In its heyday, the Manhattan was the most popular cocktail in the world. Since then, the cocktail’s dominance has faded, but it’s steadily making a comeback. You can use rye, bourbon, or blended whiskey: add sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters – stir – then garnish with a cherry. That’s a Classic Manhattan…perfect.
History of the Manhattan
The origin of the Manhattan isn’t exactly clear, just like many other classic cocktails. It’s debated when and where the cocktail was first created. However, their’s two commonly cited stories that should be told.
As the first story goes, the Manhattan cocktail was created in honor of Lady Randolph Churchill (mother of Sir Winston Churchill) in 1874 at the Manhattan Club in New York while celebrating at a dinner for Governor Samuel J. Tilden. The truth to this occasion is lackluster and unsubstantiated at best, but it’s a romantic notion nonetheless.
A differing story (and probably the most accurate) was told by a man named William F. Mulhall, a bartender and 30-year veteran at the renowned Hoffman House in New York, starting in the early 1880s. Mulhall wrote, “The Manhattan cocktail was invented by a man named Black, who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the [eighteen-] sixties—probably the most famous drink in the world in its time.” His account was made decades after the Manhattan’s first appearance, but there’s little reason to make up such a tale, right?
Over the years the Manhattan has gone in and out of popularity, while today its nostalgic heritage has kept the cocktail beloved by socialites and craft cocktail enthusiasts alike.
The drink was one of the first cocktails that called for vermouth as a modifier. In that respect, the apéritif tops the great Martini, the Rob Roy, and the Bobby Burns as a vermouth classic.
The Classic Manhattan is perfectly balanced with the proper ratio of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and essential bitters. The type and quality of whiskey used is important to achieve the desired taste. Yet the “right” type of whiskey is really just based on personal preference. Regardless, a high-quality whiskey will always ensure the best cocktail possible. Finally, the Manhattan’s finished off with a healthy dose of sweet vermouth and bitters. The two ingredients make for an interesting combination of complex flavors that take the cocktail to the next level. Make sure the vermouth’s fresh, the bitters are strong, then garnish with a few cherries before serving.
There are three main types of whiskey commonly used in a Manhattan: rye, bourbon, and blended. The original cocktail was made with rye, however it’s too harsh for some and has mostly been replaced with bourbon. Rye’s spicier and doesn’t always pair well with certain brands of sweet vermouth. It’s safe to assume rye was only initially used because of its wide availability in upstate New York, where the Manhattan originated. That’s not to say rye doesn’t have its place, but if you find something better…why not?
Today bourbon’s the popular choice and for good reason. The whiskey complements the Manhattan well because it does exactly that, compliments. It’s sweetness blends perfectly with the rest of the cocktail. The herbs and spices in the sweet vermouth and bitters add all the spice you’ll need, anything more is simply excessive. Nevertheless, there remains a steadfast few that swear by rye whiskey and claim it’s the only whiskey that can be used in an authentic Manhattan. To each their own. Small batch bourbons offer a particularly appealing flavor profile that can exponentially improve the quality of the Manhattan, quality brands include Elijah Craig, Knob Creek, and Maker’s Mark.
In addition to rye and bourbon, there’s blended whiskey. Blended whiskey’s offer a unique addition to the Manhattan. They’re often produced by combining grain and single malt whiskies together to form a unique “blend.” It’s important to remember that not all blended whiskies are treated the same. For example, American blended whiskey is usually a combination of rye or bourbon with a neutral (vodka-like) spirit and water, resulting in a diluted “lighter” spirit. Canadian’s similar, however the quality of their products varies widely depending on the producer. So when you’re choosing a blended whiskey make sure you’re diligent and select a reputable brand.
Sweet Vermouth adds distinct aromas and balance to the Manhattan. Vermouth’s not a spirit like whiskey. It’s actually a fortified wine infused with various herbs and spices. With that in mind, it’s important to note that it doesn’t age the same as whiskey. After it’s been exposed to air (opened) its ingredients begin to oxidized and lose all the great aromas and flavors that make it such a great addition to the cocktail. So if you’re aiming for a top-notch cocktail make sure the vermouth’s as fresh as possible!
Vermouth keeps for about 12-18 months unopened, but once it’s been opened it’s only good for 4-6 weeks. You can extend the life by a month or two in the refrigerator. Now granted, it’s not as if a six-month-old opened bottle of vermouth is absolutely disgusting, but its quality does noticeably deteriorate.
Technique’s important to making the perfect Classic Manhattan; the drink’s mixed by stirring its ingredients with ice, not shaking. Do not shake the cocktail! You don’t have to mix the drink in a specifically-designed mixing glass as I’ve mentioned in the recipe, but it should be stirred nonetheless. It’s important to mix the ingredients instead of shaking them because the Manhattan’s a spirit-forward cocktail. Shaking the ingredients unnecessarily aerates the cocktail, causes excess dilution, and deteriorates the whiskey’s silky texture and clarity, altering the proof and taste of the cocktail.
If you don’t believe me try it. Make two identical Manhattans, stir one and shake one, then taste the difference. Which one’s better? See, I told you so! As a general rule of thumb, shake cocktails that contain ingredients like fruit juices (i.e. Margaritas and the Lemon Drop), egg whites, and some with dairy. Otherwise, if the cocktail contains only spirits and modifiers (i.e. the Negroni and Martinis) you stir the ingredients.
The Manhattan’s usually served in a cocktail glass (i.e. chilled coupe), but some enjoy it over ice in an old fashioned glass. Cherries are the most common garnish; orange zest or a lemon twist are acceptable alternatives, no biggie.
How to Make a Perfect Manhattan
A perfect Classic Manhattan cocktail recipe! Learn how to make a Manhattan the right way. The Classic Manhattan is the epitome of what a cocktail should be…sweet, simple, and made to your liking!
- 2 fl oz Whisky
- 1 fl oz Sweet Vermouth
- 2–3 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1 dash Orange Bitters (Optional)
- 1/2 tsp Cherry Syrup (Optional)
- 2–3 Maraschino Cherries
- Cubed Ice
*Nutrition information is approximate and varies depending upon ingredients used.
- Category: Cocktail
- Serving Size: 1-3
- Calories: 210
Keywords: Manhattan, Whiskey, Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, Angostura Bitters, Cherries
The Classic Manhattan has many well-known variations, they incorporate different kinds of bitters, like Peychaud’s, while others introduce Dubonnet Rouge, green Chartreuse, kirschwasser, blue curaçao, and various other liqueurs.
Nevertheless, there are three main variations of the Manhattan. Their differences relate to the type, combination, and quantity of vermouth used in the recipe. The Perfect Manhattan calls for 1/2 fl oz of sweet vermouth and 1/2 fl oz of dry vermouth, resulting in 1 fl oz of vermouth total. A Sweet Manhattan utilizes 1 1/2 fl oz of sweet vermouth in total, while the Dry Manhattan calls for 3/4 fl oz of dry vermouth.
Try these other great cocktails:
If you enjoyed the Classic Manhattan please rate it and leave a comment below. Sharing is caring!