Try the Black Manhattan cocktail! This recipe swaps in Italian amaro for a cocktail that’s even more sophisticated—and tasty—than the original.
Love a good Manhattan? Then you’ll love this funky spin: the Black Manhattan! This classy drink swaps out sweet vermouth for an Italian amaro. It’s strong and boozy, like any good Manhattan, but with caramel and chocolate notes on the finish. The one’s one of a kind, especially for the astute home bartender who’s delighted by the excuse to purchase a specialty liqueur. It was a big hit over here…and though I lean towards a spritz with my amaro consumption, I can appreciate this boozy triumph.
What’s in a Black Manhattan?
The Manhattan dates back to the 1870’s, so it’s older than many classic cocktails from the 1920’s and 30’s. The story goes that the drink was invented at a club called The Manhattan Club in New York City, hence the name. The Manhattan is a classic cocktail on the list of International Bartender Association’s IBA official cocktails, meaning it has an official definition.
The Black Manhattan takes that and swaps out the sweet vermouth for an Italian amaro called Averna. The drink was invented in 2007 by bartender Todd Smith at the Bourbon & Branch in San Fransisco, and went on to become a solid modern classic. The ingredients in a Black Manhattan are:
- Rye whiskey
- Italian amaro, like Averna or another herbal, caramel-flavored amaro
- Angostura bitters
- Cocktail cherry for the garnish
The obvious special ingredient is the amaro. Let’s chat about it a bit, shall we?
More about Amaro and Averna
Amaro is a family of Italian herbal liqueurs that taste bitter (amaro means bitter in Italian). It encompasses a wide range of spirits: the most famous being ultra-bitter Campari. At the other end of the spectrum is Aperol, sweet and barely bitter at all. But there are so many different varieties in between! Averna is a variety that’s somewhere in the middle.
- Averna is an Italian amaro made in Sicily, Italy since 1868. It’s dark brown and the flavor is spicy, and herbal, with caramel and honey notes.
- If you can’t find Averna, substitute another dark, herbal and sweet amaro. Some good options include Meletti (we used in this Amaro Spritz), Nonino (in the Paper Plane) or Amaro Tosolini (in the Brooklyn). Another option is Cynar.
Looking for more? Try all our Must-Try Amaro Cocktails.
The whiskey: rye vs bourbon
The traditional way to make a Manhattan or Black Manhattan is with rye whiskey. Rye whiskey has a spicier flavor than bourbon, which is sweeter. Because there’s so much spice and intrigue already going on in a Manhattan that we prefer the sweeter flavor of bourbon here. But they are both fantastic! Feel free to use whatever suits you.
The cherry on top…a Luxardo cherry!
The garnish for a “real” Manhattan cocktail is not just any cherry: it’s a Luxardo cherry. This type of cocktail cherry is so dark red it’s almost black. The flavor? Complex, fruity, and nutty almost like amaretto. Exactly what you need for a classic cocktail like the Black Manhattan. It’s easiest to find Luxardo cherries online. We assume if you’re in on this drink, you probably already have a jar in the fridge.
Cocktail bitters round it out!
Like the Manhattan, the Black Manhattan has a few drops of bitters to add complexity to the drink. The Black spin uses both Angostura bitters and orange bitters, to add even more intrigue than the standard cocktail. Of course if you don’t have one or the other, feel free to use just one variety. The difference is very subtle.
Cousin drinks: the Brooklyn, Martinez and more!
- Go classic with the Manhattan!
- Try the Brooklyn, a spin from 1908 with rye whiskey, dry vermouth and Maraschino liqueur
- Opt for the Martinez, an 1880’s cocktail with gin, sweet vermouth and Maraschino
- Try the Bourbon Manhattan or Brandy Manhattan, two easy variations
- Try the Rob Roy: a Manhattan…using Scotch!
When to serve a Black Manhattan cocktail
The Manhattan cocktail is sophisticated and complex, something we’d recommend for the adventurous home bartender. It’s perfect for sipping as a:
- Happy hour drink
- Dinner party drink
- Late night drinks drink
- Guys or girls night drink
- Cocktail hour drink
Try the Black Manhattan cocktail! This recipe swaps in Italian amaro for a drink that’s even more sophisticated—and tasty—than the original.
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon or rye whiskey
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Italian amaro, like Averna
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
- For the garnish: Cocktail cherry or Luxardo cherry
- Combine the whiskey, amaro and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass (or any other type of glass). Fill the mixing glass with 1 handful ice and stir continuously for 30 seconds.
- Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry and serve.
- Category: Drink
- Method: Shaken
- Cuisine: Cocktails
Keywords: Black Manhattan, Black Manhattan recipe
More great whiskey cocktails
Want to make all the greats? Here are some of the top whiskey cocktails to try:
- Go classic with a Classic Old Fashioned, or try this smoky spin
- Opt for a sophisticated Boulevardier
- Try refreshingly minty Whiskey Smash or Classic Mint Julep
- Pour an easy Whiskey Highball or Irish Mule
- Try modern classics Paper Plane or Gold Rush
- Go citrusy with a Brown Derby
- Grab your absinthe for a Sazerac
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.