Cocktail Hour: The Black Manhattan

Smoky, dark, and bitter.

What a complicated mess this life is.

No one said it would be easy, and I am not really talking about ease.

It’s just so complicated, and we, as humans, seem to thrive on making things even more complicated.

Once it was simple enough to have a patch of grass to grow something. A small family (or a bigger one if your patch of grass was bigger) and a little homestead.

It’s easy to romanticize that life, but I know it was hard. Grueling days. Hunger. Not naming your kids until they hit three so you didn’t have to experience the pain of losing an actual person (which, I believe was a false hope because mostly you love them the second they draw breath. But I digress.).

It was hard, but it was simple. Wake, work, food, rest.

Sometimes, when days were short, some music was made, or some other such diversion.

Now we make it way harder than it needs to be, everything, all of it.

Perhaps it comes with living in proximity to so many others whose desires are often at odds with your own.

Perhaps it comes with the fact that we have lost most (all?) of our connection to the natural rhythms of the world. We sleep late, or rise way before the sun. Then we stay up way past the time the sun dips below the horizon. #FearOfMissingOut

We eat when we aren’t hungry.

We don’t even call anymore. We text.

We have lost our rhythms as creatures on the earth, in a very fundamental and elemental way.

This disconnectedness from the basic rhythms of our human-ness is why we are unable to really find the root of the huge problems the US is facing right now; we don’t even know where to begin to identify the core of what’s wrong, much less find solutions – real, long-term solutions – to problems that have plagued our young country since its birth. We slap a Band-aid on it, cover the immediate wound, and then move on to the next.

Trouble is, this results in a spider-thin web of scars criss-crossing our hearts/souls/psyches/consciousness. Sometimes they are so faint we almost forget they are there.

Then something happens that turns them angry red, and we have to start again.

Last week Khristian and I attended a lecture at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The speaker was Wendell Berry, poet, novelist, and general excellent human, reading his latest essay, “The Idea of Limits in a Prodigal Age.”

To be honest, neither Khristian nor I really knew what to  make of the lecture, as all he did was read his new essay and answer a few questions with Eric Schlosser (the Fast Food Nation guy). But among other things, Berry talked about the importance of touch, as well as the importance of asking, as the Amish do, “How does this affect the community?” before making any moves or decisions.

Berry called us “cousins to the bees” to stress how connected we are, whether we like it or not.

He talked about the idea of limitlessness as, in fact, quite limiting and unsustainable. We need to understand where our outer edges connect with everyone else’s, and instead of drawing a line between those boundaries, really taking each other in, in a very human and powerful way in which all interests are considered.

A radical idea, it seems, in this day: that you and I have equal right to exist.

That we are both bounded by one another and boundless within the universe.

To be honest, after this talk, I wanted a drink.

Partly to take a moment to savor the ideas while gazing into a glass of alcohol, and partly to drown my sorrows, just a little bit.

Fortunately, there is the Black Manhattan. Strong, complex, and very simple to make. Slightly bitter, but with just a touch of sweetness. Sort of like life, if I’m being honest.

The Black Manhattan

Note: My jigger holds 1 1/2 ounces on one end, and 3/4 of an ounce on the other. You can use a shot glass to follow the proportion of 2:1, and you’ll be fine.


2 parts bourbon

1 part amaro

2 dashes angosturo bitters

Garnish: Brandied cherry (or Luxardo cherry if you have the cheddar)


Mix bourbon, amaro, and bitters in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Serve with large format ice in a rocks glass or simply chilled in a martini glass or coupe. Garnish with a cherry or six.

Recipe notes

  • I used Buffalo Trace. Good bourbon matters, and BT is my “house bourbon.”
  • Cherry bitters might also be outstanding here.
  • Amaro is the Italian word for “bitter,” but the flavor varies wildly among amaros. The one I chose (Ramazotti) has lovely rootbeer and vanilla notes. Whichever amaro you choose will necessarily influence the flavor of your cocktail.
  • I am going to make my own amaro this winter and see how that goes.

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