Drink it up

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It’s a fact: people prefer Brooklyn. At least they do when they’re drinking.

According to James Waller, Fort Greene resident and author of “Drinkology: The Art and Science of the Cocktail,” 80 percent of the people he recently polled preferred sipping the Brooklyn to the better-known Manhattan.

At a tasting event last week at Fort Greene’s Greene Grape liquor store, Waller mixed up versions of both cocktails and let the thirsty patrons decide. They overwhelmingly chose this borough’s offering.

The original Manhattan, according to Waller, was invented in the 1870s to honor Lady Sarah Churchill — Winston’s mother — who, despite being a resident of Brooklyn Heights, was having a party thrown for her at the Manhattan Club.

The drink was originally made with sweet vermouth, bourbon and bitters, but has changed over time, especially as rye has fallen out of (and recently back into) style. Waller kept the original version in mind, though, when creating the Brooklyn. He uses rye whiskey and sweet vermouth, but eschews bitters in favor of sugary maraschino liqueur.

“It’s based on other recipes,” Waller told GO Brooklyn. “The other Brooklyn cocktail recipes I’ve read have called for Canadian whiskey, but I substituted rye as a nod to the original history of the Manhattan cocktail.”

“Brooklynites can be proud of the fact that this cocktail is nearer the original version of Manhattan than most Manhattans nowadays,” he added. “I’m prejudiced — I live in and love Brooklyn, but the Manhattan is my favorite cocktail. I’m a biased guy.”

The perfect cocktail, however, is something that people often have trouble agreeing on.

“The Brooklyn is a favorite of mine,” said LeNell Smothers, the whiskey-wise owner of LeNell’s, Red Hook’s “wine and spirit boutique.” “I’m a bit disappointed in how many piss-poor versions exist around Brooklyn.”

Smothers cites a 1910 article from the Washington Post that gives a gin-heavy recipe for the cocktail as one example. “The article does not speak highly of this drink, quoting a bartender saying if he lived in Brooklyn, he might stick to beer rather than drink this,” she said. “After stumbling across this recipe, I figure there have been questionable versions for many, many years.”

One of the newest cocktails to bear the borough’s name is the Brooklyn at reBar, the popular DUMBO watering hole. A far cry from the classic formula, however, reBar’s concoction is better suited for a mug than a flask.

“Everyone loves energy drinks to be able to stay up late, but this is a more elegant way to do it,” owner Jason Stevens told GO Brooklyn. His version of the drink is heavy on an aspect of the borough he’s particularly keen on — coffee. Mixing vanilla vodka with Kahlua, Frangelico and coffee, then garnishing the brew with roasted beans, Stevens has created a high-octane version of the drink.

Over in Park Slope, the Fourth Avenue Pub has a more traditional version of the cocktail. “We didn’t invent the Brooklyn, though we kind of wish we did,” opined bartender and co-owner Kevin Mulvaney. “It’s a simple variation on the Manhattan. Just like Brooklyn the borough is to Manhattan — a little less sweet, a little more edgy, a little better.”

Here, as with the traditional Manhattan, the Brooklyn is served with a maraschino cherry — but that is the only sweet element in the cocktail. You have to work for it, like a child powering through lima beans to get to dessert. You can’t have your cherry ’til you finish your bourbon.

“The thing about a Manhattan,” Mulvaney said, “is sometimes the sweet vermouth can mask the taste of the bourbon.” They make the Brooklyn with dry vermouth and a dash of bitters, a subtler combination that brings out the oaky, refined flavor of the bourbon.

So, while not every bar in the borough has wised-up to the Brooklyn just yet, it’s only a matter of time. Gone will be the days where the proud local has only beer to order — and don’t let the possibility of an uninformed barkeep stop you from trying. “If you can make a margarita or a martini,” Linda Swain, a bartender at reBar told us, “you can make a Brooklyn.”

In the drink

James Waller’s “The Art and Science of the Cocktail” lays out this recipe for the Brooklyn. Deceptively simple, the recipe might be short on ingredients, but it’s big on flavor and certainly packs a punch.

1 1/2 ounces rye
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
Dash maraschino liqueur

Rim a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon twist. Combine the other ingredients in a mixing glass, with ice. Stir, and strain into the cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist.

— from “The Art and Science of the Cocktail” by James Waller

Greene Grape (765 Fulton St., at South Portland Avenue in Fort Greene) is open Sunday through Wednesday from noon–9 pm, Thursday and Friday from noon–10 pm and Saturday from 10 am–10 pm. For information, call (718) 797-9463.

reBar (upstairs at 147 Front St., between Pearl and Jay streets in DUMBO) is open Sunday through Tuesday from 1 pm–2 am and Wednesday through Saturday from 1 pm–4 am. For information, call (718) 797-2322.

Fourth Avenue Pub (76 Fourth Ave., at St. Mark’s Place in Park Slope) is open daily from 3 pm–4 am For information, call (718) 643-2273.

Updated 4:28 pm, July 9, 2018
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