The Manhattan is a famous cocktail among whiskey enthusiasts. It combines rye or bourbon whiskey, sweet Vermouth, and bitters to create a drink that has been enjoyed for centuries. The cocktail’s subtle bitterness and herbal flavors make it a favorite among seasoned drinkers.
Rye whiskey is the traditional choice for this cocktail, adding its distinct spice and savory taste. However, bourbon can also be used, providing a hint of sweetness and a caramel-like aroma. The Manhattan offers a balanced and multidimensional taste with a touch of sweetness.
Despite the emergence of new signature drinks, Manhattan remains a bar staple due to its substantial alcohol content and timeless appeal. Exploring the history of this cocktail allows us to appreciate its nostalgic charm, akin to the pleasant bittersweetness of savoring a delicious Manhattan.
Let’s get started!
What is a Manhattan cocktail?
A Manhattan is a classic cocktail that consists of whiskey, sweet Vermouth, and bitters. While rye whiskey is the traditional choice, other standard whiskies include Canadian, bourbon, blended, and Tennessee whiskey. The cocktail is typically stirred and then strained into a cocktail glass, traditionally garnished with a maraschino cherry. Alternatively, it can be served on the rocks in a lowball glass.
The Manhattan is part of a group of cocktails named after New York City boroughs. It shares similarities with the Brooklyn cocktail, which substitutes dry Vermouth and Maraschino liqueur for sweet Vermouth and uses Amer Picon instead of Angostura bitters.
The Manhattan is one of six fundamental drinks featured in David A. Embury’s renowned 1948 book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
History of the Manhattan cocktail
According to popular history, the Manhattan cocktail is believed to have originated at the Manhattan Club in New York City during the mid-1870s. Iain Marshall supposedly created it for a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill) in honor of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The drink gained popularity after the success of the banquet, leading people to refer to it as “the Manhattan cocktail” based on the name of the club where it was invented. However, this story is likely fictional, as Lady Randolph was in France and pregnant at the time.
Nevertheless, earlier references are to similar cocktail recipes called “Manhattan” served in the Manhattan area. One account suggests it was invented in the 1860s by a bartender named Black at a bar near Broadway and Houston Street.
Some of the earliest documented records of the Manhattan cocktail can be found in books like Charlie Paul’s American and Other Drinks and O.H. Byron’s The Modern Bartender’s Guide, both published in 1884. Paul’s recipe includes angostura bitters, plain syrup, Vermouth, and Scotch whiskey with a lemon garnish. Byron describes two versions using French or Italian Vermouth. Another record can be found in William Schmidt’s The Flowing Bowl from 1891, which features gum syrup, bitters, absinthe, whiskey, and Vermouth.
The same cocktail is also mentioned as a “Tennessee Cocktail” in Shake Them Up! by V. Elliott and P. Strong: whiskey, Italian Vermouth, and a dash of bitters poured over ice and stirred vigorously.
During Prohibition (1920–1933), Canadian whisky was commonly used for making Manhattan cocktails due to its availability.
The Early Manhattan Cocktail Recipe and How It Evolved
According to O.H. Byron’s book “The Modern Bartenders’ Guide,” there were two versions of the Manhattan Cocktail. The first version included:
- 1 pony French Vermouth
- 1 pony whiskey
- 3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 3 dashes of gum syrup
The second version had these ingredients:
- 1 wine glass of whiskey
- 1 wine glass Italian vermouth
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 2 dashes of Curacao
In Harry Johnson’s 1900 Bartender’s Manual, the Manhattan cocktail recipe further evolved and consisted of:
- ½ wineglass of whiskey
- ½ glass of Vermouth
- 1 dash of curacao or absinthe
- 1-2 dashes of orange bitters
- 1-2 dashes of gum syrup
Over the years after 1900, the recipe underwent numerous changes. Gum syrup and absinthe were removed from the recipe. Due to their greater availability, using Angostura bitters instead of orange bitters became more common.
An exciting change was the widespread use of Canadian whiskey in making this drink. During the Prohibition Era, Canadian whiskey was more easily accessible. Even after this period, many people continued to use Canadian whiskey due to its distinct smooth taste.
The exact moment when bourbon whiskey became a preferred ingredient is still being determined. However, rye whiskey is believed to be traditionally used, although early recipes do not explicitly state this. Regardless, some people now prefer bourbon as the base spirit for its mellower flavor with hints of sweetness.
Now that you know these original recipes, would you like to try them? You could invite friends over and experience the earliest known version of the Manhattan cocktail, which dates back over a thousand years. It’s sure to be quite an experience.
Types of Manhattan cocktail
Here are some variations of the Manhattan cocktail:
- Black Manhattan: This version replaces Vermouth with Averna.
- Blonde Manhattan: Made with 2 oz moonshine, 1 oz sweet vermouth, 0.5 oz orange liqueur, and 3 dashes of orange bitters.
- Brandy Manhattan: This variation uses brandy instead of whiskey and is particularly popular in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
- Cuban Manhattan: A perfect Manhattan with dark rum as the main ingredient.
