Virgin Manhattan Review


Virgin Manhattans. Left to right: Sophisticated Smoked Manhttan, Tasty & Tart Manhattan.

Virgin Manhattans. Left to right: Sophisticated Smoked Manhttan, Tasty & Tart Manhattan.

Now that I have a selection of bitters for use in drinks, I figured the first thing to do is determine how to use them in the most well know of drinks: a Manhattan.

Manhattans are made with bourbon or whiskey, sweet vermouth and orange bitters.
For the non-alcoholic choice, most sites give a juice based recipe for a virgin manhattan calling for cranberry, orange, cherry and lemon juice with orange bitters, which remind me a lot of a fruit punch. Since all the recipes had the same proportions I am using the recipe from DrinkMixer.com.
The challenge for the Manhattan virgin cocktail is coming up with something to replace the whiskey or bourbon. If you google the taste of bourbon you find descriptions like “smoky, burnt toast, molasses” used to describe the taste, along with the flavour of cherry or cherry coke. Ok well sounds like marvellous stuff!
Continuing the research I came across convivial.org which suggested a different take, using smoked tea and pomegranate juice to create a new experience using the idea of a smoky flavour from the original recipe. Ok sounds intriguing, and definitely not like fruit punch. But which is the preferred option? Time for some scientific taste testing – preferably on more than my little family of four. Well good thing I was visiting extended family!!

Virgin Manhattan – Tart and Tasty

This is the most commonly found recipe for a Virgin Manhattan. See the full recipe here.
Each element of this drink lends to a tart bright flavour creating a juice based beverage that has a slight kick and is slightly astringent. The drink is pleasant, however the prevailing flavours are citrus and cranberry and the cherry flavour seems lost in the mix. To me this drinks seemed like a poncy cranberry juice – lovely for breakfast but not something I would offer as an alternative to alcoholic beverages at a party.
Since the recipe calls for so little cherry juice (1/2 tsp) I am not sure what that element brings to the table. This is normally not something I have access to in Tumbler Ridge, and would have to choose to use either maraschino cherry juice (which cocktail:uk suggests), home-made cherry juice from frozen dark cherries or omit it all together.  As I was down in the “big city” I commissioned my husband to find said beverage, and was surprised and amazed at the price (so was mom). I have trouble justifying $8/bottle for a half teaspoon of something, and am now endeavouring to find out what else I can use this super expensive juice for, as I can’t justify pouring glasses of this as a straight beverage.
Our Thoughts:
In order to determine scientifically what the cherry juice adds to the drink, I remade this recipe in triplicate: one without the juice, one with maraschino cherry syrup and one as directed; and retested the results. The cherry juice added colour to the drink making it darker, but did it add any discernible taste? According to my kids: Nope! The more discerning palates notices a nicer taste in the black cherry juice version – so we determined that the cost may be worth it if serving this drink to adults.
Kid-o-metre 4.5/5 Either with or without the cherry juice, the kids rated this drink highly.
Taste: 3.5/5  What’s with the .5 right? well it’s the result of science man.
Simplicity: 5/5 A no brainer…unless you have to make your own bitters.
Ingredient finding: 3/5 two ingredients that are “ship in only” for our small town.

Virgin Manhattan – Smoky and Strong

The second version I found online at convivial.org required some more challenging ingredients: Lapsang Souchong smoked black tea, a second black decaf tea, and pomegranate juice along with orange bitters and simple syrup and vanilla. I chose a rooibos de province from DavidsTea, since it’s fruity flavour would blend well with the pomegranate juice, and brewed up the two teas for the drink as per the instructions (2 bags tea per 6 oz boiled water).
This drink did not go over well with the adults in our family the first time I made it. Me own mum likened the drink to musty mattresses, dad said it reminded him of burned food while camping, my husband took two sips and simply refused to drink the rest. I made the tea separately, about a week later, and realized that my original tea brew was stronger than it should have been, and over steeped. The recipe indicated using two bags of tea for 6 oz boiled water, I used loose tea and used 2 tsp per 6 oz of boiled water. It is possible that this smoked tea is stronger than a bag version, and that overstepping created a more acidic and bitter flavour. My tea loving father tried the tea plain from the first batch, made a face and stated it tasted like medicine. My tea loving niece tried the tea from the second batch, and finished the glass, enjoying the taste. I tried both and the first attempt was indeed an epic fail.
The purpose of the smoked tea was to add the smokiness of the bourbon, but I have been told that bourbon isn’t smoky, it is sweet. The second batch of tea was indeed more tea like and had a hint of sweetness but the tea was made with only the regular amount called for (not double strength) which in this case was 1 1/4 tsp per 240 ml.
Ingredients:
I would recommend the following tweak:
  • 1 1/4 tsp Lapsang Souchong smoked black tea steeped for 3 minutes in 60z boiled water.
  • 2 tsp decaf black tea (rooibos or other) steeped for up to 6 minutes in 6 oz boiled water.
  • 1 1/2 oz pomegranate juice
  • 4 dashes orange bitters
  • 1 tsp simple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • (cherry for garnish)
Procedure:
Steep both teas as directed. Mix juice bitters, syrup and vanilla with 1 1/2 oz black tea only. Taste the drink, and ad the smoky tea in small increments (up to 1 1/2 oz) to get just the right amount of smokiness without overpowering the drink – similar to bitters, the flavour is very powerful. We found that 1/2 -1 tsp was enough to lend the smoky flavour and maintain the sweetness and fruity flavour of the drink with the original over steeped double strength tea. When remade with the regular strength tea….
Our Thoughts:

This drink, once perfected to a mild smoky taste was surprisingly easy to serve to both kids and adults. One adult still found the smoky flavour too much, but both kids rated this favourably and my youngest said it tasted like sour key candies. Compared to the first drink, due to the broad spectrum of opinions this drink rates lower. The original recipe calls this a Sophisticated Manhattan – which indicates that not every palate will appreciate this drink.

Kid-o-metre 5/5 kids loved it once the smoky flavour was reduced. Who would have thunk it!
Taste: 3.4/5  Slightly less preferred than the popular and common drink recipe.
Simplicity: 2/5 Bitters (bottled or DIY), special tea brews (2 of them), and simple syrup needed.
Ingredient finding: 2/5 the majority of these ingredients are not easily acquired in Tumbler Ridge.


Would I make either of these regularly? Probalby not. Neither feels worth the time or cost to make, and I would definitely not bother serving either to guests. The first drink is simply not impressive or noteworthy, the second with the recommended adjustment is a nice drink – however pomegranate juice is simply to0 difficult to get in little northern communities.

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