There are many ways that a young man can connect with his father. Young boys often follow their fathers around and older boys often try to avoid any more interaction than necessary. But when all things are as they should be, the time eventually comes when father and son ease into a relationship of two adults, separated mainly by a couple of decades, more or less.
My parents divorced when I was young. Although Dad worked hard to maintain our relationship, that was often difficult when most of our time together was every third weekend. We eventually found our way, which was different from the way in which Dad interacted with my two brothers who came along a few years later and lived day-to-day life under his roof.
One of things I associate most strongly with my father during his younger years was his taste for Manhattans. Dad was not a big drinker, but when we went out for dinner, there were three constants. His steak was ordered “rare (but warm)”, dinner would invariably be served within seconds after he lit one of his ever-present Tareytons, and his drink order: a Manhattan on the rocks – “with a little cherry juice.”
To me the short glass, the dark amber color of the cocktail and the cheerful red cherry in the glass signified the life of a successful adult male. Even its name – “Manhattan” – carried a vibe of sophistication that seemed to fit Dad well. I have always wondered if his usual refill was due to a stress-filled week or to prevent a fight between his two eldest children over who got to pluck the liquor-infused maraschino cherry from its stem. This sweet-yet-boozy marinated cherry was as close to “forbidden fruit” as my sister and I got when we were young.
As I got older, I followed the “college way” and drank beer. My father hated beer, and I will confess that I missed the chance to drink a beer with him as some of my friends did with their fathers. Sharing Manhattans was out due to an unfortunate freshman-year episode involving bourbon, something that resulted in my forswearing brown liquor for quite a number of years after.
As I got older, I tiptoed my way into adult cocktails by way of scotch on the rocks. I liked the simplicity of it and the way nothing stood between me and the unique flavor of one brand of scotch or another. I never became the kind of snob with liquor that I did with ice cream, eschewing both the high end stuff and those big plastic bottles on the bottom shelf, preferring to find that sweet spot where my taste and my budget met. But Dad was not a scotch guy, and by this point in his life he rarely had a cocktail any more due to advancing health issues.
As I got older still, I answered the call of the Dry Martini. This was more of an effort than a simple pour into an ice-filled glass. Toothpick, olive, gin, vermouth, shaker, ice and glass. I know, it’s easier if you go out and have a bartender do it, but I am not much of a go-out-to-bars kind of guy. At least not in recent decades. I will admit that the labor becomes worth it all with the first cold, bracing juniper-laced sip. I never shared a Martini with my father, because he had passed away by the time I became a fan.
As the holidays approached few months ago, a nagging curiosity grabbed me: I was on close terms with scotch, I could deal with bourbon and Irish whiskey, and I had experienced Canadian whiskey a time or two. But what the devil was rye? I found myself in a liquor store doing some Christmas shopping and upon inquiring with the clerk for a good solid rye that was not going to break the bank was directed to the Old Overholt.
It was a week or more before I opened it, and as was my habit, poured it over some ice and began sipping. I could tell the difference, but nothing magic happened and I wondered if there was some sort of cocktail that I could use it in. After Googling “cocktails with rye” one of the very first results was – you guessed it – the Manhattan.
About a year earlier, I had attempted to make a Manhattan when my middle son turned 21, but did so with bourbon. I was very underwhelmed, and never tried again. But I had now discovered that I had it all wrong. Sweet vermouth, bitters and – rye was the classic recipe. A few nights later I decided to put the Old Overholt to work again. And what do you know, it really made the whole thing work.
I have become a fan of the Manhattan. I really like the flavor, just a little sweetness to balance out the whiskey. But I think that my favorite part is that each time I take a sip, I am brought back to those childhood Friday and Saturday evening dinners out with my Dad. I realize that this is a poor substitute for actually joining my father for a cocktail. Those of you who still have the opportunity should take advantage of this little touch of civilized life if this is something that both of you are inclined to enjoy. Unfortunately, some of us just have to take what we can get, and a sip of a Saturday evening Manhattan on the rocks gets me one of the few kinds of bonding time with my dad that is possible nowadays. I have even started adding a teaspoon or two of the “cherry juice”.