This episode is sponsored by Knob Creek. The right bourbon can elevate your next cocktail into an experience worth savoring. So, look for a brand that doesn’t overlook the details and sets the standard for bourbon. That’s Knob Creek. It’s truly the real deal: an authentic, classic line of American whiskeys, with proofs ranging from 100 to 120. Knob Creek is aged longer to produce a full-flavor experience as rich and deep as its history. With every drop, you notice the attention to detail Knob Creek puts into its bourbon. So, strive for a little more substance. Because, when you choose to go deeper, you’ll find so much more to appreciate.
The Manhattan borrows its name from an iconic, history-filled New York City borough. In this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy chats with bartender Abigail Gullo about why she believes the Manhattan is a cocktail that lives up to its name, and shares her strategies for making it.
Gullo, the director of Bartender’s Circle, is New York City-raised and has long been influenced by her grandfather’s love for Manhattans. It’s a love that has stuck with her. McKirdy talks with Gullo about her serious penchant for rye, how the right vermouth and bitters can elevate the cocktail, and why Gullo believes the Manhattan deserves the title of America’s national cocktail.
Tune in to learn how to make the perfect Manhattan.
MAKE ABIGAIL GULLO’S MANHATTAN
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
- 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
- 1 dash other bitters, such as bergamot (optional)
- 1 lemon twist
- 1 brandied cocktail cherry
- Combine all wet ingredients in a mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into a chilled Manhattan glass (or Nick & Nora as an alternative).
- Lightly express lemon twist over the cocktail then discard.
- Garnish with cocktail cherry and serve.
CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Tim McKirdy: Hey! This is Tim McKirdy, and welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College,” a weekly deep dive into classic cocktails that goes beyond the recipe with America’s best bartenders.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with the Manhattan, and the best analogy that I can come up with is that it’s like the way that some people might view jazz. I fully appreciate its merits, but I might not go as far as to call myself a fan. Now, I know that in the field of cocktail enthusiasts, I’m definitely in the minority there. Before you tarnish me as some kind of cocktail philistine, I should say that that much was true until I spoke with Abigail Gullo. Now, I’ve changed my mind. Over 45 minutes, Abigail — who is the director of Bartender’s Circle — not only eloquently distills decades of making this cocktail, she also lays out a very convincing argument for why the Manhattan should be America’s national cocktail. After hearing her case, you know how I now feel. But will you also be convinced? There’s only one way to find out.
Abigail Gullo, thank you so much for joining us today. Really looking forward to chatting about the Manhattan with you.
Abigail Gullo: I am so excited to be here. I don’t think you could have picked someone with more experience. My grandfather taught me how to make a Manhattan when I was 7 years old. So, I literally have over 40 years of experience making Manhattans.
T: Wow. That’s incredible. And of course, you personally also hail from New York originally. Is that correct?
A: Yeah. The isle of Manhattan is where I spent most of my life. I have a lot of family history there. My grandparents were both Hell’s Kitchen kids who got married at St. Michael’s Church on 34th Street. It’s still there.
THE HISTORY OF THE MANHATTAN
T: So, I’m definitely speaking with the perfect person for this drink today. The Manhattan. We’re talking about an iconic cocktail here, named after probably one of the most iconic and storied islands in the world. It dates back to the 1800s and has a ton of history. I think we would need a whole episode devoted just to exploring all of that. So, can you start by telling us what you believe to be some of the most important historical facets of this cocktail?
A: This cocktail was created in a period of time in history when Manhattan was becoming one of the most powerful plots of land in the world. You could kind of chart the shift of power in the United States from the moment they finished the Erie Canal. All of the world started entering the United States through a different way. All of the United States — the Breadbasket and everything — started traveling up the Mississippi through the Great Lakes, through New York, and ending in New York City for export. It was a real shift in power away from New Orleans, which had been the seat of power in the United States because of its location at the mouth of the Mississippi. At the same time, you had this massive wave of immigration coming from Europe and landing in New York City. The city was growing at an unprecedented rate. It was also, in true American fashion, becoming a melting pot or gumbo of different cultures and styles. You had this unique American creation — the cocktail — suddenly taking off with a new generation of bartenders. It was the first golden age of bartending, if you will. It was a time where we had celebrity bartenders, cocktails started to have names, and cocktails that started to take a different look and different shape. The cocktail, in the 1800s, would look like what an Old Fashioned looks like today. It was just bitters, sugar, spirit, and water. All of a sudden, you see the sugar — which was so plentiful and easy to get in New Orleans but maybe a little harder to get in New York — being replaced with new sweet liquors, vermouth, and fortified wines that were coming over with this new wave of immigration. I really see the Manhattan as that bridge from one generation of cocktail makers to a whole other that has lasted pretty much all the way until the 21st century. It’s an amazing cocktail to me. It still has bitters in it. To this day, you’ve got to have bitters in it. That’s a really important element. So, it’s still, by the true definition of the word, a cocktail. It uses a really uniquely defined American spirit. It also uses this ingredient that was brought over by the other side of my ancestry, my Italian relatives.
