Thursday, October 20


All this time I've been posting and I just came to realize that I have never written about my favorite, the Manhattan. What a travesty...

What can you say about the Manhattan except that it is a fundamental standard classic cocktail that when all is said and done is probably in the top five of nearly all cocktailians. The silky smooth texture of a chilled Manhattan flows over the tongue filling the mouth with flavors that is greater than the sum of its ingredients. The blend of the charred oak, spiciness, of Bourbon; the sweet, herbal, and slight caramel flavor of Sweet Vermouth; and the indescribable flavor of bitters combine to make a cocktail like none other.

The Manhattan was first made with American Rye whiskey and is said to have been invented in New York's Manhattan Club in 1874 at the request of Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie, pictured right), to celebrate the newly elected governor Samuel J. Tilden. (7) The name of the bartender who concocted the new drink is unknown and unfortunately the Manhattan Club, which stood at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 26th Street, is no longer in existence. (8) Like many stories of cocktail origins the validity of this tale of the Manhattan's beginnings has been brought into question, but I like this story the best.

The Manhattan's whiskey changed from Rye to Bourbon during or shortly after the time of prohibition when the production of Rye whiskey was scarce or non-existent. (9) During prohibition (1920-1933) (6) Canadian whisky was primarily used because it was what was available. After the glorious repel of the Eighteenth Amendment bars wanted to serve American whiskey again but Rye was unavailable due to the distilleries being shutdown and its long aging process. Bourbon distilleries were able to get back up to production faster and distribute their product by way of the Mississippi river and thus Bourbon found its way into the Manhattan. Some say Bourbon distilleries never stopped producing and sold by prescription from doctors to stay in business. Over a million gallons of whiskey was consumed each year during prohibition for "medicinal purposes." (6) To this day there are not many producers of Rye whiskey, but there are a few brands worth trying out. I recommend Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye if you can find it.

One last note on the whiskey used in a Manhattan, it is the still popular to use Canadian whisky in northern United States. This I believe is because Bourbon spread faster in the South due to river distribution method of the Kentucky distilleries. Then there came the misconception that Canadian whisky was a substitute for Rye whiskey, which is not the case at all. Rye whiskey must be made from at least 51% rye; Canadian whisky has no such restriction and is often a blended whisky. However if in the North don't be surprised if the Manhattan is served with Seagram’s or Crown Royal.

Although the Manhattan is an icon of cocktails right up there with the Martini it is very difficult to find an establishment that will serve up this beloved cocktail correctly. The five major flaws I encounter are as follows:
  1. Lack of bitters – Bitters is an essential ingredient in a Manhattan. I don't care what you may have learned at Bartending School or from a fellow bartender, the Manhattan has bitters. There is a large misconception that bitters is only used for another wonderful Bourbon cocktail the Old Fashioned and not in Manhattans, but the fact of the mater is bitters belongs in both.
  2. Vermouth is not a scary radioactive substance – Vermouth is not scary and is a completely potable liquid, I even drink it straight at times. Unlike the Martini where it unfortunately became common place to put little if any vermouth in the cocktail, Manhattan drinkers actually expect Sweet Vermouth in their drink. Don’t be shy pour a good ounce or more, we will actually drink it and thank you for it. We promise to not come hunt you down after we become radioactive. Between 3:1 and 2:1 Bourbon to Sweet Vermouth is expected.
  3. Stirred not Shaken – Manhattans are intended to be a smooth drink. Shaking cocktails adds tiny air bubbles to the that change the texture of the drink. I know it sounds hard to believe that it can make a difference, but it does. The first sip of a well stirred chilled Manhattan with the proper proportion of ingredients is like drinking silk. The bubbles produced by the shaking do go away after a few a little while, but by then the drink has warmed. The Manhattan should be stirred between 15 to 20 seconds.
  4. Dusty Vermouth – Vermouth is like wine; once you open it, it goes bad. I've seen bottles of Vermouth pulled out to make my Manhattan coated in dust... I usually change my order to something else. For home bars or bars with low volume Vermouth use it is better to buy the small bottles of Sweet and Dry Vermouth for freshness.
  5. Cherry Juice – The adding of cherry juice is meant for a Manhattan that is ordered with the modifier of Sweet. Cherry Juice is only added when a Sweet Manhattan is ordered. I believe many bartenders add the cherry juice in an attempt to cut the strong whiskey taste when in fact just stirring the cocktail the proper amount will do just that.

I apologize if my bluntness offends anyone on this matter, but I am passionate about the subject. The following is the ratio of ingredients and brands I use in my Manhattan. Feel free to experiment with the ratio and brands and drink what you like.

2.5 Parts Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 Part Noilly Prat Red
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters or Fees Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters
Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice for 15 to 20 seconds. Then strain into a well chilled cocktail grass. Garnish with a cherry if you're hungry.

