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Drink Recipe: The Perfect Backcountry 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.

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Always wanted a top-notch cocktail in the backcountry? This is your lucky day. Here, we’ll show you how to make THE classic cocktail, the Manhattan, one of the easiest, most sophisticated drinks of all time.

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. $$$$
  • Van Winkle Family Bourbons: All Van Winkle Bourbons are made with a ‘whisper of wheat’ for a smooth palate (most bourbons use rye in place of wheat, a harsher flavored grain). This one can be hard to find can be hard to find but worth it if you can. Delicious! $$$$$

The Recipe

Once you’ve decided on a bourbon, combine, in a zip-top bag, the following ingredients:

  • 2 oz 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. 

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.

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