Happy Friday, friends!
What are your weekend plans? Are you attending any fall festivals? Halloween parties?
As per usual, our plans this weekend are fairly low key. Our big plans for tonight are bingeing “Stranger Things” after Kieran is in bed. We’ll probably be up way too late for our old selves, but it will be so worth it. Then, tomorrow night, we’re having dinner with some good friends at a new local restaurant. Sunday is booked with family and football. All good things. All low key. Just the way we like it.
One thing is for sure: these apple cider Manhattans are going to happen this weekend. Probably more than once.
You guys. These cocktails are. so. good. I am not a brown liquor person usually (I’ve talked about this several times before), and I usually stick to my comfort zone of vodka and gin, but one that I can handle better than others is bourbon. Especially when it’s cut with brown sugar syrup (!!!) and a healthy splash of apple cider.
Manhattans are probably the only brown liquor drink I can say with any hint of confidence that (1) I can make a good one, and (2) I can drink a whole one (maybe even two if I’m feeling feisty). The taste doesn’t immediately put my gag reflex in motion (bad college memories, ahem), and all the other flavors in this drink make it go down super smooth.
My husband LOVES brown liquor. In fact, in his mid 30s, he has discovered that they may even be his hard liquor drink of choice. He does a lot of sazeracs, old fashioneds, and Manhattans when we’re out to eat, usually as a pre-dinner cocktail. I’m usually sitting next to him with a fizzy gin drink chock full of champagne, elderflower liquor, and/or citrus. Haha. Brown liquor just isn’t my thang.
These certainly warm me up to the idea of a glass of bourbon, though.
The thing I love about Manhattans is how freaking EASY they are to put together. You fill a tall glass with ice and pour in the bourbon (or rye whiskey!), vermouth, and any other accompanying flavors you might want, stir it up until everything is mixed and chilled, and then strain it into a serving glass. Garnish with orange wedges/peels and a brandied cherry. Voilà! You’re good to go. No shaking. No rimming the glasses. It’s just booze in a glass. No frills.
In this case, I garnished the glasses with homemade brandied cherries. This was my first attempt at brandied cherries, and guys, I gotta tell ya…they are life changing.
Back in August, when fresh cherries were still OMG-AMAZING, I stocked up on a few pounds and pitted and stemmed each one of those suckers. I made a spiced brandy-brown sugar syrup for them to soak in. I jarred them (like, for real this time. With boiling water and everything! Look at me being a grown up) and popped them in the fridge to hang out for a couple months. We popped open the first jar a couple weeks ago (to make these Manhattans, actually!), and holy crappola….
Brandied cherries are definitely going to be something I make every summer. They are the perfect addition to wintery, cozy cocktails like these Manhattans.
(Side note: would you guys be interested in a recipe for brandied cherries? Let me know!)
But! They are the only high-maintenance aspect of this recipe. You can totally skip making them (I did for years!) and buy them at the liquor store. The only other thing that is slightly out of the ordinary with these Manhattans is the brown sugar syrup, which essentially is just a simple syrup made with brown sugar. If you don’t like your drinks sweet (or if you’re a beast and can take bourbon down mostly straight), then you can skip it altogether! For a weakling like me, though, it makes these Manhattans much easier to drink.
I actually keep a container of brown sugar syrup in the fridge most of the time. It’s great in a pinch when it comes to cocktail time, and it adds a slightly smoky, caramely flavor to whatever drink you’re making.
In other words: it’s delicious.
As are these apple cider Manhattans! Make ’em happen this weekend.
1 cup water
1 cup light brown sugar
3 oz bourbon or rye whiskey
1½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz fernet-branca liqueur (optional)
1 tablespoon brown sugar syrup
¼ cup apple cider
Combine the water and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Heat until the mixture is simmering. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, or until all the sugar is dissolved in the water.
Cool to room temperature and then store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Fill a tall glass with ice. Add the bourbon, vermouth, fernet-branca liqueur, brown sugar syrup, and apple cider. Stir well to mix and chill all the ingredients.
Strain the mixture into two chilled glasses and garnish each with an orange slice and a brandied cherry. Serve immediately.