  Image courtesy of Wikipedia


bar.mix.master said...

If you have never had a Manhattan there is one thing that I would recommend...

First, make sure that you are at a bar that will serve it correctly (hotel or country club is your best bet)

Second, start out with a Sweet Manahattan. The sweetness of the cherry juice will easy you into the pleasure of the Manhattan.

Once you have had a few Sweet Manhattans on a few different occations try it with out.

The Manhattan will become your cocktail of choice!


Brad... the bar mix master :)

brayden said...

I agree whole-heartedly in overall approach. Personally, I like using rye whiskey (Overholt works well)and using orange bitters - it makes the drink come alive in a way that's just different from the regular Angostura (purpotedly the old Waldof-Astoria used orange bitters). Love the site; I'll have to look at it more regularly!

Isaac Washington said...

Good article. I agree, orange bitters work well. Try Regans. Upgrade the sweet vermouth as well. Vya or Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth are my favorites. Maple syrup soaked cherries. Getting thirsty and it's on 9 A.M.

bar.mix.master said...

I've got a case of Regan's bitters myself. :)

I have tried it in a Manahattan, but have to say I like Angostura the best.

Anonymous said...

Well Done mix master...
I agree totally with the 5 flaws.
The manhattan is also my favorite drink. The only issue I have here is the recipe you have given includes Bourbon......
I never serve a manhattan with Bourbon, only if someone orders a bourbon manhattan will I use Bourbon. I live in ontario Canada, and by definition up here a manhattan is made with whiskey, not the Bourbon kind. Yes Angostura jives quite well on the palate with a decent whiskey.

Tobinn said...

I like mine with Jack Daniels (although I am enjoying it lately with Crown Royal) light on vermouth and extra bitters. I've also been trying Pechayuds (sp?)and Regan's Orange alone or in combinations in addition to Angostura. Each is different, of course, and I can't say which I prefer, yet.

Over all, what a great drink, though; simply perfect in taste and simplicity - really the model of the K.I.S.S rule.

Neb said...

Great site. I live in Wellington NZ and while theres plenty of bars here that serve great Manhattan's there are plenty more that serve really bad ones. I asked a bartender for one recently and told just how I liked it, up, Makers, slightly easy on the vermouth. She was goin great until she added simple syrup at the last moment and shook it. She added so much sugar I couldnt taste the bourbon.

"Money makes the man. Bourbon and bitters make the Manhatten"

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I'm afraid I agree with Anonymous. I prefer the taste of a Rye Manhattan and consider it the proper form of the cocktail. In New York these days, you will be served a Bourbon Manhattan unless you specify differently, something I find rather irksome. Of course, many of these bars don't even stock Rye. A shame.

I enjoy your blog. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

It must be rye whiskey, not bourbon. The brashness of rye mixes better with sweet vermouth than a sweeter bourbon. I have found that Jim Beam rye makes the best Manhattans, and it's priced very well and very easy to find. I no longer order manhattans because no bar seems to have rye, and the bartender always shakes with instead of stirs, and I get some watery drink.

Thomas Webb said...


Yes the Manhattan is truly the greatest cocktail in my book. My father now 85 taught me how to mix what I believe to be the best. Your 2 to 1 ratio is right on and so is the bitters and stirring, I believe the orriginal Mahattan was stirred 30 times, probably works out to your 15 to 29 second rule. Unlike many people though I believe the best Manhattan becomes something different when you start adding higher quality and fancier ingredients, but to each his own.
One thing I'd like to add though, is in the garnish of the cherry. I was always taught and truly believe, the Manhattan should be poured over the cherry, not the cherry added to the cocktail. By pouring the mix over the cherry it imparts the hint of sweet cherry to the drink without going overboard.

My favorite recipe:
2 parts Old Foester
1 part sweet vermouth (Martini and Rossi)
2 to 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
stirr thirty times.
pour over a maraschino cherry allowing a few small ice chips to enter the glass.

Delicious! Silky heaven.

Anonymous said...

I prefer a 4:1 bourbon to vermouth ratio the best.

I also add a splash of Maraschino Cherry liqueur (you mentioned this in the Fancy Free recipe as well).

This is the ultimate drink!

Anonymous said...

I tried a great new spin on the Manhattan and it was with a new ginger liqueur called Domaine de Canton. It was fantastic, a great new twist on a classic cocktail!

Bridgett said...

Thanks for your tantalizing description...I spent my childhood and teenage years watching my father send his Manhattans back for "more vermouth this time."

It wasn't until college that I realized that maraschine cherries didn't taste like bourbon...

Bruce Tomlinson said...

I love a good Manhatten.
I'm a 3 to 1 guy.
If I am out, It's Makers Mark. Rye is rare(so sad).
If I am at home it's Lenell's Red hook Rye. I also keep some cherrys soaking in some Rye.

