Whiskey: Manhattan world tour

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

You'd think there's no room for improvement: Whiskey, sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters, shake, strain, enjoy. It's not simple, exactly, but there is something wonderfully understated about a well-made Manhattan. I mean, what else does it need?

Well, that hasn't kept creative barkeeps from adding their own twists to the cocktail. We took a world tour of Manhattan recipes without leaving Columbus and discovered three European versions of the American classic. We also tried one traditional recipe to see how the new drinks stacked up.

Milan Manhattan from Marcella's

The Scene: Marcella's is always high-energy and fun. Even on a Tuesday evening, it took some work to elbow our way to the bar through the trendy crowd.

The Mix: Woodford Reserve bourbon, Amaretto Disaronno, vanilla-infused syrup, Disaronno-soaked cherry

The Twist: The Disaronno and sweet vanilla made it taste almost like an amaretto sour but whiskier. It's probably not the best use of a top-shelf bourbon.

The Verdict: My Milan Manhattan was well-made - ice-cold and topped with a tongue-tickling froth from being properly shaken. The fancy cherry was a nice touch, too. But I'll probably stick to the wine bar's sangria and shrimp-pesto pizza.

Sherry Manhattan from Eleven

The Scene: One of the city's great cocktail lounges - it's both stylish and relaxing - also has one of the best happy hours: $4 apps and $4 drinks, including the Sherry Manhattan.

The Mix: Canadian Club Sherry Cask, sweet vermouth, bitters, cherry

The Twist: Canadian whisky aged in Spanish sherry barrels - it's like a post-grad European backpacking trip in one sip (without the dirty hostel beds).

The Verdict: My favorite non-traditional Manhattan. The sherry-aged whisky echoes the spirit of the original cocktail, but adds an interesting spicy finish. Plus, a tip o' the hat to the bartender for that nicely shaken icy froth on top.

French Manhattan from Union

The Scene: Union's lighted Lucite bar and booty-shaking soundtrack are probably better suited for a late-night fuel-up than an after-work whiskey chillout. The patio is nice for an al fresco Manhattan during warmer weather.

The Mix: Bulleit bourbon, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, sweet vermouth

The Twist: St-Germain is what makes it French, though the liqueur's cough-syrupy essence didn't really come through the mix.

The Verdict: We suspected (but couldn't confirm) that the bright red color came from a booster shot of cherry. Still, the French Manhattan wasn't as sweet as it smelled, and the slightly bitter finish did evoke a Parisian love affair.

Manhattan from Sage

The Scene: I love sitting at the bar at this friendly, intimate restaurant. They take as much care with the drinks as they do with the chef's seasonal menu.

The Mix: Bulleit bourbon, Carpano sweet vermouth, Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, Italian maraschino cherry

The Twist: A classic cocktail expertly made, from the original recipe that probably came from the Old Testament or something

The Verdict: This is a Manhattan. It's slightly sweet like it should be - just accentuating the natural sweetness of the bourbon, without being cloying or syrupy. And that cherry is the real deal, not some candy-colored sundae-topper.

Marcella's Ristorante

615 N. High St., Short North




591 N. High St., Short North



Union Bar + Food

782 N. High St., Short North



Sage American Bistro

2653 N. High St., Old North Columbus