Some believe this classic cocktail was created for Lady Randolph Churchill in November 1874, at a banquet she hosted in the Manhattan Club in New York. Others think it was conceived by “a man named Black, who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the 1860s”. Another story goes – and this one might be our favourite – that Colonel Joe Walker, owner of the Crescent Hall Saloon in New Orleans, was on a yachting trip with friends in New York… When he opened the icebox to see only Italian vermouth and plain whiskey, he decided to mix the two.
While the Manhattan’s origins might be somewhat murky, one thing is clear: it continues to be one of the most beloved cocktails in the world. Spicy American rye whiskey, sweet Italian vermouth, two dashes of Angostura bitters – stirred, strained and garnished with a brandied cherry. It’s a drink that’s bold, spicy and rich – so classic that even today, Drinks International surveyed 100 of the globe’s top bars and ranked the Manhattan as the world’s eighth most popular cocktail in 2021 (the only whiskey cocktail to beat it was the Old Fashioned).
The Mount meets New York
Eschewing skyscrapers for turrets, we’ve put our own Cornish spin on the iconic cocktail to create the St Michael’s Manhattan. In the place of rye, you’ll find Hell’s Stone whisky – a smooth yet bold whisky matured in used oak barrels in the shadow of St Michael’s Mount.
“The devil, in the form of a dragon, was flying over Cornwall – clutching a boulder that would close the gates of hell and condemn all the souls of Cornwall to eternal damnation,” says Shaun Bebington, owner and distiller at Pocketful of Stones, of the inspiration behind Hell’s Stone’s name. “From his throne on St Michael’s Mount, the archangel St Michael rose to the skies to meet the devil. In the ensuing battle, the devil dropped the boulder, and where it landed came to be known as Hellstone, or Helston (a town about ten miles to the east, gateway to the Lizard peninsula).
A Cornish whisky, through and through
Pocketful of Stones is a small, creative distillery based in Penzance. Shaun credits whisky as the reason he moved to Cornwall, from London, to start his own distillery. Creating a Cornish whisky proved difficult, however; unlike Islay, Irish or Bourbon, there’s nothing concrete that defines a whisky as Cornish.
So Shaun took inspiration from his surroundings. “We looked at the clear waters and the rolling hills of west Penwith. It’s a hardy place down here but it’s also got a gentle, caring heart,” he says. “We wanted our whisky to reflect that: it’s smooth and embracing, but it’ll slap you around a little if you don’t show it respect!” Hell’s Stone also has its own shanty – it doesn’t get more Cornish than that.
Collaborating with local brewers to create the best possible craft beer, it’s then distilled twice in a handmade copper pot still – lovingly-named Jackson – until it reaches an ABV of 73%. Next, it’s aged for three years and blended with an eight-year-old lowlands whisky, before going into oak barrels to mature for a further six months. It is, as Shaun says, “a very traditional copper pot still method”.
Traditional it may be, but using Hell’s Stone whisky in our St Michael’s Manhattan nods to rye whiskey’s peppery bite, while adding a vanilla sweetness to the cocktail. Savour one (or a few) in any of our bars or restaurants, after venturing to the place that inspired it.
St Michael’s Mount is a rocky tidal island just a stone’s throw offshore in the heart of Mounts Bay on Cornwall’s south coast. The medieval church and castle at its peak were first used as a Benedictine priory with religious links to the similar-looking, if slightly grander, Mont St Michel in Normandy, France.
At high tide, you can reach the mount by ferry. But the true magic happens at low tide, when the water parts to reveal an ancient, cobbled causeway you can walk across to the island. If you can, visit when the sun is low and the light golden. Climb the steep path to the castle, walk the centuries-old corridors, take in the views over the spectacular terraced gardens on the hillside. And when you’re done, there’s Penzance to explore…
More than just pirates
Swim in the seawater of the art deco Jubilee Pool (which has a geothermal pool as well as the larger, colder main pool). Take a leisurely stroll around the independent fashion, lifestyle and antiques shops on Chapel Street. Explore the modern art exhibited at The Exchange. Add in the town’s thriving food and drink scene, and you’ll find plenty to lure you for a day out west.
As for Shaun’s favourites, there’s too much to mention. But he does recommend Mackerel Sky for quick tapas-style fish dishes (special mention crab nachos) and Lovetts in nearby Newlyn for “beautifully chosen natural and low-intervention wines”. And if you’re in the mood for a proper sea swim, a dip behind the Jubilee Pool off Battery Rocks.
And to celebrate your time spent exploring the Mount and Penzance? Well, you could always finish the day with a St Michael’s Manhattan…
Our Manhattan recipe
- 50ml Helle's Stones Whisky
- 10ml Noilly pratt
- 10ml Antica formula
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
1. Shake all of the above with ice and double strain into a martini glass.
Hell's Stone Whisky
"Born in the shadow of St Michael's Mount". A trip to Penzance wouldn't be complete without a tasting session at pocket full of stones distillery.
Explore Cornwall with our 12 drinks of Christmas
1. Porthleven: Affogato Espresso Martini
"I love affogato, and I love martini – so I thought why not combine the two to create the ultimate espresso martini?"
2. The Eden Project: Mediterranean G&T
“Inspired by the scents of the Mediterranean biome at The Eden Project. Perfect for getting you in the mood for a spin around the Eden Project Christmas ice rink.”
3 Lost Gardens of Heligan: Pineapple Rum Punch
“Trevethan Gin released just 120 bottles a few years ago, and we’ve got our hands on the last few, so it’s a really unique opportunity for people to try this local delicacy.”
4. Lostwithiel: Chai White Russian
“This is a delicious drink to power you round Lostwithiel’s amazing antique shops for some last-minute Christmas shopping.”
5. Padstow: Black Forest Gateau
“Meg developed this deliciously indulgent recipe herself using a clarified milk punch technique, where a cloudy liquid comes out clear – it’s cocktail wizardry!”
6. Bude: Jack Frost
“A dash of Blue Curacao evokes the beautiful tones of the Bude sea pool on a cold December morning. This drink would be the perfect post-sea swim treat.”
7. Fowey: Figgy Pudding Martini
“Mixed with vanilla, vermouth and Tarquin’s Figgy Budding Gin, this is our take on the flavours of a classic Christmas dinner dessert.”
8. St Michael's Mount: Manhatten
“A Manhattan is one of those retro cocktails that still holds its own – but this one has a subtle change; a whiskey distilled in oak barrels by St Michael’s Mount here in Cornwall.”
9. Tamar Valley: Apple & Rhubarb Sour
“Country Cordials’ entire menu is incredible. Their award-winning natural fruit cordials are made in small batches in Cornwall’s Tamar Valley."
10. Tintagel: Porth
“Porth means port in Cornish. This isn’t port as you know it. It’s smoother, fruitier, easier to drink and more appealing to a wider range of palettes. We’re serving it with a wedge of Cornish cheese.”
11. Charlestown: Santa's Moonshine
“A short drink with a real kick – Cornish Moonshine is 50% alcohol! It feels like a fitting tipple to enjoy ahead of a trip to Charlestown’s atmospheric Georgian harbour.”
12. St Ives: Blood Orange and Cranberry Fizz
“Blood orange has just come into season too. All the oils from the orange peel garnish really add to the experience when you drink this. And orange as a scent is just Christmas distilled.”