragraph I have ever read on eG Forums.

I think the word "like" may be too simplistic a concept in this case.

"I like hitting my head against the wall because it feels so good when I stop."

Maybe it's more "discovery". I've discovered a whole world of flavour nuances beneath the initial gag response to Fernet. At the same time, repetition has dulled the initial response so I can appreciate the other qualities.

I think you probably use service techniques like this all the time and they frequently come down to evolution of taste either in the glass or in the mouth. Citrus oil on the surface of a drink to prepare you for the whallop beneath; sugar in a high alcohol drink so the initial heat is soothed by the sweetness that follows. I think this is a reason I like rocks drinks - I get a stiff drink that mellows and stretches out as I finish it.

To get back to the main topic, the marketing inherent in "perfect" probably isn't any more evil than any other drink name. I've heard various half&half pizzas like half pepperoni half mushroom termed "perfect". For me the problem is that I just don't get dry vermouth. At $26 for a bottle of Noilly Pratt here, it is a taste I'd just as soon not acquire.

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Quoth David Embury: "Someone said that whoever named near-beer was a darned poor judge of distance. I say that whoever named the "Perfect" cocktail was a might poor judge of perfection."

Of course, Alcuin has the correct answer, and I've no doubt Mr. Embury knew that full well.

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Bumping this up to confess that I've taken up the gauntlet thrown by bostonapothecary's post and have been exploring perfection. I must say this is pretty close, a big, boozy Manhattan that's spicy, dry, and got a tail a mile long:

2 1/2 oz Henry McKenna bourbon

3/4 oz M&R sweet vermouth

3/4 oz NP dry vermouth

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 dash Regan's orange bitters

1 dash Fee's orange bitters

Stir, strain, lemon twist.

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Toiling away on perfection:

2 1/2 oz Rittenhouse BIB rye

3/4 oz M&R sweet vermouth

3/4 oz NP dry vermouth

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir; strain; very big lemon twist.

Very, very tasty -- and purdy to boot.

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That's how I like mine - with the M&R and the NP. But I haven't given Peychaud's a try yet; that's next.

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Punt e Mes make a great partner in just about every perfect cocktail I've made with it. I think the bitterness goes well with sweet/sour flavors. I'd be interested to see what Chris thinks.

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I would agree -- I love Punt e Mes in general. Poor man's Carpano Antica Formula.

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More fiddling, this time with Black Maple Hill Small Batch bourbon, a gift I received today. This stuff is corny, funky, and high proof (95), and its sweetness got me thinking about using Cocchi Americano as a sub for dry vermouth. Used the bitters to offset the sweet and added a hefty lemon twist:

2 oz Black Maple Hill SB bourbon

1/2 oz M&R rosso vermouth

1/2 oz Cocchi Americano

3 dashes "house orange bitters" (half Regan's, half Fee's)

Stir; strain; lemon twist.

The corny mash bill makes it sweeter than I might usually like, but with the adjustments above, damn, it's tasty.

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From a drinkers perspective, personally I order a Perfect Manhattan when the bar i'm at doesnt have a good rye.. IMO the white vermouth cuts down on the sweetness when paired with bourbon. What Bourbon? maybe not so fancy but I like Basil Hayden

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Back at it:

2 oz Henry McKenna bourbon

1/2 oz Punt e Mes

1/2 oz Dolin blanc

dash Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters

dash half-n-half orange bitters (half Regan's, half Fee's)

Just terrific. I'm ready to eat my words in the OP.

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Back at it:2 oz Henry McKenna bourbon1/2 oz Punt e Mes1/2 oz Dolin blancdash Jerry Thomas Decanter bittersdash half-n-half orange bitters (half Regan's, half Fee's)Just terrific. I'm ready to eat my words in the OP.

Hi Chris - is that really Dolin blanc or is that the dry? Not wanting to be nitpicky, but if that is the blanc, which is about as sweet as sweet vermouth, can you still call it "perfect"?

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