T: That’s fantastic. A couple of things there. I love how you place that as being this kind of post in terms of defining American history and also cocktail history. One of the other things that you mentioned there, that I really like, is that you say a uniquely American spirit. I would say that one of the questions that perhaps endures to this day is whether this is a rye or bourbon cocktail. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
A: We didn’t have definitions of what whiskey was at the time. Those original early recipes in the books call for American whiskey. That American whiskey, if you were drinking it anywhere in the mid-Atlantic region, was most definitely rye. They were very famous for the Monongahela strain of rye. Maryland had their own form of rye. There was Pennsylvania rye and, of course, New York rye was huge. If you were on the coast, you were definitely drinking rye whiskey. It’s what George Washington made. It’s what Thomas Jefferson made. There was a lot of excess grain, so a lot of farmers were using rye. Corn was deeper on the frontier land, in the Kentucky region. So, was bourbon used? Probably, if they had bourbon. They more than likely had rye. It was really Prohibition that killed off the production of rye. Then, bourbon began its resurgence. If you have a Manhattan after Prohibition, it might be made with bourbon. The way I feel about it, personally, is that I like the spiciness of the rye. I’ve always been a rye girl. I kind of got into this industry because I was so obsessed with making a real, true, and authentic Manhattan. Then, of course, I discovered the Sazerac, another great rye cocktail. I would travel to New Orleans to buy bottles of rye because I couldn’t get a good selection of rye in New York, if you could imagine that.
T: I love that as well, how you paint it. Some things we have to remember when we’re in search of historical accuracy is how much things have changed. You talk about definitions and that rye and bourbon didn’t exist as they were today. No one was talking about 51 percent back then. We’re really talking about a different era and time and different ingredients.
A: I think rye whiskey was definitely the drink of choice. In the early 21st century, when we were all cocktail nerds in New York City and rediscovering the classics, rye whiskey became very important. That led to this whole boom. Rye whiskey would have gone extinct. American rye whiskey was on the list of extinct ingredients and would have gone extinct in the 1980s if it wasn’t for the good people of New Orleans drinking their Sazeracs. Jimmy Russell from Wild Turkey told me that himself. He’s said there wouldn’t even be American rye whiskey if it wasn’t for New Orleans. They refused to say the Sazerac was a bourbon cocktail. It was a rye cocktail, and they refused to replace it. I really admire the people of New Orleans and thank them for sharing rye. The people of New York did not do that. They were like, yeah, sure, Manhattan, bourbon, whatever, fine.
T: We wouldn’t be able to have this conversation today.
A: No, we would not.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MARTINI AND THE MANHATTAN
T: We definitely need to tip our hats to the folks of New Orleans. There’s another part of this cocktail that I am very interested in, which is its ties to the Martini. I guess you could say the Martini is a descendant of the Manhattan. There are very similar formulas. I’d love to hear your take on that. One thing that strikes me is that we have this very strict ratio that’s almost always adhered to when it comes to the Manhattan. The Martini itself has almost become this category of cocktails. It’s a very personalized drink where you have all these different ratios. Why do you think that has remained true for the Manhattan, but it hasn’t for the Martini?
