March 24th, 2010
My grandfather is 89 and drinks Manhattans. Upon first sip, he often utters one of his favorite expressions: “Hot damn.” He is a natural flirt — he actually gets away with addressing one of the walker-clutching ladies at his nursing home Lightnin’ — and the Manhattans he mixes in his apartment help him in that endeavor. One of his favorite stories is how a female resident approached his doorway one day as he was watching the Red Sox and drinking his favorite cocktail.
“What’re you drinking?” she said.
“Don’t smell like it.”
“I’ll be right back,” he said, returning with a Manhattan for her as she settled in to watch the game.
This Christmas, my brother bought our grandfather a bottle of boutique rye whiskey — Rye 1, which, ironically enough, I have described as “not your grandfather’s whiskey” — and some sweet vermouth. I went into the kitchen to make him his drink as requested: 2 parts whiskey, 1 part vermouth, over ice. (The old man doesn’t bother with cherries or twists.) He was taken aback when he tried it, thinking I had made it too strong. Nope, 2 to 1, like you asked, I said. But then — of course! — he asked if the Rye 1 was stronger than the average whiskey. Yeah, it is, I said, remembering that my grandfather, like most of the drinking public, is used to lighter Canadian whiskies in his drinks. It’s a legacy of Prohibition and WWII that, in most places still, when you call for whiskey that’s not bourbon or scotch, you get Canadian Club or V.O. or the like.
Not that he doesn’t like the stronger, and stronger-flavored, straight rye. In fact, he seems to have developed a taste for it. I imagine the ladies will, too, soon enough.
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When the 21-year-old son of a good friend told me he drank Manhattans, I was surprised. “Well … SoCo Manhattans,” he admitted, vaguely understanding the gaucheness of such a drink preference. (Hey, we’ve all been there.) Luckily, though, we were at Eastern Standard, and I was in charge. We started with a Frisco, one of my fave gateway drinks to whiskey, then moved to a Whiskey Smash.
Meanwhile, I convinced his friend and fellow classmate at Northeastern to try a Pisco Sour. “It has egg in it?” she balked. “Don’t be afraid,” I said, explaining that it would do for her drink what meringue does for lemon pie. The coup de grace was when our bartender, Hugh, handed her a teaspoon so she could scrape the fluffy, lemony, pisco-infused egg white from the bottom of the glass. It’s fun to watch young drinkers when they try a cocktail that makes them Get It. Today’s 21-year-olds don’t know how good they have it coming of age during the Cocktail Revival. I was well into adulthood before I experienced these sorts of mixtures. Then again, my grandfather, born during Prohibition, has missed them entirely. Can you imagine?