When talking about cocktail basics and classics, the Manhattan cocktail is one such drink that should come to the fore. Identified as one of the six basic drinks by David A. Embury in his 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, the Manhattan is a cocktail that may not be to everyone’s tastes, but one that’s well worth mastering.
Following the very basic formula for what should constitute a cocktail, a Manhattan is a spirit-only drink, in a similar vein to other classics such as the Old Fashioned and vodka martini. It’s certainly similar to the former, combining a whiskey base with sweet vermouth and a few drops of Angostura bitters. As with any spirit-only cocktail, a classy Australian gent will need premium ingredients to really let the drink shine, as poor-quality ones will result in a bad taste and a complex against all things whiskey.
It’s with that in mind that we’ve put together the ultimate guide to making the very finest Manhattan, including some common variations you may want to try to help you find the perfect mixture to treat your tastebuds.
Origin Of The Manhattan
Perhaps unsurprisingly given its name, the Manhattan is said to have been conceived in the Manhattan Club in New York City as far back as the mid-1870s. Its inventor? Dr Iain Marshall, who concocted the drink for a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome, also known as Lady Randolph Churchill, who would go on to give birth to former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
Marshall’s cocktail was such a success that it became known as “the Manhattan cocktail”, which is how people would order it when they visited other bars in the city. The only issue with this story is that Lady Randolph was also said to have been in France at the time, and pregnant, two solid motives for not being at the Club.
Other stories (potentially fact or fiction) claim the drink began circulating around the Manhattan area a little earlier in the 1860s, after it was invented by a bartender called Black, at a bar on Broadway.
Proximo’s gung-ho drinks specialist Hayley Dixon tells DMARGE, “no one REALLY knows who created it and exactly when.”
And despite the general consensus being that it is a whiskey-based drink, Hayley adds, “The Manhattan, however, can also become a topic of debate when it comes to what actually goes in one. Most of the oldest recipes we have access too state just ‘whiskey’ and not actually what type of whiskey.”
“Some argue that Manhattan was a Rye drinking city and therefore it is made with Rye, while others prefer it made with Bourbon. Then there was the addition of gum syrup, absinthe, cherry liqueur and orange bitters in some older recipes, so it is hard to really know.”
“On top of that you have 3 different types of Manhattan. The Sweet Manhattan, Dry Manhattan and the Perfect Manhattan, all requiring different vermouths.”
Manhattan Cocktail Ingredients
As Hayley says, the main ingredient in any Manhattan is whiskey, which purists claiming it should be made with American rye. But if you were to make one with bourbon or Canadian whisky, you wouldn’t be wrong. The Manhattan is a versatile cocktail of sorts, in that it can have its ingredients list shaken up (or stirred, as the case may be) a fair amount.
A “pretty standard recipe” according to Hayley, reads as follows:
- Rye whiskey (Knob Creek, Rittenhouse, WhistlePig)
- Sweet red vermouth (Carpano Antico, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
- Angostura bitters
- Luxardo cherry garnish (The original recipe calls for Luxardo cherries, as opposed to any other maraschino cherry). You can also add an orange peel if you wish.
- Cocktail glass
- Cocktail shaker or cocktail mixing glass
Classic Manhattan Cocktail Measurements
You don’t need much of your ingredients to make their unashamedly boozy cocktail, so remembering them from memory will make you the gung-ho bartender you’re destined to be.
- 60ml Rye whiskey
- 30ml Sweet red vermouth
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
How To Make The Manhattan Cocktail
As with most other spirit-only cocktails, the Manhattan is traditionally stirred. However, this hasn’t stopped bartenders from experimenting with shaking it instead, and some swear by the shaking method as being far superior. Shaking introduces a froth on top of the cocktail that may be more to the liking of some, and it will also dilute the drink more than stirring, for those who can’t quite handle the strong taste of the whiskey.
Whichever method you use – more so if stirring – it’s important that the glass you use is chilled.
- Chill cocktail glass either by placing in a freezer some time before making the Manhattan or by placing a scoop of ice inside
- Place all ingredients into a cocktail mixing glass (or cocktail shaker)
- Add ice and being stirring (or shaking) until cold
- Strain into chilled glass
- Garnish with a Luxardo cherry on a cocktail stick.
Classic Variations Of The Manhattan Cocktail
The Manhattan lends itself to being subject of much experimentation and because of this, it has spawned several variations that may be more to your particular tastes. Examples of Manhattan variations include:
- Brandy Manhattan – Whiskey is substituted for brandy
- Perfect Manhattan – A Manhattan made with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth
- Cuban Manhattan – A Perfect Manhattan that uses dark rum instead of whiskey
- Rob Roy – Made with Scotch whisky instead of American whiskey
Expert Twist On The Manhattan Cocktail
Because an ‘official’ recipe is pretty hard to come by, and there are a number of variations, Hayley has taken them all on board to create her Manhattan twist, and being a tequila specialist, it features the Mexican staple.