A: It’s very interesting, I don’t know if it’s a whole bunch of social sources that swirled around the Martini, like James Bond, to the fact that gin fell out of favor for vodka and it became a very easy replacement. To me, a classic Martini still looks pretty much identical to a classic Manhattan. They take up the same space in my brain. I do appreciate that people have all these different variations of the Martini. Maybe it’s because of the versatility and the wide differences that you find in different gins and vermouths. Taste is very subjective, and everyone has their own personal tastes. Of course, I’m OK with however people want to drink it. The way my grandfather taught me to make a Manhattan does not look anything like the way I make a Manhattan now. That’s the way he liked it, though, and I love and respect him for it. That’s his Manhattan. So, I respect anyone’s view of the Martini that way, too. I just think that the combination of dry vermouth, gin, orange bitters, and either a twist or an olive, can so dramatically change the drink that, of course, you’re going to start to have preferences. You’ll have your certain way and then maybe you’ll push it a little farther. If you really like it clear and cold, maybe you need a little less vermouth in that. I could totally see how that would start to happen. I also just think that the drink remained popular, while vermouth did not. If the quality of your vermouth goes down, of course you’re just going to rather have cold gin in a glass than cold gin mixed with poor-quality, spoiled vermouth. I also think the Manhattan never really had that huge popularity that the Martini did.
T: It’s interesting as well. Those are two drinks that did not, to a large extent, need resuscitating by the cocktail renaissance. They endured and remained in people’s minds, but the quality, like you said, was probably not very good. People were not chilling their vermouth. You’d find it on the back bar, dusty. These are the kind of tropes that people say about vermouth. Before we dial into the ingredients, how much do you think, in the last 20 to 30 years, the average quality of a Manhattan that you will find at a bar has improved or changed?
A: I’d like to say it improved dramatically, but I think that’s one of the things that I love about the Manhattan is that it’s kind of been steady. It has maintained its true roots throughout over 100 years of people mixing it. I fondly remember going to a family restaurant with my grandfather and being old enough to saddle up next to him at the bar. I got to order that Manhattan on the rocks with extra cherries before dinner, because I was 21, and wanted extra cherries in my drink.
HOW TO MAKE THE PERFECT MANHATTAN
T: Incredible. Actually, before we move on, can you tell us your grandfather’s recipe? I feel like it would be a shame not to hear that.
A: He liked it with bourbon. He liked it sweet. He had a sweet tooth, and he wasn’t a big drinker. It was a real treat for him to have a drink. He would like to savor it. He actually enjoyed his Manhattan on the rocks, 50/50 sweet vermouth and bourbon, with extra bitters and extra cherries.
T: Wow. That sounds very refreshing. It sounds bold, but it sounds very refreshing as well.
A: You know, I don’t hate it. It’s not my favorite, but for nostalgic reasons, sometimes I get a craving for it just like that. It’s really easy to make at home.
T: That also taps into drinks being so much more than just what they taste like. It’s their back story. It’s what it means to you personally.
A: Absolutely. I’ve become such a lover of fortified wine, too. Having good, sweet vermouth, the temptation is there, of course. Just like many bartenders love to do 50/50 Martinis, I think 50/50 Manhattans are delicious. They have their moment, and then I can have more of them, too, which, of course, is very important.
T: That’s always very helpful. So, tell us about your preference when it comes to this cocktail. Clearly, this is a drink that you have studied and enjoyed over many years. Where do you land in terms of the ratio of different ingredients?
A: I prefer two to one, with two ounces of spirit and one ounce of vermouth. I do like a little extra dash of bitters because I love bitters. I kind of like my Manhattans perfect. I like half sweet vermouth, half dry vermouth, and I enjoy it with a twist and a cherry, if I can be so bold.
T: Absolutely. That is allowed.
A: Thank you. And, of course, I like it with rye whiskey.
T: Yes. So, you mentioned rye. Of course, rye is very different. There are different mash bills now. These are things that we dial into and look into now in a way that we probably didn’t do before. When it comes to that, are you looking for something like a Kentucky style that’s 51 percent rye or higher? What about proof? Do you care about whether these are bottles that are being chill filtered or not? What’s your ideal pour?
A: I like my whiskey like I like my men: a little bit on the younger side. I like it under six years, actually. I do love to really still be able to taste a lot of the grain. I do like those spicy high ryes. Straight ryes are really good. My personal favorite is what’s coming out of the Willett Distillery in Bardstown. When I do blind tastings, I tend to choose whiskey from that region. I know a lot of people say whiskey doesn’t have a terroir. I’m like, “I know, it’s impossible.” However, I tend to like the style of whiskey that tends to come from the Bardstown region of Kentucky. The ones I pick out in blind tastings tend to come from there. Being a New Yorker, I’m also a huge fan of this new Empire Rye that we have now. We have a new category of rye. I do have an old bottle of Pikesville. I went to college in the Maryland and Virginia area, so I love that Maryland style rye, too. I can’t choose one. I love rye.
