Of course, pegging something as a “bad” habit is relative. Most of my bad habits stem from laziness and familiarity, falling back on routine instead of stretching my boundaries. Popcorn for dinner when I don’t feel like cooking any more; conversational writer’s tics like starting paragraphs with “and,” “of course,” or “but” (guilty! and I’m leaving it there). Is it a bad habit to compulsively purchase every charcoal gray or navy sweater I find at J.Crew instead of introducing pattern into my wardrobe? Should I force myself to eat something other than a lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar every once in a while?
Finding the sweet spot between indulging in comforting routine and relying on force of habit is tricky, and given my obsessive tendencies, I’m not always the most adept in being able to find that equilibrium. That’s not saying it’s impossible to make tectonic shifts, though to continue this geological metaphor, sometimes striking the right balance takes a glacially long time. I’m sitting here eating avocado toast and savory yogurt for breakfast, having kicked a lifetime dependence on cold cereal. But there’s still a cup of coffee next to the plate—a habit I was thrilled to return to after giving it up for a few years.
There’s also this: when I feel like I’m getting sucked into repetition, sometimes shaking up my mindset is as simple as reaching for a new ingredient in the pantry instead of turning to the same old standbys.
And so we have a cocktail that pairs a few of my go-to ingredients (hello, cherries, nice to see you again; welcome back, whiskey) with some new friends. It’s a riff on the classic Manhattan that switches out herbaceous sweetness for warming autumnal flavor and nutty undertones. If you can’t find Laird’s Applejack, which has been made in the great state of New Jersey since the 18th century, in your neck of the woods, you can make the drink slightly sweeter with your favorite apple brandy. But I urge you not to skimp on the nocino: this Italian walnut liqueur is the equivalent of the Dude’s rug here, really tying the cocktail together. (Obsessively quoting favorite movies? Another habit that I can’t/won’t break.) Plus, you can always splash some into a hot toddy or mulled cider.
My usual custom is to make a Boulevardier or an Old-Fashioned to kick off happy hour, but I’m think this could become a habit too.
The Harvest Manhattan
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
Makes 2 drinks
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (3 fluid ounces) applejack
- 1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) rye whiskey
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 fluid ounce) cherry syrup (see below) or cherry Heering liqueur
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 fluid ounce) nocino walnut liqueur
- a few shakes aromatic bitters, cherry bitters, or walnut bitters to take the drink in whatever direction you desire
- fresh pitted cherries for garnish (optional)
Stir the applejack, rye, cherry syrup or cherry Heering, and nocino together in a small ice-filled pitcher or cocktail shaker.
Strain into two 4-ounce cocktail glasses (like the gorgeous coupes pictured here) and shake a few drops of bitters into each glass.
Garnish with fresh pitted cherries, if desired. Serve immediately.
- 1/4 cup cherry juice
- 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
Stir the juice and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature before adding to your cocktail.