- Dean Lyder: A twist on the perfect Manhattan, made with orange bitters and zest, giving it a bold character. It is named after Courtney Lyder, the UCLA School of Nursing dean.
- Dry Manhattan: This version uses dry Vermouth instead of sweet Vermouth. It often replaces the maraschino cherry with a twist to reduce the sweetness. If the cherry is retained while using dry Vermouth, it may also be called a “half-dry Manhattan,” but this name can confuse with the perfect Manhattan, which uses equal parts sweet and dry Vermouth.
- Fanciulli: Adds the bitter flavors of Fernet-Branca to the classic recipe.
- The Fourth Regiment: A classic cocktail from around 1889 that combines whiskey and Vermouth in a 1:1 ratio. It includes three dashes: orange bitters, celery bitters, and Peychaud’s Bitters.
- Metropolitan: Similar to a brandy Manhattan but with a ratio of 3 parts brandy to 1 part vermouth along with a dash of simple syrup.
- Perfect Manhattan: This version is made with equal parts sweet and dry Vermouth.
- Rob Roy: Made with Scotch whisky instead of traditional rye or bourbon.
How to make a Manhattan cocktail?
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 1-ounce sweet Vermouth
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- Garnish: brandied cherry (or lemon twist, if preferred)
To make the cocktail:
- Combine the rye whiskey, sweet Vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice.
- Stir the mixture until it becomes well-chilled.
- Strain the cocktail into a chilled Nick & Nora or coupe glass.
- Add a brandied cherry on top of the drink. Alternatively, you can use a lemon twist if preferred.
How to make a Manhattan cocktail with bourbon?
Classic Bourbon Manhattan Recipe
Prep: 5 mins | Total: 5 mins | Makes: 1 drink
- 2 1/2 ounces of bourbon whiskey
- 1-ounce sweet Vermouth
- 2 to 3 dashes of aromatic bitters (such as Angostura)
- Maraschino cherry, for garnish
- Orange peel, for garnish
- Fill a martini glass with ice to chill while preparing the Manhattan.
- Combine the whiskey, sweet Vermouth, and bitters in a shaker or glass with a few ice cubes. Stir or gently shake, being careful not to overdo it, and dilute the drink.
- Discard the ice from the martini glass, then strain the Manhattan into the chilled glass.
- Garnish with a maraschino cherry and a twist of orange peel.
- You can find Angostura bitters at your local liquor store or in the mixers section of some grocery stores.
- While bourbon is used in this version, rye whiskey is also commonly used for a Manhattan.
- If you prefer a drier taste, use a 50/50 ratio of sweet Vermouth to dry Vermouth.
(Note: The provided nutrition facts are estimates calculated using the USDA Supertracker recipe calculator.)
What is a perfect Manhattan made of?
The Perfect Manhattan is a delightfully uncomplicated cocktail you can effortlessly prepare for any occasion. Are you planning a party? You can conveniently pre-mix a 50/50 combination of dry and sweet Vermouth with bitters in an empty bottle. Then, when it’s time to serve, measure out 1.5 oz of whiskey and 1 oz of your vermouth+bitters mixture. Stir, strain it into a glass, and add your preferred garnish. Enjoy!
What’s the difference between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan?
The Old Fashioned cocktail traditionally incorporates sweetness from a sugar cube dissolved in a splash of water. However, some mixologists may opt to sweeten it with simple syrup instead. In contrast, the Manhattan cocktail gains its sweetness from the addition of sweet Vermouth.
How much alcohol is in Manhattan?
The Manhattan is known for being a solid cocktail, primarily consisting of alcohol and only a tiny amount of water during preparation. It is a liquor-forward drink, focusing on the spirits’ flavors. If an 80-proof whiskey is used, the typical Manhattan will have an alcohol by volume (ABV) of around 30 percent (60 proof).
How many dashes of bitters in a Manhattan?
Generally, the recommended ratio for a Manhattan cocktail is two parts whiskey to one part vermouth and two to three dashes of bitters. Adjust the ratio to three parts whiskey to one part vermouth and add a few more dashes of bitters, although it might be considered a bolder choice. Don’t worry too much about judgment; it’s about personal taste preferences.
Is a Manhattan sweet or dry?
The Manhattan is a robust cocktail, offering subtle bitterness and herbal notes from the bitters and Vermouth. Experienced drinkers might detect hints of sweetness derived from the combination of Sweet Vermouth and whiskey. Manhattan is an excellent choice for a complex drink with minimal sweetness.
What does Manhattan taste like?
A Manhattan cocktail is bold and dominated by the flavors of alcohol. It offers a touch of bitterness and herbal characteristics, primarily attributed to the sweet Vermouth used. If made with bourbon, it tends to be slightly sweeter, whereas versions with rye whiskey lean towards a drier and spicier profile.
Is Manhattan drink for men?
Classic Manhattan with Orange Twist
The Classic Manhattan is crafted by combining bourbon, Vermouth, bitters, and a touch of citrus with an orange twist or optional stemmed cherry. It remains a popular choice among those seeking a sophisticated beverage, particularly favored by men. To elevate the experience for discerning palates, serve it in an old-fashioned coupe glass.