“The twist I have created is almost a blend of all the myths about what goes into a Manhattan because there is no denying that all of them do taste pretty damn good when used in one.”
“Instead of using whiskey, however, I have taken 1800 Anejo which is an aged tequila that gives you all of the oak and spice flavours you would find in Rye but also a little bit of the sweetness you would generally get from a bourbon. I have gone with a lemon twist and introduced the cherry notes in the form of Peychauds bitters.”
- 40ml 1800 Anejo Tequila
- 15ml Sweet Vermouth
- 15ml Dry Vermouth
- 7.5ml Honey Syrup
- 2 Dashes Absinthe
- 2 Dashes Peychauds Bitters
- Garnish Lemon Twist
- Make sure you have plenty of ice prepared to stir down your cocktail. The bigger the ice cubes, the better.
- Put your mixing glass, or other large glass that you will be stirring down your cocktail in, in the freezer as well as your Nick & Nora or Coupe glass that you will be serving it in, this drink is best served as cold as possible
- Make your honey syrup. Honey is a little too thick on its own to add to cocktails. It won’t blend well enough with your other ingredients so we just need to thin it out a little. Simply mix 3 parts honey, to 1 part hot water and stir until completely combined
- Prepare your lemon twist. A twist is made using only the zest of the lemon, you want to remove as much of the pith as possible.
- Once your mixing glass is nice and cold, grab it out of the freezer and add all of your ingredients to the glass
- Fill your mixing glass to the top with large ice cubes
- Stir down your cocktail using a barspoon, long spoon, chopstick or something similar
- The drinks needs to be ice cold, and, because it is quite a boozy cocktail you need to introduce a lot of dilution at this point. Depending on the size of your ice cubes you will need to stir it down for around 60 – 90 seconds
- When your cocktail is ready, grab your ice-cold glass out of the freezer and strain your cocktail straight in
- Garnish by expressing the lemon oil over the top of the cocktail and then placing the twist in the drink
- Tip, if you love this cocktail and you want to speed the process up you can pre batch a few into a bottle with 15 – 20ml water for dilution per cocktail. Keep it in the freezer until ready to serve. If it starts to freeze take it out and give it a quick shake right before serving
How To Drink The Manhattan Cocktail
Before you think about ordering a Manhattan at a bar, be sure you know how you like it served. Have the whiskey you want (or at least the type: rye, bourbon etc) in mind, and then know if you want it served straight-up (without ice) or on the rocks. Yes, the Manhattan can be served on the rocks if you simply must have a drink ice-cold and one that can be constantly diluted.
The only place you can really order one, however, is the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, because of its insistence on providing clientele with a grand, upmarket bar. You wouldn’t order one in a boutique hotel bar now, would you? No, you’re more likely order an espresso martini or even a porn star if you find yourself sitting at one of those.
You could also take a leaf out of Bart Simpson’s book and create the Manhattan he makes Fat Tony in Season 3 episode Bart The Murderer. In that episode, Bart mixes 1.5oz/45ml of whiskey (believed to be Bourbon, but you can use whatever you want), with 1oz/30ml Italian sweet vermouth, a dash of Angostura bitters and a dash of Maraschino cherry juice to provide a sweeter resulting flavour. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry. Su-perb!
Yes. Manhattan is a strong drink since it is made entirely of alcoholic ingredients. If you are primarily a wine or beer drinker, it may be a bit too strong for your taste. This version of Manhattan uses Averna Amaro, an Italian liqueur, instead of sweet vermouth. The Black Manhattan is more bitter, more earthy and has a distinct chocolate note. The key difference between this two cocktails is the sweetener. Manhattan uses sweet vermouth, while Old Fashioned uses plain sugar. Both are spirit-only drinks made of whiskey and bitters.
Is a Manhattan a strong drink?
What is a Black Manhattan?
What is the difference between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned?
Yes. Manhattan is a strong drink since it is made entirely of alcoholic ingredients. If you are primarily a wine or beer drinker, it may be a bit too strong for your taste.
This version of Manhattan uses Averna Amaro, an Italian liqueur, instead of sweet vermouth. The Black Manhattan is more bitter, more earthy and has a distinct chocolate note.
The key difference between this two cocktails is the sweetener. Manhattan uses sweet vermouth, while Old Fashioned uses plain sugar. Both are spirit-only drinks made of whiskey and bitters.