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Just because the classic brown-spirit cocktail is always stirred doesn’t mean it has to be strong. Manhattans that switch the amounts of whiskey and vermouth flaunt all of the flavor without the heady proof. But the Reverse Manhattan itself is nothing new. 19th-century cocktail lovers would likely have just called it a Manhattan––cocktail historians say vermouth was featured more prominently in drinks back then, including in the whiskey classic.
Today, the Reverse Manhattan is a bartender favorite and a formula ripe for experimentation. You can infuse your spirit component, swap amaro for vermouth or dose your cocktail with a liqueur to upend the familiar flavor profile. Mix one of these variations, and it—and you—are sure to be the star of your next cocktail party.
Max Green, the head bartender at Amor y Amargo in New York City and managing partner at Blue Quarter, created this drink so that guests at a weekly three-cocktail event called Two Weeks Notice could leave happily buzzed, not boozed. “Flipping that vermouth and whiskey ratio can really save you,” he says. Sancho-pepper-infused whiskey adds spice and bright citrus notes that are pulled together by lime bitters. It’s a complex cocktail that hits a full range of notes.
The Brooklyn cocktail and Philip Greene’s book “A Drinkable Feast” about 1920s Parisian libations influenced this drink, whose name is inspired by a Norman Rockwell piece. The roasty chocolate notes of Punt e Mes pair with Bénédictine’s herbaceous edge and the sweetness of Cocchi Americano. This variation also favors the roundness of bourbon over the sharpness of rye. “It’s a spirituous cocktail, without being as dangerous as a standard Manhattan,” says Brian Nixon, the general manager of Truxton Inn and McClellan’s Retreat in Washington, D.C.
When you swap the ingredients in a Manhattan, “the other component shines through and unveils a more rich, aromatic and almost spicy element,” says Jenelle Engleson, the assistant general manager and beverage director at Gertie’s Bar at The 404 Kitchen in Nashville. She prefers Amaro Montenegro for its low ABV and spicy profile that leads to a balanced drink. An unapologetically simple recipe as satisfying to make as it is to sip.
Jeremy Oertel, a partner at Donna in New York City, wanted to make a version of his favorite cocktail with similar flavors that he could quaff in the afternoon or as a pre-dinner apéritif. “It’s sessionable and won’t knock you out with only one drink,” he says. “It’s also fun to make the vermouth or fortified wine be the star.” Think of the Topsy Turvy as a day-to-night drink, the sippable version of that perfect outfit you can wear as easily in broad daylight as after hours.
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Though vermouth is mainly used today as a modifier, Justin Lavenue, co-owner and operator of The Roosevelt Room in Austin, notes it was poured more liberally in the mid-to-late 1800s. “In a lot of ways, the Reverse Manhattan is an homage to how people used to drink vermouth and to the genesis of cocktails as a whole,” he says. “If balanced correctly, [it] can be a wildly delicious drink.” Of course, the quality of the vermouth counts here. Lavenue recommends a mix of mostly Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, accentuated by Punt e Mes and Carpano Antica.