The Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

The Manhattan cocktail recipe hasn’t changed much over the years. It started out featuring rye whiskey, and now many bartenders use bourbon instead.

Manhattan Cocktail with cherry

But that’s the only change it’s had since the 1870s when it was invented, and it’s not a big change. And that’s because you don’t mess with perfection.

History and Origins of the Classic Manhattan Cocktail

The Manhattan cocktail originated in New York City in the late 1800s. While the exact origin of the drink is unclear, one theory suggests that it was first made at the Manhattan Club in NYC.

Originally, the cocktail was made using rye whiskey, not bourbon, which is the more popular choice today. Historically, the Manhattan cocktail has been a popular drink for over a century, and it has only grown in popularity over time.

Manhattan Cocktail Ingredients

The key ingredients for a Manhattan cocktail include whiskey, vermouth, and bitters.

  • Whiskey: Rye whiskey is traditionally used in a Manhattan cocktail, providing a spicy profile to the drink. Bourbon can also be used, resulting in a slightly sweeter taste. Experiment with different types of whiskey and see what happens to the flavor profiles.

  • Sweet Vermouth: Vermouth is a fortified wine that adds flavor and complexity to the drink. Using high-quality vermouth is vital in achieving a perfectly balanced flavor. Do not use dry vermouth – the sweet vermouth is your only sweetener in this drink.

  • Bitters: Bitters provide depth and complexity to the cocktail. Aromatic bitters, such as Angostura bitters, are most commonly used in the Manhattan.

Some variations of the recipe call for additional ingredients such as cherries or orange peel, enhancing the drink’s appearance and flavor.

The Manhattan Cocktail Recipe: Sweet Vermouth, Rye, Bitters

The Best Whiskey to Make a Manhattan Cocktail

Rye whiskey will give it a spicy, complex flavor that counters the sweetness of the vermouth. However, bourbon can also be used, resulting in a slightly sweeter drink. 

Higher-proof whiskey can provide a stronger, more complex flavor. Keep in mind that the proof of the whiskey will affect the final taste of the drink. 

Age can also be a factor in choosing the right whiskey. While some prefer to use younger whiskies, such as those aged for only a few years, others enjoy the flavor profile of older whiskies.

Here are some of the best brands ideal for making a perfect Manhattan:

  • Bulleit Rye: This rye whiskey has a high rye content and offers a rich, spicy flavor that complements the cocktail beautifully.
  • Pikesville or Rittenhouse Rye: Known for its bold and robust character, Rittenhouse Rye holds up well in a Manhattan, providing a strong backbone to balance the sweet vermouth.
  • Sazerac Rye: A flavorful choice with notes of clove and spices, Sazerac Rye brings depth to your Manhattan.
  • Wild Turkey 101 Rye: With its higher proof, Wild Turkey 101 Rye adds intensity to the drink while not overpowering other ingredients.
  • Knob Creek Straight Rye: This small-batch whiskey delivers well-rounded flavors of oak and spice that enhance the overall profile of a Manhattan.

Best Bourbons for this Classic Cocktail

Here are some of the best bourbon brands, for those of you who prefer making your Manhattans with bourbon:

  • Maker’s Mark: A smooth and balanced bourbon with notes of vanilla and caramel that complements the sweet vermouth beautifully.’
  • Woodford Reserve: With its robust character and hints of oak, Woodford Reserve provides an excellent foundation for the cocktail’s flavors.
  • Four Roses Single Barrel: This higher-proof bourbon offers complex notes of fruit, spice, and oak that enhance the overall profile of a Manhattan.

The Importance of Vermouth in a Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

When it comes to making a perfect Manhattan cocktail, vermouth plays a crucial role. The type and quality of vermouth you use can greatly affect the overall taste of the cocktail.

Sweet vermouth is the traditional choice for a Manhattan, but some recipes call for dry vermouth or a combination of both for a more complex flavor profile. Keep an eye out for brands like Carpano Antica Formula or Dolin Rouge which are commonly used to make a Manhattan cocktail.

Add a Luxardo Cherry Garnish

The Manhattan Cocktail Recipe: Sweet Vermouth, Rye, Bitters

A cherry garnish is traditional in a Manhattan cocktail and can add a pop of color to your drink. But don’t grab the bright red cherries from the ice cream aisle at the grocery store.

Opt for high-quality maraschino cherries or Luxardo cherries to take your Manhattan cocktail to the next level.

Try a Citrus Twist

For a different twist, consider adding a slice of orange or lemon peel as a garnish. This can add a subtle citrus flavor to your drink and make it visually appealing as well.

Use the Right Glass

The glassware you choose can also affect the presentation of your Manhattan cocktail. A classic martini glass is a popular option, but a rocks glass or tumbler can work just as well. Whatever glass you choose, make sure it’s chilled before adding your cocktail.

Experiment with Bitters

Adding a few extra dashes of bitters can add both flavor and color to your drink. Angostura bitters are a classic choice, but you can also try experimenting with different flavors like orange or chocolate bitters.

Remember, presentation is just as important as taste when it comes to enjoying a Manhattan cocktail. With these garnishing and presentation tips, you can create a stunning drink that’s sure to impress.

Pairing Food with Your Manhattan Cocktail

The bold flavors of a Manhattan cocktail pair well with rich, savory dishes. Here are some good pairing options:

  • Steak

  • Charcuterie

  • Strong cheeses

The sweetness of a Manhattan cocktail can also complement desserts such as chocolate cake or pecan pie. For a pre-dinner drink, salty snacks like nuts or popcorn can be a good pairing option. Experimenting with different food pairings can provide a unique and enjoyable culinary experience.

Enjoy This Classic Whiskey Cocktail

The Manhattan cocktail is a classic that’s stood the test of time. With its rich history and unique flavor profile, it’s no surprise that it remains beloved by cocktail enthusiasts everywhere. 

Manhattan Cocktail with cherry
Yield: 1 drink

The Classic Manhattan Recipe

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

The Manhattan is a sophisticated classic cocktail featuring rye or bourbon with sweet vermouth. It's stirred with ice rather than shaken, and you can serve it on the rocks.


  • 1/2 ounce Italian (sweet) vermouth
  • 1 jigger rye (Canadian whiskey) or bourbon
  • Dash of Angostura bitters (optional)


  1. Fill a mixing glass with cracked ice.
  2. Add in the ingredients.
  3. Stir until well-chilled.
  4. Strain into a martini glass.
  5. Garnish with a cherry.
  6. Can also be served on the rocks.

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