August 21st, 2007

The Dry Martini and the Manhattan are the most famous of all classic cocktails. Most people, even if they have never experienced the joy of drinking one, will have at least heard their names in passing. As Robert Hess recently pointed out, despite first appearances the two drinks actually share a lot in common. Indeed, it’s quite possible the Manhattan had a role in the creation of the Martini.

Like the Martini its exact origin is that of much speculation, but it was probably created in the 1880s at the Manhattan Club in New York. The original recipes called for more vermouth than whiskey, like the original Martini recipes used more vermouth than gin, and often called for the use of Maraschino in small doses. However, Darcy wrote an excellent post on the classic Manhattan recipes recently, so I will be concentrating on the more modern, post-prohibition Manhattan.

Unlike the Martini, the Manhattan has survived in to the modern world relatively unscathed. Although it has also had a reduction of vermouth it still remains a major part of the recipe, unlike the modern Martini which is often just cold Gin or Vodka. The one major change is the switch from the drink being mostly made with Rye Whiskey, to Bourbon Whiskey. This is almost certainly because of the proliferation of Bourbon after prohibition, the reason for which is excellently explained in the latest episode of The Cocktail Spirit.

The Manhattan was the first strong, all spirits cocktail I tried. Rye whiskey is pretty difficult to get hold of here in Britain, so it was always a Bourbon Manhattan, most often Maker’s Mark, but while I enjoyed these immensely I always wished I could try the original Rye Manhattan, which so many cocktail blogs had recommended. Thankfully my new home in London has given me access to a vast array of spirit shops, and I’m now able to get hold of many excellent Rye whiskies. And my first drink with Rye just had to be the Manhattan…

Manhattan cocktail with Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whiskey and The Bitter Truth aromatic bitters bottles in the background


The Rye whiskey lends a much spicier note to the drink, which works nicely with the sweet vermouth to create a drink that is perhaps more balanced than a Bourbon Manhattan. The home-made cherry I used also adds the slightest hint of Maraschino which is much better than the plain sweetness a store-brought cherry brings.

Although I have enjoyed many Bourbon Manhattans over the past few years, since trying a Rye-based one it now seems noticeably sweet. Don’t get me wrong though, it is still a great drink and a lot more approachable for a Manhattan-virgin than a Rye one would be. I would definitely recommend starting with Bourbon, but if you’re already enjoying Bourbon Manhattans not trying Rye would be a real shame.

The Manhattan is a great drink for experimenting with bitters, something I will elaborate on further in my up-coming aromatic bitters comparison. Even orange bitters can lend an interesting taste to a Manhattan, although at the moment my favourite to use are The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters, which work wonderfully with the Rye. I also like to squeeze a bit of orange zest in to the glass prior to pouring the drink, which adds a further subtle layer of flavour.

How do you like your Manhattans served?

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Posted in Bitters, Bourbon, Recipes, Rye

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30 responses to “Manhattan”

  1. Scotttos Scotttos says:

    I see that you are using the tremendous bonded Rittenhouse but you didn’t mention what brand of vermouth. I think rye lends itself especially well to sweet vermouth and find that different brands really bring out incredibly different drinks.

    With the Rittenhouse I like to use M&R (which is itself on the spicy side) but also enjoy experimenting with different brands of vermouth as well as other Italian spirits. It’s amazing how varied these classic drinks can be once you mess around with the brands/types of booze.

    A tremendous drink I highly recommend that gets to the heart of what I’m saying is Audrey Saunders’ “Little Italy.”

    It uses Rye with Sweet Vermouth and Cynar (an artichoke based Italian aperitif). The Cynar acts like the Angostura (or other aromatic bitters) in that it brings depth and cohesion, but an altogether different kind : )

  2. Jay Jay says:

    I too was using Martini and Rossi – in all honesty it’s the only sweet vermouth I’ve ever tried, as it’s the most easily available here in the UK. I want to pick up some Noilly Prat sweet vermouth next time I go shopping for goodies though. I’ve heard Carpano Antica is amazing in a Manhattan, but unfortunately I’ve yet to find it available here.