Bruce Tomlinson

tracy said...

Great article! I grew up seeing my Dad and Grandfather drinking Manhattans, especially in the winter. My Grandfather is 94 and still drinks one every night (Kesslers). When my wife's father comes over he always says, "Where's my medicine doctor?". I have always made them with Crown Royal or Makers shaken and served up. After reading the article I am going to look for some rye and I will never shake again!

Bartiloux said...

A variation of this wonderful cocktail that I haven't seen mentioned is ordering the manhattan neat... which, it seems, is a terms with which a number of bartenders are unfamiliar. Enjoying the mixture of the ingredients at room temperature, undiluted by the addition of ice, makes for a wonderful ending to less than perfect day.

Anonymous said...

Mahalo Bridgett! I used to always ask for the cherries out of my grandparent's manhattans. Only true manhattan taste I know. my grandma admitted, now that I'm an adult,the extra cherries soaked in the drink were to put me to bed!
A dash of the cherry juice is perfect. Not too much. Don't lose that whiskey taste.

jason said...

I also love Manhattans and have been drinking them for years.

I like to make my own Maraschino cherries to put in them, it's really easy. Pit several bing cherries (can even use frozen) put into a mason jar and top with Luxardo Maraschino liqueur. Let then 'pickle' for 2-3 days before using. Keep in the fridge.

I also like Fee Bros peach bitters in my manhattan, very nice, very smooth.

n said...

I am a very young lad who just recently got into cocktails. I got tired of the cheap beer and vodka scene. So far I only had Manhattans with bourbon but I'll try different concoctions once I'm more educated about the process and details. However, they are expensive, I'm a undergraduate, but worth every buck-around $12 in the Boston area. Although, it is difficult finding decent bartenders since the whole rebirth of cocktails scene has only recently gather momentum. Have you read this great article And thank you for your informative blog.

R Schiffman (Brownbag) said...

Two comments. First it's you're, not your at the end of you write-up.

Second, I find the addition of a splash of Peychaud's bitters as well really makes a better drink.

I just use Rye and always a perfect Manhattan.

Anonymous said...

ok. Perhaps a stupid question ... Is Canadian Rye different from the rye you refer to in this sequence of posts

Anonymous said...

Been drinking and enjoying Manhattans for years. Sometimes straight up, sometimes on the rocks. Rye is best, but expensive here, and not always available. Anyway, just got back from Royal Caribbean cruise, and their Manhattans were the best. Noticeably better than what I make at home. Was it the atmosphere, or the ingredients?

Geoff Brown said...

I am passionate about the Manhattan cocktail. I have a particular predilection for Bulleit Rye Whiskey, but the Bourbon will suffice. I agree with your sentiments, however I think three dashes of bitters a tad severe. A good single dash is to my liking. I also agree that Sweet Vermouth is entirely in keeping with the drink. I prefer Dolin Vermouth. I stir vigorously for 40 seconds and serve in a chilled martini glass. I place one Luxardo Maraschino cherry with a bit of the syrup in the glass first and save it to the delectable end.

Catherine Sutthoff Slaton said...

Yikes. I've never had a Manhattan on the rocks. I love Rye and will start making mine with Bulleit.

Anonymous said...

Funny that you have a typo in a comment regarding a typo.

Anonymous said...

But brandy soaked cherries makes all the difference

Anonymous said...

I just recently got off of a carnival cruise that had a drink called the Caribbean manhattan. I know it isn't the traditional version of the drink but I loved the changes and have looked everywhere for the recipe. Would anyone happen to know what it is?? I would be forever great full.

Chris said...

I am the Manhatten King of Shore Rd! My Dad taught me how: Crown Royal 3, Martini & Rossi 1, 3 drops of Angostura bitters. Pour all this into a shaker of ice. Shake vigorously for 40 shakes or until your hand is so cold that you can't stand it. There should be ice on the outside of the shaker. Set this aside for 30-40 seconds so that the air bubbles rise to the surface. Place two Maraschino cherries in a Martini glass and add two teaspoons of cherry juice. Pour in the Manhatten and enjoy!

Brad Ellis said...

That is a good drink but technically that is a Sweet Manhattan. The addition cherry juice gives it that designation.

Also, might I suggest stirring instead of shaking. Shaking adds a lot of air to the drink. You'll have to stir twice as long but its worth the smooth texture you get.


The Wine Wrangler said...

I love a Manhattan, having lived in Canada, I love a "Prohibition Manhattan" (one made with Canadian Whisky). The trick is to make it with a good quality one. The Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve is perfect, even the regular barrel select is great. I have been using Dubonnet instead of standard red vermouth, and is really worth a try. I also agree that bitters are essential!!