Named for the oldest institution of higher learning in the US, the Harvard Cocktail first appeared in George J. Kappeler’s 1895 Modern American Drinks. Essentially a brandy Manhattan, the recipe was originally published as equal parts sweet vermouth and brandy, plus simple syrup and bitters, stirred and topped with seltzer. Often, Manhattan riffs tend to focus on simply replacing one ingredient, but this one thinks outside the box with the seltzer. It’s this simple departure from the common formula that transforms it from a lesser member of the Manhattan family into something exceptional, and a recipe worth retaining. The result is an interesting bubbly twist, more suitable to a long liquid lunch; perfect for the odd time when you’re kinda craving the classic, but are perhaps also enticed by a white claw. Less specifically, this drink is ideal anytime you want to tinker with brandy, and a great opportunity to show one off.
Seltzer bubbles are immediately present on the nose, alongside brandy, and throughout the sip. The combination of two wine based ingredients makes for a double grape bomb: a strong fruity flavor, with a hint of spice from angostura. The bitters follow through on the finish alongside a hint of orange. The seltzer works well with all of the fruitiness; it lightens and brightens the heavy combination of brandy and sweet vermouth, making it much more drinkable. The combination yields a drink with the body of a Manhattan, but a much lighter, fruitier and less spicy variation. Sother Teague of New York’s Amor Y Amargo thinks the original was likely served with plenty of seltzer, in a style similar to a fizz, but instead chose to employ a 2:1 ratio of cognac to vermouth, with a small finish of seltzer—an approach we've embraced. Feel free to play around with vermouth. For an excellent and inventive twist on this classic, try Robert Simonson’s Fair Harvard.