    That Cynar stuff sounds very… unusual! I agree though, it is amazing how using a different brand of what is essentially the same product can often have such dramatic effects on a drink. That’s what I love about cocktails – even with your favourite drink you’ve had hundreds of times, there is always room to explore.

  3. Ken Ken says:

    My favorite sweet vermouth at the moment is Punt e Mes. I’d say that it has body and color similar to Martini & Rossi, but it has much of the character of bitters as well. It makes a fantastic Negroni, especially with a strongly juniper-charactered gin like Junipero or Bombay Sapphire.

    I’ve not tried it in a Manhattan yet because… well, honestly, Manhattans have always been a bit of a disappointment to me. In theory I should like them as I like the constituent ingredients, but the result never seemed to come together to my taste. Though now that I have more experience and practice with cocktails, I suppose I should try it again. As I said, I’ve never used Punt e Mes for a Manhattan, and I can see how it might be an excellent complement. And I’d always used bourbon in my previous attempts, whereas I’ve now got some Rittenhouse in hand. And it would be a good excuse to try my home-made brandied cherries rather than the nuclear, store-bought maraschino cherries I’d used before.

    As for Noilly Prat sweet vermouth, I find it to be lighter in body, drier, and more subtle in its botanicals than M&R. And lighter still in body, but sweeter and with just a different flavor profile altogether is Cinzano. I like different ones depending on the cocktail.

  4. Drinkin Joe Drinkin Joe says:

    cool site

  5. Scotttos Scotttos says:

    Carpano Antica is really a great product. I’m not a big fan of them in Manhattan’s as it is a verrry sweet vermouth, but maybe in a Bourbon Manhattan….haven’t tried that yet. So far the best use I’ve found for it is chilled, neat with a twist of lemon or orange…

    Punt e Mes, so glad someone brought this up. I love this stuff. Sweet vermouth with a bitter (almost campari like) undercurrent? Tremendous. A wonderful drink made popular here in New York showcasing the versatility of Punt e Mes is the “Red Hook” which is 4:1:1 Rye/Punt e Mes/Maraschino…

    As for the traditional (read: rye) Manhattan….definitly give it another go Ken….Rittenhouse + M&R = beauty.

  6. Ken Ken says:

    Well, last night I tried a side-by-side comparison of Manhattans made with Rittenhouse 80 proof and Martini & Rossi and Punt e Mes vermouths. (Note to Jay: I’ve trained my partner not to blink if he comes in and sees me with 3 or 4 cocktails lined up in front of me. He’ll just ask me for one of his favorites while I compare my test subjects. *grin* ) Oh, and I used my home-made brandied cherries in both as well.

    The Bottom Line: It still doesn’t live up to my expectations. *sigh* But it’s getting better. The rye whiskey makes a significant improvement over bourbon. But somehow the flavors don’t yet blend together in a way that would cause me fix myself a Manhattan rather than say a Sazerac or a Toronto Cocktail. Of the two, I preferred the one I made with Punt e Mes, as I liked the way its bitters characteristics blended with the spice of the rye.

    I suspect that if anything, bitters will be the key in discovering my “perfect” Manhattan. At the moment, I only have Angostura, Peychaud, Fee Bros. Orange and Peach, and Stirrings Blood Orange bitters — the only ones I’ve found locally so far. I’d like to try this again if I can get my hands on some of Fee’s Old Fashion and/or Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters or some of The Bitter Truth’s Old Time Aromatic bitters. Though it looks as though I’ll have to get them shipped to me .

  7. Jay Jay says:

    Scott – I’ve heard good things about the Punt e Mes, and will have to pick some up next time I go shopping. The Red Hook sounds great too.

    Ken – Yeah my boyfriend is slowly starting to accept the fact he’ll sometimes find me with a line of cocktail glasses in front of me. Although it took a while to get him to stop calling me an alcoholic!

    Both the Fee aromatic bitters (old fashion and the aged ones), and the Bitter Truth bitters are excellent. Each have their own characteristics which work well in different drinks – I find the robustness of the Bitter Truth ones work best in a Manhattan, but more about that in my (ever-delayed) aromatic bitters round-up next week

    Good luck finding your perfect Manhattan – if you end up enjoying it like I enjoy my Manhattans, then believe me it’s worth it!

