It's hard not to feel classy when you're drinking a Manhattan. A mix of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, it's the whiskey world's answer to the martini and arguably the quintessential cocktail of its kind.
If you're mixing drinks at home, this is an easy way to get a very potent bang for your buck.
The History of the Manhattan
Like a lot of storied cocktails, the origins of the Manhattan are shrouded in mystery. Allegedly, the cocktail was created at a banquet held at the Manhattan Club, in New York, presided over by Jennie Jerome (later the mother of Winston Churchill). Another story holds that it was invented by a bartender working at a New York bar near Broadway and Houston.
Whichever story you believe, the cocktail definitely appeared in the late 19th century, probably in Manhattan, and by 1891 it had appeared in print for the first time. Although it dates back more than a century, the Manhattan has weathered the years with its recipe and its reputation mostly intact.
What Does a Manhattan Taste Like?
Whiskey and vermouth are like the peanut butter and jelly of the cocktail world: Alone they are quite nice, but together they create something greater than the sum of their parts.
If you've ever stuck your head in a spice cabinet and smelled all the different flavors intermingling, a Manhattan is a bit like that, but with whiskey. A proper Manhattan should bring out the warmth and spice of the whiskey without competing with or obscuring it.
What Is a 'Perfect Manhattan'?
For me, the predominant (and preferred) flavor in a classic Manhattan is something almost like cinnamon—rich, warm, slightly sweet—but you may prefer a different taste!
If you prefer something a little lighter (or if you're just looking to try something different), I recommend the so-called 'Perfect Manhattan,' which is made from equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. The botanicals in the dry vermouth make the drink taste a bit more delicate.
What Kind of Whiskey Should I Use?
I know it's said you shouldn't use your nicest liquors when mixing, but if there was ever a cocktail made to throw the spotlight on a fine whiskey, this is it.
You can make a Manhattan with any kind of whiskey: rye, bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, even Scotch. My personal favorite is rye whiskey; its spicy complexity is a lovely balance to the sweetness of the vermouth. It’s also a quintessential old and storied American spirit, so probably quite true to the original intent of a Manhattan. Pinhook is a favorite rye of mine, but Bulleit also makes a really nice rye.
That being said, if you have a lot of whiskeys on hand, feel free to experiment, because therein lies the fun of cocktails! Or try a local whiskey, and support an independent distillery in your area.
It's also quite possible to make a Manhattan with bourbon, although I find this to be a bit too far on the sweet side.
What Kind of Vermouth Should I Use?
When it comes to a Manhattan, the vermouth is just as important as the whiskey. Carpano Antica and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino are both great sweet vermouth choices for a Manhattan. Noilly Prat is another good choice (for both the sweet and the dry vermouths) that's fairly easy to find.
Stir, Don’t Shake!
Any cocktail that doesn't have juice in it can be stirred, not shaken, which is convenient if you don't have a cocktail shaker (or have one and don't feel like washing it).
I like to stir first for 30 seconds and then let the drink sit for another 30 seconds, which gives the ice time to melt and mellow the bite of the alcohol.
More Whiskey Cocktails to Enjoy
- 2 ounces rye whiskey (or bourbon)
- 1/2 ounce sweet (Italian) vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Orange peel or cocktail cherry for garnish, optional
Combine all ingredients and stir:
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir for 30 seconds, and then let sit for 30 seconds before straining into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel or cocktail cherry.