A smoky and smooth combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, the Manhattan stands out amongst the classic cocktails. More elegant than your classic mojito, the Manhattan has depth and a long history. Records date the Manhattan back to the 19th century, although bar folklore has different versions of the story of origin. The popular story is that the drink was born at the Manhattan Club in the 1870s by Dr. Iain Marshall for a banquet hosted by Winston Churchill’s mother in honour of Presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden - although the myth has been dispelled as records show that Lady Randolph wasn’t even in the country, and pregnant at the time. Earlier stories date the drink a decade earlier and attribute it to a bartender named Black who owned a bar near Broadway and Houston Streets in Manhattan’s Lower East Side - and that it was probably the most popular drink of its time. By 1882 a newspaper article listed the cocktail by its name along with its key ingredients, solidifying its existence in cocktail history. It’s also one of the first cocktails to use vermouth as a modifier, which softens the base and adds a bit of extra flavour to your favourite flavour drink.
The Manhattan is relatively similar to another classic cocktail that emerged around the same time, the Old Fashioned. The latter probably dates a bit earlier than the Manhattan and still includes bourbon or rye whiskey plus bitters, but omits the vermouth and has a sugar cube added instead. The Old Fashioned is traditionally served in its namesake glass, a low tumbler, and is poured over ice rather than strained. Also similar is the lighter Casanova, which combines brandy with orange juice, bitters, and spices.
Follow the steps below to make a classic Manhattan and experiment with variations to your preferred taste.
The original Manhattan was a mix of American whiskey, Italian vermouth, and Angostura bitters. Rye whiskey tends to be the classic although Canadian whiskey was popularised during Prohibition, and since then bourbon and Tennessee whiskey have also been commonly used. Other late 19th century variations even included absinthe and curacao. However, the classic ingredients and ratios are as follows:
2 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 to 3 dashes of bitters of your choice
Maraschino cherries for garnish
Steps to make it
- Gather and measure your ingredients
- Pour the whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters into a mixing glass with ice cubes
- Stir well
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with the cherries.
- Drink up!
Most experts will tell you that it is essential that a Manhattan be stirred and not shaken, to avoid foaming. Sorry, Bond.
With a short list of essential ingredients, it’s easy to create alternatives of the bitter drink that suits your tastes - from switching up the type of whiskey or vermouth to adding extra bitters and flavourings, there’s a variation of the Manhattan for everyone.
Black Manhattan: the sweet vermouth is replaced by Averna, a sweet Italian amaro with citrus and herb-y notes and orange bitters are added for an extra zesty hit. Prepare in the exact same way as you would a traditional Manhattan.
Dry Manhattan: a dash of dry vermouth and lemon twist garnish adds the “dryness” to this variation.
Perfect Manhattan: the midway point between a classic Manhattan and Dry Manhattan, dry and sweet vermouth are used in equal parts to make the “perfect” mix, and are complemented with a lemon twist.
Metropolitan: use brandy in place of the whiskey.
Bourbon and Blood: blood orange liqueur, bourbon, and vermouth are the core three in this cocktail, retaining the bitterness and smokiness of the original Manhattan but with an exciting fruity punch.
Manhattan 101: has the same core alcohols but with the additions of fresh ginger, mint, and powdered sugar added into the mix.
The Clint Eastwood: Bulleit Bourbon is used in this version and is complemented with sweet Italian amarena cherries for a distinctly spicy-sweet flavour combo.
Best glassware for the Manhattan
The Manhattan is usually served either in a cocktail glass such as a coupe or Martini glass with a maraschino cherry, or on the rocks in a lowball glass (although the ice can dilute the drink, so use at your discretion).