T: For this cocktail specifically, we are talking about pairing with a sweet vermouth — or sweet and dry if that’s your preference — and the boldness of sweet vermouth. You’re describing these younger styles of rye where some of the grain comes through, perhaps more than the oak and the maturation. I wonder whether that plays into that idea that the spice and rawness mixes so well with the richness of a sweet vermouth.
A: Absolutely. I think that it’s a magical combination. I really, really love it. We have so many beautiful fortified wines coming from all over Italy. I also love Spanish vermouths and Corsican. You just have such a beautiful wealth of choices now. When you think back even 15 years ago, trying to find something other than Martini & Rossi was such a challenge. Now, look at all the beautiful choices we have. Not to mention, there’s the ability to make modifications. Now, this isn’t like modifying until they aren’t Manhattans anymore, but I love all the variations of Manhattans. Martinis, again, have become this whole thing. You could slap “tini” on the end of anything, but it doesn’t look anything like a Martini. What I love about Manhattans is that there’s all these beautiful Manhattan variations that are just playing off of the theme. They’re called Little Italy, they’re called Red Hook, they’re called Greenpoint, and they’re called all these other New York neighborhoods. I have one called the Longshoreman and the Big Chief for New Orleans. I think it’s so much fun that there are all these beautiful variations now. They’re there in the family of the Manhattan, but they have their own names and their own stories.
T: That’s incredible. You mentioned, as well, your preference for the perfect Manhattan, with a mix of sweet and dry vermouth. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, for someone who has never tried that? Why do you tend towards that as your preferred pour?
A: I think I’m going back to how I love the classics. I’ve watched a lot of Nick and Nora movies, and part of the allure of going into a really nice bar and having that relationship with the bartender is, when you know what you want and you know they’ll be able to do it, and giving them this order. Since the early days in the 1800s when this drink was created, “perfect” was a way that you could have your drink. It wasn’t made perfectly. It was a Manhattan perfect, which meant half sweet vermouth, half dry vermouth. If you ordered a whiskey cocktail “improved,” it meant adding some absinthe or Maraschino liqueur. I kind of love that it’s still this really old-school way of taking your favorite classic cocktail and making a slight modification to it. Sometimes, you could even play with it. If you’re going to have a Manhattan perfect with sweet and dry vermouth, then maybe you’re going to do one dash of Angostura bitters and one dash of orange bitters, to just play with it. Maybe you have bergamot bitters. Right now, I’m obsessed with those. A little bergamot with Italian sweet vermouth is absolutely gorgeous.
T: That’s incredible. It’s a wonderful segue there onto the final ingredient here: bitters. So, that would be your preference then? You’re talking one dash of Angostura, one dash of orange, and then maybe something else that’s kind of on the front of your mind for whatever reason, at any moment.
A: That’s the fun thing about when you are grabbing a new bottle of rye or vermouth and you’re tasting it combined for the first time. You can also have this huge range of bitters to choose from that can dramatically alter the flavor profile of the drink and where it’s going to go. Even within these strict rules, there is so much variation that you could play with.
T: This being such an incredible classic, you’ve mentioned that you have these variations of it yourself. How important is it, even if you don’t have a Manhattan on your menu, to make sure that you do have a house spec for it? How important is it that everyone on your team is following this house spec in case someone arrives at the bar and doesn’t have their preferred ratio and ingredients?
A: I think it’s extremely important. I recently had an experience at a bar where I just ordered a straight-up, steakhouse-style gin Martini. It was so good the first time around. I ordered another one. The second one came, and it was clearly not made by the same bartender. It was the slightest difference in the number of olives on the pick, the dilution, and I could tell he shook it instead of stirred it. Little things. I got really sad because I really liked how it came out the first time. I liked it so much, I ordered the second one. I was really sad that I didn’t get the same bartender who made it the same way. I know I’m talking about minutiae differences. I still, of course, enjoyed the cocktail and finished it. But, as a bar manager and as a bartender, I think it’s really important that the whole team is on the same page. Even if these are what I’ve decided are the house specs and it’s really classic, of course we’ll change it on any guest request. I try to do the most popular, standard way to serve it. That is the really classic: two dashes of Angostura, one ounce of sweet vermouth, two ounces of rye whiskey, stirred with a cherry. That’s the one that gets ordered again and again. I love it. I love it when people order the same drink again. That means we did it right. We did it right the first time and we should just keep doing it that way. That’s the one that, in my experience, keeps getting repeated. Like I said, everyone has a different flavor profile and maybe some people like it differently and that’s fine. But then, at least you have a standard. It’s important to find what that standard is for your location, your bar, and your clientele, and to honor that. That’s just going to bring more people in.
