How to Make a Manhattan

If you’re here looking for the Manhattan Cocktail Recipe look no further. If you love a Manhattan and you’re are looking to take a deep dive, read on. This guide is filled with history, tips and ideas for making this classic cocktail your own.

Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

Manhattan

The classic Manhattan cocktail recipe calls for two parts whiskey, one part sweet vermouth and two dashes of bitters. It’s a simple formula that is pretty hard to screw up. When its done right it is amazing. There is a reason this has been one of the world’s great cocktails for well over a century.

Course Cocktails
Keyword classic cocktails
Prep Time 2 minutes
Total Time 3 minutes
Servings 1 drink
Author Jay Jordan

Ingredients

  • 2 oz American Rye Whiskey
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • cocktail cherry to garnish

Instructions

  1. Combine rye, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir well.

  2. Strain cocktail into a chilled martini glass.

  3. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

What’s in a Manhattan

The Manhattan, like the island it is named for, casts a long shadow. It’s a simple three ingredient cocktail. Like so many classic cocktails it is an exercise in restraint and balance. Made well, it’s outstanding.

The Manhattan competes with the Gin Martini for supremacy in the glass that bears the Martini name. But let’s just be real for a moment here, the Martini was a far better cocktail before prohibition. When the Martini is made with the same basic formula as the Manhattan it’s a far better drink.

For more like this check out our Guide to Classic Cocktails.

A Manhattan is a simple drink. Three ingredients. A Manhattan is made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters.

The traditionalists’ whiskey of choice is American Rye. Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey are common substitutes. Canadian bartenders will often default to Canadian whisky.

How to Make a Manhattan

The cocktail should be stirred and strained into a martini glass. It is typically garnished with a cocktail cherry.

Origin and History

A classic Manhattan cocktail recipe.
Classic Cocktail Recipe – Manhattan

The origin of the Manhattan is obscured by the fog of history. The most common story is that it was created for a party at the Manhattan Club in the 1870s. That story usually says it was created it for Winston Churchill’s mother. Except she was in England birth baby Winston at the time.

Another story credits some guy on a yacht who liked to use the Colonel title. Col. Walker owned a popular New Orleans drinking establishment. On this yachting expedition out of New York rations were in short supply. Down to a bottle of vermouth and rye he made do with what they had on hand. Returning to port he called his new drink a Manhattan. Taking the drink back to Louisiana he made it famous.

My favorite story has the advantage of simplicity and thus, the air of truth. Some guy named Black had a bar on Broadway just South of Houston. According to Valentine’s Manual of New York this fellow Black invented the drink in the 1860’s.

What we do know is that the drink originated sometime around mid 1800’s. The earliest recorded recipes are pretty much the same as they are today. It was in its day the most popular drink in New York, which made it the most popular drink in the world.

The Formula

The Manhattan formula is one of my favorites. Two ounces of whiskey. One ounce of sweet vermouth. Two dashes of bitters. 2-1-2. In a nice bit of symmetry it is also the Manhattan area code. If you’ve ever had to make a lot of calls to New York you’ll never forget it.

The Method

The Manhattan is a stirred cocktail. It made entirely with spirits, so you don’t need to shake it to combine ingredients with different viscosities. Aerating and chilling this drink too much just deadens the flavor, so it is made best simply stirred.

The biggest decision to be made is whether or not to stir in the bitters or dash them on the finished drink. If you dash them on top you get more aromatics. Stirred them in and you get more bitterness in the mouth. I like to split the difference, stirring in a dash of Angostura and topping with a dash of orange bitters.

The Glass

The classic choice for a Manhattan is a coupe glass or a martini glass. I like the size and shape of a Nick and Nora glass. Some people prefer a Manhattan on the rocks. I don’t think there is a lot to be gained from serving this drink in a rocks glass, but it’s an acceptable choice if that’s what you’re comfortable with.

The Garnish

The classic Manhattan cocktail recipe is garnished with a stemmed maraschino cherry. A lot of bartenders will use an orange twist for the additional aromatic hit. Occasionally you’ll see someone use a flamed orange twist. In any case, the Manhattan is an iconic classic. Keep it simple and high quality for the biggest impact.

Manhattan Cocktail Variations

Like all the great classic cocktails the Manhattan lends itself to infinite variations. For creative bartenders it is a platform to build upon.

Simply swapping ingredients will give you plenty of mileage. Switching out rye for another whiskey is a great start. Try a different vermouth. There is a world of bitters you

Two Parts Whiskey

A purist will insist that a Manhattan must be made with American rye whiskey. It is the traditional choice. Spicy rye and sweet vermouth are a compelling combination. As often as not, a Manhattan is made with bourbon. Bourbon will give your drink more sweet vanilla and caramel notes. Some people will make a Manhattan Canadian Whisky. These variants are a little flat for my taste. If smoothness is an important flavor characteristic for you this might be your jam.

Simply swapping the base spirit gives you a number of classic Manhattan cocktail variations. A Rob Roy is simply a manhattan made with Scotch whisky. If you replace the whisky with Brandy you get a Brandy Manhattan. Anejo Tequila will give you a Tijuana Manhattan.

One Part Vermouth

Vermouth tames the fire of the whiskey. The lower ABV and sugar makes the base spirit easier to drink. The herbs and spice that are an integral part of sweet vermouth enhance the aromatics of the base spirit. Experimenting with different vermouth or fortified wine can yield pretty amazing results.

One cocktail that does that really well is the Brooklyn. The Brooklyn cocktail is a closely related drink named for another of New York City’s five boroughs. The Brooklyn replaces the Manhattan’s sweet vermouth with a mixture of dry vermouth and Maraschino liqueur. The bitter Italian amaro Amer Picon replaces the bitter component.

Two Dashes of Bitters

Bitters are a great way to push a Manhattan’s flavors in one direction or another. Angostura is the default bitters for a Manhattan cocktail. Orange bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters or some combination of the three are often used. There are hundreds of commercially available bitters available. If you can’t find something to suit your vision you can always make your own bitters. You can also substitute Amaro, the bitter Italian aperitifs, as the bittering element.

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