Italian and American blended together on the East coast.
It’s a recipe almost as old as the Thirteen Colonies themselves and it works perfectly.
Pizza, The Godfather Trilogy, and, of course, the Manhattan cocktail.
You’ve probably sipped this timeless classic countless times in dimly lit bars, but if you’re curious as to how to make your own, then you’re in the right place.
Stick around and we’ll tackle a bit of history, what’s in the Manhattan, and how to make both the classic drink and some killer variations!
What Is a Manhattan? A List of Manhattan Ingredients
As far as drinks go, the Manhattan is old.
Even older than Charlie Chaplin and just 100 or so years younger than the United States itself, the drink was invented around 1880 in New York as a simple mix of Rye Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters.
A classy drink for a classy night, the Manhattan will have you feeling like Jay Gatsby or Marylin Monroe from the first sip.
Using rye whiskey will give the drink a little bit of a kick compared with smoother choices like bourbon, and pairs incredibly well with the bitters while being balanced nicely by the sweet vermouth.
That’s not to say that you can’t use bourbon (or even scotch, but we’ll get to that later) if you fancy.
The classic Manhattan is a rye-based cocktail, but switching it up will give you a very different flavor from the familiar classic.
The Manhattan has been switched up and changed around in its long history, but the Classic Manhattan drink has remained ever present on cocktail menus across the Western hemisphere.
You can’t call yourself a serious bartender unless you can make one.
How To Make a Manhattan
The Manhattan is a surprisingly simple drink to make, and you can impress so many of your dates and guests by nailing this classic in just x simple steps!
Step One: Build
Chill a coupe glass. Then, add 2 ounces of your chosen Rye, 1 ounce of Sweet Vermouth, and 1 ounce of Angostura Bitters to your mixing glass. A simple 2:1:1 ratio.
Step Two: Stir
Don’t shake this one. We don’t want too much of the ice diluting the drink so a gentle 30-second stir is all that’s needed to chill the Manhattan down to the icy temperature it’s best enjoyed at.
Step Three: Finish
Strain your mixture into your chilled glass and garnish. You have two choices here: either a brandied cherry or lemon twist.
Experiment with both, personally I’d recommend the brandied cherry to partner with the sweetness of the Vermouth and balance the spicy punch of the rye.
Popular Manhattan Variations
Despite the classic Manhattan being an exquisite drink, it has been around for over 130 years and in that time, bartenders have tweaked and changed it to create their own new drinks.
Here are a few of the best:
Let’s start with a simple one.
The Perfect Manhattan is almost the same as the classic, with one small twist. Instead of an ounce of sweet vermouth, add ½ ounce of that, and ½ ounce of dry vermouth to create a brilliant balance between flavors, adding a new dynamic to your drink.
It’s a simple change, but one that makes a pleasant, if subtle, difference.
In the same vein as the Perfect Manhattan, the Dry Manhattan goes a little further and replaces all the sweet vermouth with dry vermouth.
This will make your cocktail taste strong, heavy, and bitter compared to the classic, which has sweeter notes to balance out the palate.
Don’t take that as a bad thing though, some of the best cocktails (such as the Dirty Martini) have no hints of sweetness at all! Definitely one to try if you don’t have a sweet tooth.
Named after the Scottish Jacobite rebel from the late 17th Century, the Rob Roy cocktail switches the base of rye whiskey for a strong, single malt scotch.
Speyside and Highland scotch whisky will pair best with the vermouth, and consider swapping out the Angostura bitters for Peychaud’s bitters if the cocktail is too strong.
What would you call a variation on a Manhattan? Just name it after a different New York borough of course!
The Brooklyn uses dry vermouth but brings back the sweetness by only using half the amount of bitters, then the other half Maraschino Liqueur.
The sweet, sticky, cherry flavor adds a new character to the drink and it’s one you have to give a try.
Is it a twist on a Negroni or is it a twist on a Manhattan? For my money, it can be either, but it’s definitely closer in taste and profile to the Manhattan.
Just simply switch out the angostura bitter for Campari, and garnish with an orange twist, to highlight the stronger, bitter flavors in your Manhattan and you’ve got a whole new drink ready to knock your socks off.
Just don’t forget to serve in a rocks glass instead of a coupe.
For our final Manhattan variation, we have the Cuban Manhattan.
There are no prizes on offer for guessing this is a classic, with the rye swapped for rum. Rum is often aged in either bourbon or rye barrels and so it brings out more of those familiar whiskey flavors than you might expect in a cocktail.
Either way, using a dark or spiced rum is a great way to add a real punch to your Manhattan.
I started bartending in 2017, just 4 days after my 18th birthday, at a cocktail bar in my hometown. I immediately fell in love with the art and science of mixology and have since worked in bars across Yarm, York and Liverpool in England.