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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

BACKCOUNTRY BARTENDER: The "Perfect" Manhattan

In this inaugural expert section, the Backcountry Bartender drops some knowledge on crafting the perfect trail cocktail. First up, a timeless classic: the Manhattan.

by: Crystal Sagan

Always wanted a top-notch  cocktail in the backcountry? This is your lucky day. 

Today, launches it’s  new weekly column, Backcountry Bartender, where we'll show you how to make high quality, portable cocktails.  In this first installment, you’ll learn proven techniques for packing pre-made drinks for the trail  and, we’ll show you how to make THE classic cocktail, the Manhattan, one of the easiest, most sophisticated drinks of all time.


Picking Your Ingredients
Even though it only has a few simple components, the Manhattan is simple and delicious. But, it all comes down to the primary ingredient: whiskey.

A Manhattan can be made with rye, Canadian whisky, bourbon, blended whiskey or Tennessee whiskey.  And although our Deputy Editor Anthony Cerretani swears by a Manhattan made with Canadian Club 12-year old Canadian whisky, for the purposes of this recipe, we’re going to focus on bourbons.

Here, some of our favorites:
  • Buffalo Trace: Well balanced with a hint of spice, vanilla, and rich oak. A great bang for your buck. $
  • Elmer T. Lee:  Soft on the palate and  not intimidating for beginners, this bourbon features a balance of fruits, honey, and vanilla with a light spiciness.  $$
  • Rock Hill Farms: A big, bold bourbon with smooth, sweet honey notes, this one is best for connoisseurs who have been around the block.  $$$
  • George T. Stagg: A cask strength bourbon, not for beginners. After your palate adjusts to the high alcohol content, this is a phenomenally complex and well-balanced bourbon with the ethereal quality of a fine cognac.  $$$$
  • Van Winkle Family Bourbons:  All Van Winkle Bourbons are made with a ‘whisper of wheat’ for a smooth palate (most bourbons use rye in place of wheat, a harsher flavored grain). This one can be hard to find can be hard to find but worth it if you can. Delicious!  $$$$$

Recipe and At-Home Prep
Once you’ve decided on a bourbon, combine, in a zip-top bag, the following ingredients:
2oz Bourbon
    ½ oz Sweet Vermouth
    3 drops Angostura Bitters

1 Maraschino cherry (optional, for garnish)
(1oz = 2tbs)

Each bag is a single cocktail serving so roll up and store as many as you might want in an empty (but well sealed, just in case) wide-mouth water bottle.

Be sure to follow the recipe closely. More bitters than necessary will overpower the bourbon and  leave you longing for a do-over miles from home. For step-by-step visual instruction, just click on the numbers in our photo slideshow above.

 In the Field
Shaken or stirred? When a cocktail is shaken, it changes the chemical make-up of the drink, and emulsifies it.  This is not a desired effect for a Manhattan, which should remain clear and true.

Fear not. We’ve figured out how to stir, chill, and enjoy in three easy steps.
  • First: Hike. Hours of sloshing around in your pack will  sufficiently blend the Manhattan’s ingredients but, if your cadence is pretty even, you won’t mimic a full-blown cocktail shaker.
  • Second: Chill. When you’ve reached camp, take the sealed zip-top bag and place it in a cold stream to chill (make sure to anchor your bag with a rock).
  • Third: Serve.  Test the temperature of the bagged cocktail on the back of your hand; once chilled, pour it into your serving vessel of choice. Glassware is a personal choice but check out GSI’s line of backcountry friendly cocktail glassware--many of which are stackable and nesting as well as lightweight (GSI Nesting Martini Glass 3.1oz)-- if you’re looking to take the sophistication level up. Finally, quaff away.

Coming up next from The Backcountry Bartender: mouth-watering mint, rums, fresh fruit, and tequila!

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Apr 16, 2012

Love the idea, but the addition of water is a must if you want a true Manhattan. The reason being that, in a Manhattan, the cocktail is stirred with ice for roughly 30 seconds before pouring. This stirring results in melt (as well as chilling), which is a necessary component of any cocktail and serves to mellow the bite of the drink. Without this addition of water, you're drinking straight liquor.

And that's okay too.

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Mr T
Oct 01, 2010

Great recipe.

"When a cocktail is shaken, it changes the chemical make-up of the drink, and emulsifies it." Uh... stick to reporting good recipes and stay away from the analysis of the process. An emulsion is not a chemical change. Secondly there is nothing in this recipe that could form an emulsion. Too much recipe testing while writting the article.

Oct 01, 2010

Micheal is absolutely correct that alcohol and water mix. Manufactures distill to an alcohol concentration of approximately 96% and dillute with water and/or other ingredients. After mixing it forms a solution that is permanent.

Don't believe me. Add water to Vodka, shake and see if any boundery layers are observed


Michael Grady
Oct 01, 2010

My wife claims the Manhattans I make for her are
better than those from my father who introduced
her to them. Of course that's because I use a
full 1oz of vermouth with the 2oz bourbon plus a
little bit of the syrup from the maraschino cherry jar. I must disagree with a previous
correspondent, alcohol and water mix perfectly.
There is no separation of layers as you find in a
mix of oil and water, like salad dressings.
My personal preference is to only mix water with
my bourbon. No water? No problem. Learn to enjoy
it in sips. Out here in the deserts of New Mexico
there is almost never any water to be found except
for stock ponds; that's just no way to treat

Oct 01, 2010

I agree with Tom.

Definitely add some water right before drinking.

It's a fact that water ignites the flavors of bourbon, scotch or other stronger alcohols. Even the best distilleries will recommend mixing in a little water right at the point of serving. Water and alcohol don't mix, and that causes a chemical reaction that invigorates all the embedded flavors.

Eric Nelson
Oct 01, 2010

Glad to see you started with a Manhattan, the quintessential cocktail for any occasion from late afternoon pick - me - up to black tie affair. My parents have one every day at about 4:30. Not sure why one would use a zipper bag; why not an 8 oz. plastic water bottle? It gets you three cocktails which is just right for the weekend and won't accidentally get punctured. Of course, if you want to sip, pass, repeat for more than one person then Tom's idea is even better.

Sep 30, 2010

Just returned from a week in the Boundary Waters. Nice description, but I find a large nalgene bottle full of mixed manhattans more expeditious. I usually water down a tiny bit with filtered lake water, as I prefer on the rocks, but have no "rocks" to use. Works for me! Enjoy!


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