Manhattan Cocktail

Here are the secrets to the best Manhattan cocktail recipe! This easy classic cocktail is made with just three ingredients.

Manhattan cocktail

Are you a fan of the Manhattan cocktail? This sophisticated whiskey drink has a long history and has stood the test of time. With only three ingredients, there’s so much going on in one sip! Hints of vanilla, oak and caramel come from the bourbon, sweet and spicy from the vermouth, and a bitter and herby nuance from the bitters. When we want a truly classic cocktail, this is one we’ll reach for (well, or a whiskey sour or gin fizz). Here are the Manhattan cocktail ingredients and how to make a truly stellar drink.

Manhattan cocktail ingredients

The Manhattan cocktail goes all the way back to the 1870’s, so it’s older than many cocktails that sprung up in 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. This means that there’s an official definition for the Manhattan cocktail ingredients:

  • Rye whiskey
  • Sweet red vermouth
  • Angostura bitters
  • Luxardo cocktail cherry for the garnish

Let’s chat through each of the ingredients, shall we?

Whiskey

The whiskey: rye vs bourbon

The traditional way to make a Manhattan is with rye whiskey. Rye whiskey has a spicier flavor than bourbon, which is sweeter. Personally we prefer the sweeter flavor of bourbon here, which we feel makes a smoother, more balanced Manhattan. But feel free to use whatever suits your tastes! Some great bourbon options are Elijah Craig Small Batch or Woodford Reserve. Or use a locally distilled option if you have one! We used a local bourbon for this one (Hotel Tango in Indianapolis).

In general, we prefer the taste of bourbon whiskey to rye in cocktails. We use bourbon in our Whiskey Sour and Old Fashioned recipes. Love Scotch? Go ahead and make a Manhattan with Scotch whisky: it’s called a Rob Roy! See below for more Manhattan variations.

All about vermouth!

Vermouth is a fortified wine, meaning that liquor has been added to stabilize it. Other types of fortified wines are Port, Sherry or Madeira. There are two main types of vermouth: sweet (usually red) and dry (usually white).

  • Sweet vermouth is subtly sweet and spicy, with a hit of bitter on the finish. It’s used in many classic cocktails: most famously the Manhattan cocktail! It’s also used in the Negroni and Americano.
  • Dry white vermouth tastes like a dry white wine. It’s used in martinis, like the Classic Martini or Dirty Martini.

You can mix vermouth in cocktails, or you can drink sweet vermouth on the rocks as an aperitif. When we visited Spain, we loved drinking Spanish vermouth on the rocks: it has an even sweeter flavor: almost like cola! Store vermouth in the refrigerator, where it will stay good for up to 3 months.

Vermouth

Angostura bitters add complexity

Angostura bitters are popularly used in cocktails to add a complex and bitter undertone! If you’ve never used them, grab a bottle and shake a dash or two into a drink. It goes from one-note to extraordinarily complex with just a few drops. That’s because bitters are made with herbs and spices: it adds intrigue because the flavors are not easily recognizable.

Angostura bitters are one of the most popular in drinks and easy to find. They get the name from their manufacturer: the House of Angostura in Trinidad and Tobago. (Read more here.) Other cocktails that use Angostura bitters? The Old Fashioned, Toronto, and Champagne Cocktail.

Manhattan

Top the Manhattan with a cherry…a Luxardo cherry!

The garnish is an important part of any cocktail: especially classic cocktails! It’s not really a classic cocktail without the garnish, right? The garnish for a Manhattan cocktail is a Luxardo cherry.

Luxardo cherries are a cocktail cherry, but they’re so dark red they almost look black. They don’t taste anything like a Maraschino: their flavor is complex, fruity, and nutty almost like amaretto. It’s exactly what you need for this classic cocktail. Where to find Luxardo cherries? It’s easiest to get them online.

Manhattan cocktail with Luxardo cherry

How to make a Manhattan

Once you’ve gathered all the ingredients, the easy part is making the Manhattan cocktail! This three ingredient cocktail takes only a few minutes to make. Here are a few notes on what to do:

  • Stir together all ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass. Shaking the drink in a cocktail shaker would dilute it too much. A cocktail mixing glass is used for “stirred” cocktails that are spirit-forward and served without ice, like the Manhattan and Martini.
  • Don’t have one? You can use any glass or container you like to mix the drink, then strain it into the serving glass. But if you want to look like someone who knows their cocktails, grab yourself a cocktail mixing glass. (Plus, it just looks cool.)

Ready to try it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Manhattan cocktail
Manhattan with cocktail mixing glass in the background

Manhattan variations

There are several popular variations on the Manhattan. Once you’ve made it the classic way, try these spins! Our personal favorites are with bourbon and brandy.

When to serve a Manhattan cocktail

The Manhattan cocktail is a sophisticated and complex whiskey cocktail. 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
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Manhattan

Classic Manhattan Cocktail


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Here are the secrets to the best Manhattan cocktail recipe! This easy classic cocktail is made with just three ingredients.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon or rye whiskey (we prefer bourbon)
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) sweet red vermouth
  • 3 dashes Angostura or orange bitters
  • Garnish: Luxardo cherry or other cocktail cherry

Instructions

  1. Combine the whiskey, vermouth 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.
  2. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry and serve.
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Stirred
  • Cuisine: Cocktails

Keywords: Manhattan Cocktail, Manhattan Cocktail Ingredients, Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

More whiskey cocktails

We’ve got lots of great whiskey cocktails and bourbon cocktails for you to choose from! Here are our favorites:

Last updated: March 2021

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

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

Cookbook Author and photographer

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.

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