The process of creating a new cocktail is usually riddled with average drinks before finding the formula that tastes right. It’s a lot of trial and error, sometimes with glorious results. Those results come more quickly when the drink makes sense conceptually and when you are working off of a base that has some grounding in cocktails that have worked in the past. There are lots of bottles, there is a lot of tinkering, and there are some failed creations. Nevertheless, the end result is often sublime.
This was an odd cocktail from the get go, but a friend had tasted a tequila manhattan at some point in his past and wanted to recreate it. The obvious direction was to use a heavily oaked tequila like an Anejo to mirror some flavor components that you would get in a bourbon or rye. But, in my opinion, the herbaceous character of a good tequila (the terroir, if you will) is often masked by the oak. My preference is always for a good blanco tequila as there is nowhere to hide any flaws that may exist. It makes this cocktail a little bit more challenging, but more unique as well.
I pulled the following bottles from my liquor cabinet to experiment with:
Punt e Mes / Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth / Cocchi Americano / Dolin Dry Vermouth / Dolin Blanc Vermouth / Benedictine / Oro Azul Tequila / Milagro Blanco Tequila / Angostura Bitters / Fee Brother Black Walnut Bitters / Regan’s Orange Bitters
There were two distinct directions that this cocktail went. The first was a White Tequila Manhattan of sorts, which turned out more like a Tequila Martini and was therefore eliminated. It was tasty and interesting, but not Manhattan like at all (for the record, that cocktail was 2 oz Milagro Silver, 1 oz Dolin Dry, 1/2 oz Cocchi Americano, 1 Dash Orange Bitters). The second direction was darker, more complex, more bitter, and more along the lines of a Manhattan.
The determination was that the Punt e Mes was too bitter of a pairing for the tequila. The Cocchi American got lost when combined with stronger flavored liqueurs like the Carpano and Benedictine. But the combination of Tequila, Carpano Antica Vermouth and Benedictine was stellar. We added a dash of Black Walnut Bitters and the winner quickly emerged. We tried Angostura bitters as well but found that the cinnamon/allspice notes overwhelmed the subtlety of the tequila. Our winning cocktails looked like this.
2 oz Oro Azul Blanco
1 oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
1/2 oz Benedictine
1 Dash Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
Combine all ingredients and stir to combine. Strain into an old-fashioned or v shaped glass and garnish with a lemon twist.