Manhattan Cocktail

Here are the secrets to the best Manhattan cocktail! Add style to your evening with this easy classic whiskey cocktail 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 come back into style. It’s a three ingredient cocktail, but there’s so much going on in one sip! Vanilla, oak and caramel notes from the bourbon, sweet and spicy from the vermouth, and bitter and herby from the bitters. When Alex and I want a truly classic cocktail, this is one we’ll reach for (or a whiskey sour or gin fizz). Here are the secrets to how to make the very best Manhattan!

What’s in a Manhattan cocktail?

The Manhattan cocktail goes all the way back to the 1870’s, so it’s older than most cocktails (which 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 actually a classic cocktail on the list of International Bartender Association’s IBA official cocktails. This means that there’s an “official” definition, which is:

  • Rye whiskey
  • Sweet red vermouth
  • Agnostura bitters
  • Cocktail cherry for the garnish

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


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. Because there’s so much spice and intrigue already going on in this drink, Alex and I prefer the sweeter flavor of bourbon here. But feel free to use whatever suits your tastes! We used a locally distilled bourbon from Indianapolis (Hotel Tango). If you have local options, this is a great way to give them a go!

In general, we prefer the taste of bourbon whiskey to rye in cocktails. We use bourbon in our Whiskey Sour and Old Fashioned recipes. If you love Scotch, go ahead and make a Manhattan with Scotch whisky: it’s called a Rob Roy!

All about vermouth!

Vermouth is a fortified wine. Fortified means that liquor has been added to the wine, usually brandy. Other types of fortified wines you may have heard of 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 back end.

You can also drink sweet vermouth on the rocks as an aperitif. When Alex and I visited Spain, we loved drinking Spanish vermouth on the rocks: it has an even sweeter flavor (almost like cola!). Storage tip: Store vermouth in the refrigerator, where it will stay good for up to 3 months.


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 Classic Old Fashioned, the Toronto Cocktail, and The Classic Champagne Cocktail.


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. When Alex told me we needed a very special sort of cherry for this Manhattan, I wasn’t sure it if was worth the hype. But upon one taste: I was sold!

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

Manhattan cocktail with Luxardo cherry

How to make a Manhattan

Phew! Once you’ve gathered all the ingredients, the easy part is making the Manhattan cocktail! This three ingredient cocktail takes only 5 minutes to make. Here are a few notes on what to do:

  • Stir together all ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass. Why not a shaker like most cocktails? Well, shaking in a cocktail shaker dilutes the drink because of the ice, and this is one you don’t want too diluted. Because it’s served without ice, you can’t mix it right in the glass. A cocktail mixing glass is used for “stirred” cocktails that are served sans ice. 
  • Don’t have one? You can definitely 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.)

A few variations? Try the classic Martinez: like a gin version of a Manhattan! Or go for the Black Manhattan, a spin using a bittersweet Italian amaro.

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

Manhattan cocktail
Manhattan with cocktail mixing glass in the background

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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Classic Manhattan Cocktail

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (7 votes, average: 4.86 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutse
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 51 minute
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


Here are the secrets to the best Manhattan cocktail! Add style to your evening with this easy classic whiskey cocktail made with just three ingredients.



  • 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


  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, Whiskey Cocktail

More whiskey cocktails

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

  • Favorite Whiskey Sour Perfectly balanced and so easy to make! Or add a foam topping to make it a Boston Sour.
  • Classic Old Fashioned The oldest cocktail there is! The classic method uses a sugar cube, bitters, and bourbon whiskey for a truly timeless drink. Or step it up and try it smoked.
  • Whiskey Smash A tangy and refreshing whiskey drink with lemon juice and mint — like a citrus spin on the Mint Julep.
  • Boulevardier A stunning classic cocktail! This easy three ingredient drink an the improvement on the Negroni, swapping gin for warm whiskey.
  • Sazerac The official cocktail of New Orleans! Cognac, whiskey and absinthe make up this famous drink. Or try La Louisiane, an even better spin on this classic.
  • Toronto Cocktail Combines the depth and warmth of whiskey with the intrigue of herbal Fernet-Branca liqueur.
  • Penicillin This tasty modern classic stars Scotch, honey, lemon and ginger.
  • Vieux Carre Strong and sippable, it features whiskey, Cognac and vermouth.
  • A few others to try? Brown Derby, Kentucky MuleAlabama Slammer, or Paper Plane.

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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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