Lots of people know how to play Texas Hold ‘Em.  The rules are stupid simple to learn.  Lots of people know how to make a Manhattan.  It’s just rye, vermouth, bitters, and a cherry.  So why do most people suck at playing poker and making Manhattans?

One mark of great game design is ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’.  Simple yet deep is hard to design.  Games that manage it tend to last a while.  Like poker.  Or Duke Nukem Forever.  Wait.  One of those is wrong.  A great poker player knows the stats on any given hand, how they’re modified by position, and the exact cards any other player is probably holding.  And how drunk each person at the table is.

Great bartenders aren’t much different.  Liquors and proportions are just the starting point.  Rye, yes.  But what kind of rye?  And which vermouth is right for the one you choose?  Then what bitters go with both?  Who’s drinking this, and what are their tastes?  How should you adjust for that?  Maybe we should play around with proportions or throw in a couple of flavor accents?

This is why Murray (currently at Canon in Seattle) is a great bartender.  I asked him to make me his favorite variation on a Manhattan.  This is as close as I’ve come to mocking it.

Another Manhattan Variation

2 oz Bulleit rye
1 oz Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth
.5 oz Amaro Nardini
.25 oz Benedictine

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass.  Drop a brandied cherry.  Don’t think about that song “The Gambler”.  Really.  Try not to think about it.  It’s horrible.