The recipe for a Manhattan cocktail is very simple: just whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters. You can easily make this classic cocktail at home.
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I have to admit that a Manhattan is one of my favorite cocktails. My Old Reliable, my Ride or Die. It's a simple drink, with just three ingredients (four if you count the cherry), but it somehow transcends them and becomes something more once it's in the glass.
This classic cocktail has been around since the 1800s and stood the test of time, I'm guessing because whiskey is the main component. It's also easy to make: 2 parts whiskey to 1 part vermouth then 2 dashes of bitters. That's an uncomplicated recipe you can carry around in your back pocket at all times.
It's sturdy, it's classy, it's there when you need it. It's not too sweet and not too harsh, it goes down smoothly (sometimes too smoothly) and it's utterly satisfying. And then you get a cherry at the bottom for dessert.
- Why is it called a Manhattan?
- Should you use rye or bourbon for a Manhattan cocktail?
- Let's talk about cocktail cherries!
- Yes, you really do need the Angostura bitters
- Ingredients you'll need
- How to make a Manhattan cocktail
- When to serve a manhattan cocktail
- More cocktail recipes with sweet vermouth
Why is it called a Manhattan?
Legend has it that the Manhattan cocktail was invented in the 1870s for a party thrown at the Manhattan Club in New York City by Lady Randolph Churchill—yes that Churchill—Winston's mother. However, she was in England and very pregnant on the date of said party, so that's a no-go. But the first published mention of the cocktail is from the early 1880s, so we at least know that it has been around since that time.
Should you use rye or bourbon for a Manhattan cocktail?
The classic Manhattan calls for rye, but in more recent years, bourbon has become the dominant choice. Choose whichever you prefer. Rye will be spicier, bourbon will be sweeter.
So what's the best whiskey for a Manhattan? If you like rye, Bulliet or Rittenhouse are widely available and are great options. If you prefer bourbon, try Four Roses (my favorite quality workhorse bourbon for cocktails) or Woodford Reserve. There are so many boutique brands, too. The choices are endless!
Let's talk about cocktail cherries!
The traditional garnish for a Manhattan is a high-quality cocktail cherry, my favorite are Fabbri Amarena cherries, but Luxardo cherries are very commonly used. Please don't use cheap American maraschino cherries that you find on the baking aisle, they are full of chemicals which will taint the taste of your drink.
Yes, you really do need the Angostura bitters
Bitters are in a Manhattan recipe, but do you really need them? YES! Think of bitters like you would vanilla extract in baking. It's a small amount of alcohol loaded up with concentrated flavors and aromas.
In the case of bitters, those flavors and aromas are called botanicals, and come from herbs, spices, citrus and other natural sources. Angostura bitters have their own unique recipe from 1824 that is top secret, but they add the perfect note to finish a Manhattan cocktail and bring the flavors together.
Ingredients you'll need
- Whiskey: You can use rye whiskey or bourbon for a Manhattan. I typically make mine with bourbon.
- Sweet vermouth: Dolin is always my first choice, just make sure to choose a high-quality brand. Remember that vermouth is a fortified wine, so keep it in the fridge once opened.
- Angostura bitters: Angostura has its own secret blend of botanicals and is the designated bitters for a Manhattan cocktail.
- Cocktail cherries: For the garnish. My fave are Fabbri Amarena cherries. You might as well get the big jar while you're at it.
How to make a Manhattan cocktail
In a cocktail shaker, pour whiskey, vermouth and bitters over ice.
Garnish with a cocktail cherry.
A Manhattan is commonly served both ways, up in a coupe glass or on the rocks in a rocks glass. I say either is fine, choose what suits your mood.
You should stir a Manhattan and then strain it into your glass. This preserves the clarity of the ingredients, shaking can make it look cloudy. But what you do in your own home is your business, we often shake ours.
When to serve a manhattan cocktail
A Manhattan is a classic crowd pleaser that can be served at any occasion from casual to formal.
- Great at happy hour.
- Serve them during cocktail hour at your next dinner party—they're easy to batch!
- The warming bourbon makes them a perfect choice for winter holiday drinks.
- Treat yourself after work when you just want to put your feet up and have a great sipping drink!
More cocktail recipes with sweet vermouth
The Manhattan cocktail is the great grandpa to these classics which also feature sweet vermouth.
- The Boulevardier Cocktail adds Campari into the whiskey/vermouth mix, which makes it a great aperitif.
- A Maple Old Fashioned puts a twist on a classic bourbon drink that's perfect for fall.
- Try a Hanky Panky, made with gin, sweet vermouth and Fernet-Branca for bold, herbal flavors.
- A Negroni gets its bright and bitter flavors from gin and Campari, and will have you feeling like Italian sunshine.
- Try a French Manhattan, which swaps the bourbon for cognac, when you're feeling fancy.
- 2 ounces whiskey rye or bourbon
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish with a high-quality cocktail cherry, my favorite are Fabbri Amarena cherries, but Luxardo cherries are very commonly used. Please don't use cheap American maraschino cherries that you find on the baking aisle, they are full of chemicals which will taint the taste of your drink.
- Remember that vermouth is a fortified wine, and needs to be stored in the refrigerator.
- Be sure to check out the post above for answers to FAQs.