The Manhattan cocktail is my drink of choice. But it can come in many flavors. The basic outline for the cocktail: two parts whiskey to one part sweet vermouth, a couple dashes of bitters, plus a garnish. The taste can vary quite a lot based on the choices made for each of those items, of course.
I saw my first Manhattan in the early 1980’s in Bailey’s Crossroads, VA, at a place called Mr. T’s on Columbia Pike (the restaurant is long gone). Tom Rafter, the Publications Director of what was then called the American Geological Institute (now the American Geosciences Institute), used to knock them back at lunch, typically at least three. He’s been dead many years, but I can still remember you could keep track of how many Manhattans he’d had by counting the cherries in his glass. As for me, I think it was at least another three or four years before I tried one myself.
The original or classic cocktail was made with Rye Whiskey. In recent decades, though, bourbon has become the more common choice, while some may use a Canadian whiskey (or “whisky” as the Canadians and Scots prefer to spell it). I typically use Makers Mark bourbon, though Bulleit is a nice alternative.
There are various brands of both sweet and dry vermouths. All I can tell you is to experiment with various ones and see what you do and don’t like. A great way to do this is by visiting a bar that may have more than one version on hand, and then ask to try one drink made one way, and then have another one with a different vermouth.
As for bitters, there are a variety of brands and flavors. Perhaps the most common is Angostura aromatic bitters. But do a search online and you’ll find there are a lot of other possibilities out there. I’ve seen one set of a dozen bottles that includes flavors such as plum, cherry, peach and lemon.
The standard is the maraschino cherry. But there are varieties of cherries, and some folks seem to think the plain-old maraschino cherry is a bit passé. Again, do an online search for “cocktail cherries” and you’ll see a number of varieties come up.
In addition to the cherry, you’ll also find some folks prefer a twist of orange or lemon (I’ve not ever seen anyone use lime, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done). Try them out and see what you think. Whatever you do, though, don’t use olives or cocktail onions; those just don’t go with the flavor of the drink.
A Manhattan cocktail is usually served straight up in a cocktail glass, stemmed or stemless. If you don’t know what a cocktail glass looks like, I’ve provided a photo above (it is also often referred to as a Martini glass). If you’re having your Manhattan on the rocks, then it would typically be served in a rocks or old fashioned glass (called that because an Old Fashioned cocktail is served in that type of glass).
Manhattan cocktail variants
- Irish: use Irish whiskey instead of bourbon or rye
- Perfect: divide your vermouth portion between ½ sweet and ½ dry
- Dry: substitute dry for sweet vermouth
- Rob Roy: it’s not a Manhattan if you use scotch instead of bourbon or rye
Tools & ingredients
Below is a photo showing the tools and ingredients I used to make the Manhattan to illustrate this article.
- Back row, left to right: Cobbler-style cocktail shaker with strainer in the top, Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, Blue Dyer bourbon whiskey.
- Center row, Angostura aromatic bitters, jigger for measuring (and ice cube), Maraschino cherries.
- Front: cocktail stirring spoon.
Manhattan cocktail, straight up
Yield 1 cocktail
A classic cocktail with three ingredients — whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters — plus a garnish. It is usually served straight up, but may also be served over ice, or “on the rocks” as it is known.
2 shots, or 3 oz., of whiskey
1 shot, or 1.5 oz. of sweet vermouth
2 dashes of bitters
1 maraschino cherry
5 – 8 ice cubes
- Chill a cocktail glass by filling it with ice and then adding water (or put it in the freezer for 5 – 10 minutes).
- Put five to eight ice cubes in a glass or cocktail shaker.
- Pour in 2 shots of whiskey over the ice.
- Add 1 shot of sweet vermouth.
- Put in 2 dashes of bitters.
- If you like a sweeter drink, you might try adding a bit of maraschino juice.
- Stir (do not shake) the mix with a cocktail stirrer or long spoon.
- Pour ice and water out of your cocktail glass.
- Strain the liquid from your shaker into the chilled glass.
- Add maraschino cherry, and serve.