In Ireland, traditionally, you’re supposed to refuse proffered sustenance from your host until the second time they offer.
Having not experienced it, I don’t know just how odd of a situation that could lead to, but it seems quite awkward to me, especially in a social situation where everyone is supposed to be relatively relaxed.
I prefer to be offered a drink and able to accept it as a genuine offer without offending someone, and by the same token I like to offer guests a drink as soon as they’re in the door. If it’s an old friend or family member, you should probably have a general idea of their drink of choice, or at the very least, something close to what they enjoy drinking.
If it’s your first time hosting someone, and have no idea what they prefer, you can of course try and have the entire spectrum of alcohol contained in your home bar for every eventuality, but when your Capoeira teacher comes over for dinner and he answers your offer for any drink in the known universe with a Caipirinha just like his mother used to make, the not widely available in the US cachaca might be the foil to your brilliant overstocking plan.
Instead, be having a certain cocktail. As in, ‘We’re having Dark ‘N Stormys, would you like
one?’ Match the drink to the occasion. Gin and Tonics in the summer, Margaritas for Taco Night, Long Island Iced Teas if you are sixteen year-olds who plan on spending the post dinner portion of the evening vomiting.
The key to this strategy is to also have one (or three) yourself. Beyond the whole social aspect of everyone having a drink together to relax the situation a bit, you should have one to find out what you like making, what you make well, and what, despite being a classic cockatil, is absolutely disgusting (looking at you, Sazerac, you old bastard).
If you need a recipe to start you off, here’s my take on the Bourbon Manhattan, step by step:
Step 1: Fill a pint glass with Ice
The classic Manhattan, for my money, is made with Rye Whiskey. While Rye is spicier and has more fruity notes to it, Bourbon is more full-bodied, and sweeter, especially in a Manhattan. I couldn’t find Old Overholt or Rittenhouse Rye at the liquor store tonight, which is what I would usually make a Manhattan for myself with. Bourbon is more approachable for a lot of people.
<(Two of these)
Step 3: Add three quarters of an ounce of Sweet Vermouth.
Step 4: Dash in some Angostura Bitters
Bitters are alcoholic flavored botanical water (clearly not the technical definition) that comes in many varieties, which have a distinctly bitter taste to them. Hungover? Try a bitters and soda water- it hydrates, settles the stomach, and covers you in the Hair of the Dog department. There are many varieties, like I said, and each changes the flavor of your drink significantly. I like to use orange or Peychaud’s bitters in my Old Fashioned as I don’t find them quite as harsh as Angostura. To each their own.
When Dashing in your bitters, be aware that the more full your bottle, the less bitters will come out, at least initially. A ‘Dash’ is ~an eight of a teaspoon. Try and visualize that measurement while adding the bitters. Generally you want two dashes of bitters in your Manhattan.
Step 5: Stir
Don’t shake. Don’t fucking shake. For the love of god. Never never never in a Manhattan. Don’t quote James Bond at me with this shit. I will try not to go too far down the rabbit hole with this, but the whole ‘Shaken, not stirred’ thing comes from the book, Casino Royale, where James Bond orders a martini called a Vesper which he appears to invent on the spot. 3 measures of Gordon’s Gin, one of vodka, a half measure of Kina Lillet, shaken and served up with a large, thin slice of lemon.
So it seems that he drinks his martinis shaken. But, the only reason he orders it shaken is because in 1953, when Casino Royale was published, Gordon’s Gin had a much higher alcohol content than it does today, and the vodka he gets with it was 100 proof, which is higher than usual, so he purposely wants to water it down via shaking.
The general rule of thumb is that if the drink contains only alcoholic ingredients, it should be stirred, anything that contains fruit juices should be shaken. *
Some people like to chill the cocktail glass, I’ll leave it to you.
Step 7: Slice an Orange Peel off of an Orange
Some people like to add a cherry, and of those people, some like a Maraschino cherry while others prefer a brandied cherry (which is indeed my preference for Rye Manhattans, but brandied cherries are hard to come by and pricey).
Since we’ve already got a significant amount of sweetness from the Bulleit Bourbon, I defer toward an Orange slice here. Forget what the Boy Scouts told you, cut toward yourself. You want to cut into the white of the skin, but not so deep down that you get the actual fruit part. Most of the oil is in this lower layer of the skin so you add a lot of flavor without much bulk by cutting in this way. Don’t cut yourself like an idiot. You want a slice that you’ll be able to fold. Long and thin, but wide.
Step 8: Flame the Orange Peel
What you want to do here is hold your orange peel over the glass, and pinch the peel with a downward angle. You want the outside of the peel facing toward the drink and if you do this without a light in front of it, you’ll see a very fine mist escape. With a light in front of it, the oil will ignite. It adds the slightest bit of smoke to the drink. Absolutely tiniest amount of flavor that accentuates the orange oil beautifully. Added benefit of making you look like you’ve got some secret to the universe in your cocktail recipes.
Step 9: Drop the Orange Peel in, and Serve
*If you’re so inclined, one day, make yourself three Manhattans. This experiment works best on the rocks. Shake the first, build the second in the glass, and use the above method for the third. I know that I found the first to taste watered down, the second to have a certain harshness and with flavors that seem on top of each other while the third’s ingredients work in harmony. But you should try for yourself, I found the experience quite enlightening.