  8. Ken Ken says:

    Well, I finally found a source here in San Francisco for the full selection of Fee Brothers bitters (Plumpjack Wines) — including their Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters. And the result is…

    I have finally reached Manhattan nirvana with Rittehouse rye, Punt e Mes vermouth, and a couple of healthy dashes of the Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters. Oh, and my home-made brandied cherries. (I’m now curious what home-made maraschino cherries would be like.) It’s amazing the difference the right bitters makes. I need to go back to Plumpjack and stock up on the Whiskey Barrel-Aged before they go out of stock!

    Having said that, I doubt that I’ll be ordering a Manhattan when I’m out. I’m apparently quite finicky in my tastes with this drink, and I doubt that a random bar will have the exact combination of ingredients that works for me. I guess I’ll have to keep making my own…

  9. Jay Jay says:

    I’m so glad you’ve found a Manhattan you like Ken! I just had a Manhattan with the whiskey-aged bitters tonight, and it was very good. The bitters do indeed make a big difference to the drink, something I hope to highlight in my forthcoming, ever-delayed roundup of aromatic bitters.

    I have yet to try Punt-e-Mes, but it’s on my shopping list…

  10. Mark Mark says:

    Just wanted to add the discussion of Carpano Antica in relation to the Manhattan. It gave me a whole new perspective on the cocktail. Yes, it is extremely hard to find. I had to get mine online and paid almost the same amount of money for shipping as the bottle cost, but man is it worth it. It comes in a HUGE 1L bottle. I’ve probably made 20 drinks with it so far and have not even put a dent in it. So it’s worth finding. Just google it and pay the premium (about $45 total). You’ll be smiling after. For the record, here’s my Manhattan recipe:

    2.5 oz. Rye (Wild Turkey)
    1 oz. Carpano Antica
    3 drops Angostura from eye drop bottle)
    3 drops Fee Brothers Orange (from eye drop bottle)
    Marinated Cherry

    Stir for 1 solid minute with ice. This also helps round out the drink a bit by adding a touch of melted from the ice. Really helps the Carpano open up as well. Then strain into cocktail glass. Drop in cherry of choice.

  11. Nichole Nichole says:

    There is a restaurant in Brooklyn, NY, that makes a variation of a Manhattan they call a “Barcelonian.” The recipe includes sherry as well as Maker’s Mark whiskey and M&R sweet vermouth, and Fee Brothers orange bitters. I would like to make it at home, but can’t find anything online similar to this! I will probably ask the bartender for the recipe, but I’m wondering: how unusual is it to use sherry in a Manhattan?

  12. Jay Jay says:

    Nichole, that sounds really interesting – I’ve never heard of sherry being used in a Manhattan before but I know from previous experience it works well with vermouth, so the idea of using it with whiskey as well intrigues me. Do let us know the recipe if you get it!

  13. DN DN says:

    Hi, Jay! As a bourbon fan, I’d appreciate your insight on some of the spirits available here in my neck of the woods. I’ve recently bought and enjoyed a couple of bottles of Old Fitzgerald and Slate bourbon, but there are almost no references to these spirits in the cocktail community online (none that I could readily find, anyway). Are these “bottom shelf” products, in your opinion, or do they perhaps not work as well in cocktails as some of the other, more frequently referenced whiskies? How would you rate them against spirits like Buffalo Trace or Woodford Reserve?

  14. Jay Jay says:

    DN – I’m afraid I’ve not personally tried either of those bourbons. I do know Old Fitzgerald is made in the same distillery as Van Winkle and Woodford Reserve is, and that it’s a wheated bourbon. This means it uses wheat rather than rye in the mash, giving it a smoother less spicy character. This likely means it will have a softer profile in cocktails, so you’ll want to be careful not to match it with anything too strongly flavoured or it could get overwhelmed. Though as I say, I haven’t tried it so don’t take this as gospel.

  15. Fritz Fritz says:

    I’ve recently run across a recipe for a drink called a “GreenPoint” and wanted to share it here.

