The Manhattan is easily one of my top 5 drinks, if not my favorite (it *is* hard to pick just one). Drinking a Manhattan Cocktail is like easing into a leather arm chair by a fire – to me, it’s warmth, coziness, and easy conversation in a glass. Boozy to be sure, but complex, and with the right whiskey and vermouth, the Manhattan just shines. The Manhattan has been around for over a century, but other than coming from Manhattan, its origins are a little obscure. There are several interesting stories, but all seem apocryphal when you dig into them a little. But it’s certainly old and I’m a strong proponent of the theory that classics like this are hard to beat. Which isn’t to say that every drink from Jerry Thomas or other mixology scripture is fantastic (in fact they’re a pretty mixed bag), but the ones that still appear on menus today do so for a reason – like the Manhattan, they’ve stood the test of time.
What Spirits to use in a Manhattan Cocktail
The simplicity of the Manhattan Cocktail demands quality ingredients. Rye Whiskey is traditional, for good reason. The spiciness of a good rye contrasts with the sweetness of the vermouth, where a bourbon just ends up cloying. And there are clearly hundreds of Ryes to choose from. I’ve recently worked my way through bottles of Few, Bulleit, and Templeton, but do your own experiments and settle on a favorite or not (I prefer a little variety here, myself). My approach for spirit selection with most cocktails is to steer clear of the highest quality spirits, which are best enjoyed straight, while getting decent bottles. However, with drinks such as the Manhattan that put a single primary ingredient front and center, you should spend a little. The second ingredient is Vermouth, and many swear by Carpano Antico. But personally, I find this vermouth a little vinous for my taste (it actually starts me down the path to a red wine headache), and I use the lighter Dolin instead. For bitters, Angostura is traditional with this drink, but orange is a valid alternative, and you should definitely keep a quality brand of Orange Bitters on hand, such as Fee Brothers. Garnish with a single cherry – and please, the good ones are definitely worth it. Buy on Amazon if your local grocery doesn’t have a good option.
Proper Stirring Technique
Solid technique is also critical when mixing a Manhattan Cocktail. Manhattans are traditionally served up, and they are one of the few drinks I use a Martini glass for (as opposed to a coupe). Chill the glass while assembling the other ingredients by filling it with ice and water, while assembling the rest of your ingredients.
Stirring may seem more straightforward than shaking a drink, but the reverse is true. Shaking is just about feeling comfortable moving the shaker with enough vigor, while stirring is distinct skill that’s harder to master. Fill your mixing glass with ice, and practice a bit before adding the booze if you’re still getting the trick of it. The idea is to have the spoon follow the perimeter of the glass, swirling the ice around, rather than cutting through the ice. Swirling the ice without banging it too much maximizes cooling and minimizes dilution. Once you’ve warmed up (only if necessary, as this will also warm your ice!), add the liquid ingredients, stir 30 seconds, and strain into your chilled glass with a hawthorne strainer. Use your spoon to pick up a cherry from the jar and drop it in, ideally with a tiny amount of juice.
The Manhattan is definitely a drink that you should customize to your taste (and your guests’ taste). And I urge you to experiment with the proportions, not just the selection of spirits or whether to serve up or on the rocks. I like a 2:1 ratio of Rye to Vermouth, but make up your own mind. These flavors must balance, but also, they must suit your preference.
- 2 oz Rye Whiskey
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters or Orange
- 1 Cocktail Cherry use a high quality one, please
- Chill a martini glass or coupe
- Add liquid ingredients to ice filled mixing glass
- Stir for 30 seconds and strain into glass
- Garnish with Cherry