DrinkWire is Liquor.com’s showcase for the best articles, recipes and reviews from the web’s top writers and bloggers. In this post, Cold Glass offers a riff on the Manhattan.

The Black Manhattan Cocktail, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

I'm always happy to return to my favorite food group: the Manhattan.

This time, it’s the Black Manhattan.

The Black Manhattan sticks pretty close to the original Manhattan formula, substituting amaro (Averna) for the usual sweet vermouth. The resulting flavor is unlike the standard Manhattan—less whiskey-driven, more bitter and earthy, and much more herbal. The name comes from the very dark coloration of the Averna.

The Black Manhattan is a recent invention. It showed up around 2008 or so as amaros started to become fashionable with bartenders. At that time, I knew very little about amaros and did not particularly have a taste for them. The flavors were well outside my comfort range—too big, too bitter, too … weird.

Still, the drink seemed interesting enough to add to the notebook—“things to try some other day.”

My comfort zone expanded with time, of course, as did my familiarity with “big flavors.” So when I recently came across that old note, the Black Manhattan concept seemed quite attractive. I had fallen in with various amaros, but not Averna, so the opportunity was at hand.

Black Manhattan

Garnish: Branded cherry
Glass: Cocktail

Stir all the ingredients in a mixing tin with ice until cold.

Strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with a brandied cherry.

The original recipe calls for bourbon. Rye-influenced bourbons like Buffalo Trace and Jim Beam Black are good matches for the Averna, as are straight rye whiskeys like Rittenhouse. I’m all for bourbon and its slightly sweeter profile.

Averna is a relatively sweet amaro, very dark reddish-brown and sweeter than many sweet vermouths. It's also moderately bitter, with an herbal and orange peel intensity that's only just held in balance by the sweetness. Where vermouth has a grapey fruitiness, Averna has a licorice and citrus-peel earthiness. It certainly is not to everyone’s liking. If you're new to amaros, I would start with a 4:1 (or even stronger) ratio of whiskey to Averna, rather than the canonical 2:1. In fact, I find that I prefer a mix closer to 3:1, though that’s more about controlling sweetness than bitterness.

There are plenty of amaros besides Averna, and the Black Manhattan encourages experimentation. For example, staying with the “black” motif, you could use Zucca (a rhubarb-based amaro) in place of the Averna. Zucca is a nearly opaque dark brown, but that’s where its similarity to Averna ends. It is much less sweet and has a more bitter, earthy, almost leathery flavor profile.

Alternatively, you could use both sweet vermouth and your amaro of choice. The possibilities are endless.

And that’s why I love the Manhattan—a simple, robust drink and a classic model for so many variations.

“The Black Manhattan Cocktail” at cold-glass.com : All text and photos © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.