    2 oz Rittenhouse 100 proof Rye
    1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse
    1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
    Dash of Orange Bitters
    Dash of Angostura Bitters

    Stir and Strain into a Highball glass

    If you like Sazerac’s you need to give this a try. The Chartreuse gives the drink a nice herbal undertone that I think matches well with the Rye and slight sweetness of the vermouth.

  16. Jay Jay says:

    Fritz – Funnily enough I enjoyed a Green Point a few times recently, in M&H in New York and Le Lion in Hamburg, and it really is a great drink. I love how rye and Chartreuse work together, really delicious.

  17. grgraf grgraf says:

    My favourite. I love this cocktail!

  18. Michael O’Neill Michael O'Neill says:

    I just recently discovered (one day ago!)this website, and I love it. The reader is provided not only the basic receipe for a drink, but also experiences using other brands of the incredients–be they whiskeys or whiskys or other, such as vermouths. And that’s why I’m writing.

    I happen to have several top favorites (gin & tonic, where Hendricks is my preferred gin), ( Old Fashions, made with either Buffalo Trace, or Maker’s Mark, or Sazerac rye, or Woodsford Reserve.

    When making a Manhattan, by trial and error, I have settled on Vya Vermouth over the usual M&R and Noily Pratt. Vya was very hard to find (I live in Michigan, USA) and was very expensive ($25 a bottle), but the differnce in taste is worth every penny.

  19. Nostromo Nostromo says:

    Hi Jay! I recently added you on facebook as a friend. Well, I have a modest blog where I speak aboy my passions: running, cocktails, music. Unfortunatelly, it’s written in spanish. Anyway, I would like to express my admiration and thank you for your excellent site. Oh, of course, letting here my personal recipe for Manhattan, based somehow in Jerry Thomas recipe. Manhattan, my favourite cocktail, the cocktail that “I bring in my heart”:

    2/3 rye whiskey
    1/3 sweet vermouth
    3 Angostura drops
    1 dash of Maraschino
    1 dash of red curaçao
    twist of orange

    You can see here the pics and, if you understand spanish, read the whole entry, of course :-)

    By the way, I use home made local vermouth, excellent in Catalonia. It’s deep and aromatic, so herbal. Martini seems just colored water in comparation ;-) Cheers!

  20. Nostromo Nostromo says:

    oh, excuse, forgot the link:

  21. Jay Jay says:

    Michael – thanks, glad you like the site. For the Manhattan my current favourite vermouth is Antica Formula, the vermouth makes a huge difference. I’ve yet to try vya in a Manhattan, will have to give it a go.

    Nostromo – Where do you get red curaçao from? Home-made vermouth sounds great.

  22. Nostromo Nostromo says:


    mmmm… I said “red curaçao”, because in my bottle you can read “curaçao rouge”. Probably you know it as orange curaçao. Mine is made for Bardinet, catalonian brand that always produces some interesting liqueurs like Maraschino, Dark Creme de Cacao, and a very underated gold rum called Negrita. It’s underrated because of its price, you can get a bottle for about 6 €. But it’s excellent for Cuba-Libre and Mai Tai. For instance, in Del Diego – in my opinion the best by far cocktail bar in Madrid – if you order a Mai Tai, the 2 rums of choice are Negrita and Havana Club 3 Years, and they work very well together. And of course, Bardinet Red Curaçao (you don’t need wasting the subtle Grand Marnier Rouge for this). Oh, excuse me, we were talking about Manhattans… :-) Here you can have a look to my curaçao bottle:

    Home-made vermouth, yes… Buy we have too some interesting local brands, like Perucchi or Yzaguirre. Cheers!

  23. Newmicon Newmicon says:

    Definitely Manhattan over Dry Martini

  24. Rich Rich says:

    I too am a fan of Bourbon Manhattans, however I find that the combination of sweet vermouth and bourbon is a bit too sweet for my tastes. Therefore I usually opt for a “Perfect Manhattan”, which uses half sweet vermouth and half dry vermouth. On the rocks or straight up, it’s perfect in every way!

    Perfect Manahattan
    In a DOF glass filled with ice cubes:
    2-4 dashes Angostura bitters
    3 oz. Makers Mark (or your favorite) bourbon
    3/4 oz sweet vermouth
    3/4 oz dry vermouth
    Stir, add cherry (with stem please) for garnish.