T: Yeah. To your point, with the Martini example that you give, had you received that second Martini the first time around, perhaps you wouldn’t have ordered the second.
A: Yeah. I would not have.
T: You lost me at shaken.
A: I know. Oh, it’s so bad. I know they didn’t put any vermouth in it. I was like, that’s fine. I’m fine with a cold glass of gin with some olives in it when I’m sitting in a jazz club. That’s fine. That does its purpose. As my mom said, there’s no living with you now. You’re such a snob.
T: Those are the other folks that will come in. If people know how they want it made, they will ask their bartenders if they’ve gone that deep themselves. Yeah. Importance of the house spec there.
A: And that’s OK. I’ve had people come in with a business card that says this is how you need to make my Daiquiri. That’s fine. That’s coming from a place where they’ve had so many disappointing situations like I did. I feel bad for that. I joined this industry as part of a golden age of mixology. We really prided ourselves on bringing back this lost art that was really done already. We were just resetting the standard that, if you go into a bar, you should have a good cocktail. I think it’s great now that people have those expectations. However, we’re not everywhere. Know your bar. You made a good point. We’re talking all this talk about the Manhattan. If you go into a bar, and you see those dusty bottles of Martini & Rossi on the back bar, do not order a Manhattan.
T: No. Just go for the whiskey.
A: Whiskey. Some nice whiskey.
T: We’ve mentioned shaking. I would love to hear your approach to stirring. We know why we do that. I was just wondering if you have any idiosyncrasies or specific things that you dial into or teach younger bartenders. Is there a preferred method that you have that might not be the same way that everyone else does?
A: Well, people getting their drinks fast is still a huge issue. It’s how we make money and how our businesses make money. The guest expectations are that they get their drinks quickly as well. You want to get that drink out there so they can order another one. I approach it, I think most importantly, for speed. When you get a Manhattan in and there are other drinks on the order, you make that Manhattan first in the mixing glass with the ice. Then, you make all the other drinks. Then you stir it and pour it. It’s resting on the ice. It’s not getting over-diluted. You’re not agitating it. There’s no way it’s going to get over-diluted while it’s just sitting there in the ice. It is getting colder, which is what’s important, that that drink takes on that smooth, velvety, cold texture. To me, it’s really important that you get that drink built first in the glass, then make your other rounds so you have all the drinks ready at the same time. If you have time to let it sit, let it sit and get that other work done.
T: I love that. As a home bartender and complete novice here, I’m someone who enjoys drinking and making drinks but hasn’t done it professionally. That’s something I always wonder about. I’m so glad that you’ve cleared that up, whether I should be worried about dilution in that scenario. It sounds like I should not. Maybe that’s what I’m going to be doing on Friday night.
A: When you watch old movies, you know how they have a Martini or Manhattan pitcher? They make it by the pitcher for their guests. Those drinks are just sitting in the pitcher. They’re not being stirred. Sometimes they have a stir stick just to stir it around, but they’re just sitting on ice. Then, they just keep adding booze to it as the night goes on, so it doesn’t get over-diluted. They’re pouring out little Martini glasses, little Manhattan glasses. Those glasses are small. That’s why people had three-Martini lunches. The glasses used to be really, really small. You just keep it cold in a pitcher. I don’t know why I don’t see this anymore. Everyone’s doing frozen Martinis. If you’re batching for a party, there’s no reason why you can’t do a frozen Manhattan. Batch it, dilute it ahead of time, stick it in the freezer, and then when you’re ready to pour, just pour it out.
T: In that scenario, are you pre-diluting somewhat? And if you are, what would be your percentage or ratio there?
A: Yeah. When you’re adding water per cocktail, you’re usually adding about an ounce of dilution. So, if I’ve got three ounces of the Manhattan, I’ll add an ounce of water. That’s why water and ice is important, because it’s a quarter of the drink.
T: What about bitters? Should I be worried that over time, that is going to concentrate in flavor? Or you’re adding your bitters as well at that point?
