The Manhattan was the most famous cocktail in the world shortly after it was invented in New York City’s Manhattan Club, some time around 1880 (as the story goes). Over the years, the whiskey classic has dipped in and out of fashion before finding its footing as one of the cornerstones of the craft cocktail renaissance.
Amazingly, the drink that socialites tipped to their lips in the 19th century looks and tastes pretty much the same as the one served today at any decent cocktail bar. The Manhattan’s mix of American whiskey and Italian vermouth, enlivened with a few dashes of aromatic bitters, is timeless and tasty—the very definition of what a cocktail should be.
Early versions call for rye, with its spicier, edgier profile. Purists claim that it’s not a Manhattan without it, but who has ever had fun drinking with a purist? We find that bourbon creates a beautiful, if mellower, drink. And while Angostura bitters are a must in any variation, a single dash of orange bitters helps brighten the cocktail’s edges, bringing the whiskey and vermouth together seamlessly, while the brandied cherry garnish lends a touch of sweetness.
Despite all of the Manhattan’s unassailable qualities, bartenders and enterprising drinkers have still found ways to tweak the recipe into myriad variations. If you split the vermouth between sweet and dry, you get the Perfect Manhattan. If you switch the ratios to make vermouth the star, you’ve stirred up a Reverse Manhattan. The Rob Roy is essentially a scotch Manhattan. And then you’ve got other named-for-New York cocktails like the Red Hook and Brooklyn, which employ their own twists to take the drink in new directions.
But regardless of all the options, there is only one classic Manhattan: two parts whiskey, one part sweet vermouth and bitters. Mix one (stirred, never shaken), and you’ll see why this storied drink has remained a favorite since its inception.
Click Play to See This Manhattan Recipe Come Together
- 2 ounces bourbon or rye
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
- Garnish: brandied cherry
Add all the bourbon (or rye), sweet vermouth and both bitters to a mixing glass with ice, and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled coupe.
Garnish with a brandied cherry.