  25. Chuck Burns Chuck Burns says:

    I’ve only made Manhattens in the past with Bourbon; usually Buffulo Trace and Makers Mark and M&R sweet vermouth. My favorite bar makes them with 1792 and Stock Vermouth (which is nothing special).

    I just bought a bottle of Sazerac 6 year old Rye and decided to make a Manhatten with it. I have also recently bought bottles of Dolin Vermouth in all three styles Dry, Blance and Rouge (sweet). I decided to make a Manhatten using the Dolin Rouge.

    So I did:
    2 oz Sazerac Rye 6 year old
    1 oz Dolin Rouge
    2 Dashes Angostura

    I stirred for about 40 seconds and then rather than serve it up served it in a Double Old Fashioned Glass with three ice cubes from the Tovolo trays. Garnish was a Luxardo Cherry.

    The results are very, very nice; maybe even wonderful. Next time I will try it with Regans Orange and then Peychauds (the other two bitters I have) to see what a differnce they make. I can highly recomend the Sazerac Rye. One of these days I’ll decide to drop the 70 dollars for a bottle of their 18 year old Rye.

    As an aside I highly recommend the Dolin Vermouths. My wife and I like drinking all three unmixed as aperitifs. The Blanc is great. My favorite Martini recipe uses Leupold or Junipero Gin and Dolin Blanc in a 2:1 ratio with 2 dashes of Regans. Remember the original Martini used sweet vermouth.

    As I was typing this I was sipping on a Manhatten. I need to go ake another one! The only problem is that it spoils you for what you get at bars.

  26. Jay Jay says:

    Chuck – Honestly, the Saz 18 is good but for a similar price you can get the Thomas H. Handy rye (from the same collection of whiskys). It’s barrel-proof and much younger, so certainly isn’t as smooth but if you treat it right it makes some wonderful Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. It’s one of my favourite ryes.

  27. Chuck Burns Chuck Burns says:

    Jay, I’ve been trying to get a bottle of Thomas Handy but with no luck. I have my name on a bottle the next time one comes in to my favorite shop. As for it being a bit younger than the Saz 18 I think the Manhatten and the Old Fashioned are like big Cabernets or Syrah; they’re supposed to be big and bold and that’s part of their charm.

    For a commonly available Rye Wild Turkey 101 makes for a pretty good Manhatten too. The only problem is that the more Rye you drink everything else, other than some Single Malt Scotch’s, seems a bit underwhelming.

  28. PaulSkav PaulSkav says:

    best manhattan I’ve had (wish I invented it but a friend of mine gets credit for that):

    2 oz Jim Beam Rye (best rye IMO, spicy)
    1 oz Vya Sweet Vermouth (antica also good)
    1-2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters (I also like Fee’s Orange)

    **prior to mixing, peel twist of orange and squeeze to “mist” in glass, drop twist in glass. Pour mixed drink over orange twist. NO CHERRY.

    the reason for no cherry originally came from the frustration of not being able to get good ones (except luxardo which are $$$) subsitituting the orange is wonderful with the orange bitters and the spice of the Jim Beam is perfect. I tried Overholt, Wild Turkey, etc. and Jim Beam is simply the best for this version. Please try!

  29. Mardec Mardec says:

    Ken above suggests using Punt et Mes.
    And I just did, it is awesome!!!
    Best Manhattan I ever made.

    2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
    1 oz Punt et Mes
    big dash Angostura (I like it tasty ;-) )
    And a Amarena Cherry :D (it is not maraschino, I know, but it is better)

    Try it!

  30. Tom Brown Tom Brown says:

    My wife prefers a rye manhattan with either Vya Sweet Vermouth or Carpano Antica mixed this way:

    2 oz Sazarac 6 year old (I don’t think this can be beat for rye cocktails)
    1 oz Vya Sweet Vermouth or Carpano Antica
    Solid dash of Angostura orange bitters

    Pour over ice, stir for 30 seconds and strain over Luxardo maraschino cherry in a cocktail glass. Slip 1 tsp Luxardo maraschino liqueur down side of glass and serve.

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