A: I’ve seen arguments on both sides that the bitters bloom if they are left in. I don’t think they do. Personally, I think they taste just as good. Maybe I’ll go a little lighter because, like I said, I like my heavy bitters, and you can always add bitters later.
T: Sure. If you’re batching it, you’re batching it for an evening. We’re talking hours here. This is not something sitting in a barrel for months. That’s a whole different conversation right there.
T: You touched upon glassware. I’d love to hear what your preference is now on glassware, the temperature of glassware and things like that. Best practices once you’ve stirred up your drink and you’re going to serve it. Talk to me about the next step.
A: There is a category of drink called a Manhattan glass. They’re a little hard to find, but they are that Nick and Nora-style cocktail. Maybe not curved. They usually have a straight edge. You can still find them a lot in thrift stores. I do keep them in the freezer. I really like having a chilled glass. You do all that work to chill this cocktail, pour it into a chilled glass, and then as the glass and drink move to room temperature, it releases even more aromatics and styles of the drink. That’s why the Sazerac is so good. It has so many aromatic elements that start to release as the glass moves to room temperature. That makes it really special.
T: And final garnish?
A: I do like a classic brandy cherry. Like I said, if I’m having it with dry, a little whisper of a twist of lemon is good. I don’t leave the lemon peel in the glass, because as soon as you leave lemon peel in the glass, it starts to impart bitterness. I’ve seen it happen within a minute. It can really change how the drink tastes with more bitterness.
T: So, just an expression over the top there. Then, the cherries. Let’s make sure they’ve seen a tree. Let’s make sure they were once living. They existed.
A: That’s kind of a standard practice now. I’m glad we’ve passed the days of those electric cherries. Although, I’ve got to tell you, one of the reasons why I started in this industry is because I started to be able to go to some fine-dining restaurants in New York City. I was very excited to spend hundreds of dollars on an amazing meal. But, I’d always start with a Manhattan, just like my grandfather would on the rare times we went out to eat. I’d be so disappointed when it would show up shaken in a V-shaped Martini glass, with a bright red cherry. I thought, “Wait a minute. This is not right.” That was my gateway into the industry. I saw that fine dining was not keeping pace with the cocktail bars that I was going to as far as innovation, freshness, ingredients, and technique. You can have all this technique in the kitchen. Still, to this day, the chefs are lauded for their technique and their celebrity. Then, bartenders are still working 15-hour shifts. What’s up with that?
THE CASE FOR THE MANHATTAN AS AMERICA’S NATIONAL COCKTAIL
T: Yes, it’s crazy. Any final thoughts on the drink? Anything about the Manhattan that we haven’t covered yet or anything else that you would like to add to this conversation?
A: I have an argument that the Manhattan is one of the greatest American cocktails. I think it often gets pushed aside as a grandpa drink or as a classic. That’s fine, but I like this variation better. I think the time and place where it was created and what it represents to the history of this country is one of those linchpins that is so important that it should really be elevated to our national cocktail.
A: I know, that’s very East Coast-centric. I’d like to have a debate with somebody from New Orleans, somebody from San Francisco to talk about Pisco Punch, and someone from the Midwest to talk about the Wisconsin Old Fashioned. We can have a throw down between these four great American cocktails and see where we land.
T: Wow. New Orleans itself has the Sazerac. But if we’re talking national here, that’s lofty praise. I definitely think that you’re onto something in saying that this drink does stake many claims for being worthy of that status.
A: This cocktail was the first cocktail that went global. This was a global, viral phenomenon. There were people from all over the world who came to the United States to drink a Manhattan. That’s how well known it was. That’s incredible when you think about how, in the 1800s, you had princes from Europe and Asia coming to say, give me a Manhattan. What is America about? I can taste it in a glass. Manhattan.
T: Oh my God, I’m sold. That’s it. Sorted. America’s national drink is the Manhattan. You’ve sold me on that 100 percent. So, Abigail, thank you so much for sharing your decades of experience with the Manhattan. It’s been absolutely incredible. I loved hearing everything you’ve had to say. Before we finish, we’d definitely like to get to know yourself a little bit better and get to know your philosophies to bartending beyond this specific cocktail. So, we have some final questions to finish the show with. How does that sound?
GETTING TO KNOW ABIGAIL GULLO
A: All right. That sounds great.
T: Awesome. First one for you. What’s the first bottle, whether you want to talk about a brand or a general style of spirits, that makes it onto any one of your bar programs?
A: After everything I’ve talked about with the Sazerac and the Manhattan, I’m looking for my well rye whiskey, for sure.
T: Good. I like that you keep it on brand there. People don’t always do that, by the way. Sometimes, we might be talking about a cocktail and then suddenly they’re like, “We’ve just been talking about this for the past 45 minutes, but actually this is what I think.” So, I’m glad to hear that you keep that on brand. Which ingredient or tool do you believe is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
A: We’ve discussed this at my bar in New Orleans, Compère Lapin, in depth. We almost all got matching tattoos. Bartenders always get tattoos of bar tools on their bodies. We thought, truly, the bar tool you use most often in a fast, high- volume cocktail bar right now would be blue tape and Sharpie.
T: 100 percent.
A: I so need a blue tape and Sharpie tattoo because keeping track of all your batches and labeling all your syrups is very important.
T: You need that on hand. Yeah. Like, you know, I’ve seen enough chef tattoos of the knife. That’s blasé by this point.
A: I know. The knife? Come on. Blue tape and sharpie. That goes for chefs, too.
T: That’s how you know you’re a pro, too, because the pros will know this is the thing that you need on hand at all times. I love it.
A: At all times.
T: Well, I want to see that tattoo when the design is ready. That sounds awesome.
A: We have color-coded tape, too, and ink, so we don’t mix up our stuff with the kitchen. The kitchen has their own. We have our own.
T: Now you’re talking. Yeah. We need that.
A: The battle continues between back of house and front of house.
T: Then, they can’t borrow yours.
A: I get so mad. That’s how I know. When I see a chef with a blue Sharpie in his jacket, I’m like, you stole that from the bar. Busted, buddy.
T: There you go. Third question for you. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received during your time in the industry?
A: Oh, that’s hard because I’ve gotten so much wonderful advice from so many people. I guess it’s to always remember that your uniqueness, your personality, and your spirit is the best thing that you bring to the bar every day. Make sure that’s polished and feeling good. Make sure you’re feeling good, because this industry is your whole self. So, make sure you take care of your whole self.
T: I love it. Express yourself. I’m hearing that song in my head now. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, which one would that be?
A: It’s just going to be wherever Chris Hannah is bartending. It’s not the bar, it’s the bartender. I just want to sit on the other side of the bar from Chris Hannah and have him make me a drink and talk to me.
T: Definitely go for one of his Sazeracs. Love it. Final question. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
A: It would definitely be a Manhattan. It’d have to be a Manhattan. I’d make it my way, perfect. I’d make it with Willett rye. I’d definitely cheers to my grandpa Vincent and thank him for all the love, guidance, and love for the classics that he gave me.
T: I love it when things come full circle, and we’ve absolutely come full circle here, Abigail. Thank you so much. It’s been so wonderful.
A: Oh, you’re welcome. Can I take a moment to plug Bartender’s Circle?
A: OK. So, I have been working with this group in Seattle called Bartender’s Circle. It is actually a global outreach industry education group for bartenders. It’s free to sign up at bartenderscircle.com. I’m at the point where I really want to unite us. This is such a wonderful time for those of us who have been stuck in this virtual world to really cement these virtual connections globally and share ideas and positivity. It’s a really positive place. It’s a place for us to share experiences and have a good laugh. Once a year, we get together at Seattle Cocktail Week for the Bartender’s Circle Summit. So, I really want to reach out to everyone who’s listening and have them join Bartender’s Circle with me and join our discourse so we can continue to have really fun conversations. Thank you so much for having me.
T: My pleasure. Like you say, I think the most important word there is community. Being together and sharing ideas. I think one of the most important things over the past 20 to 30 years is that a rising tide brings up all ships, as they say. Being a community, sharing knowledge, ideas, and thoughts. What could be better? Yeah, that sounds incredible. Everyone, please check out Bartender’s Circle.
A: The pandemic has made it clear that there are whole groups of people being left behind. We need to grab them and bring them up. We’ve been so privileged and blessed that this industry is taking off. I really want to leave no one behind.
T: Incredible. Thank you so much, Abigail. Thank you for the awesome work that you’re doing with that. Thank you for sitting down with us today. It’s been wonderful.
A: Thank you so much for having me. Tim.
T: Pleasure’s all mine.
If you enjoy listening to the show anywhere near as much as we enjoy making it, go ahead and hit subscribe, and please leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts — whether that’s Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher. And please tell your friends.
Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.