Manhattan vs Old Fashioned: what’s the difference between these iconic whiskey cocktails? Here’s what you need to know.

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned

The Manhattan and Old Fashioned are two greats in the cocktail lexicon. But do you know the difference? Which traditionally uses bourbon, and which rye whiskey? What’s the standard glass to serve each one? Which was invented first? Here’s everything you need to know about these two iconic whiskey drinks: and recipes to make both!

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned: what’s the difference?

The Manhattan and Old Fashioned are classic whiskey cocktails with several key differences. Here’s a breakdown:

  • The Manhattan is a classic cocktail featuring whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Rye whiskey is the most traditional choice, though bourbon or other whiskey is also used. It’s stirred in a mixing glass with ice, then strained into a stemmed cocktail glass and garnished with a Luxardo cherry.
  • The Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail made with whiskey, water, sugar, and bitters. Bourbon is the most traditional choice, though rye is sometimes used. The drink is composed right in a low ball glass, where you’ll mash sugar, then add water and bourbon. An orange peel is expressed into the glass and used as a garnish, often along with a cocktail cherry.

You can distinguish the two drinks easily by the look. Stemmed glass with Luxardo cherries? It’s a Manhattan. Low ball glass with orange peel? It’s an Old Fashioned.

Manhattan cocktail with Luxardo cherry

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned: what’s the history? Which is older?

The history of both the Manhattan vs Old Fashioned goes back hundreds of years. This pair of whiskey cocktails are some of the oldest in the American cocktail tradition. Who’s older? The Old Fashioned. In fact, it’s the oldest cocktail there is.

  • The Old Fashioned gets its name because it started as literally the cocktail. That is: the first cocktail in existence! It was first documented in 1806 by a New York paper. Once more cocktails started coming along in the 1860’s, they needed a name for that original whiskey cocktail. The term “Old Fashioned” was born.
  • The Manhattan cocktail was invented in the 1870’s. The story goes that the drink was invented at a club called The Manhattan Club in New York City, hence the name.

Variations on the drinks

There are several variations on these two timeless drinks! Like any great cocktail, they’ve both spawned creativity and innovation of bartenders and mixologists over the years. Here are the classic recipes, and a few popular variations:

Ready to taste? Below are the recipes for the classics.

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Manhattan vs Old Fashioned


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

Description

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned: what’s the difference between these iconic whiskey cocktails? Here are recipes for both!


Ingredients

Scale

For the Manhattan

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

For the Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube (1 teaspoon sugar)
  • 4 dashes Angostura bitters
  • ½ teaspoon water
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) bourbon whiskey
  • Orange peel for garnish
  • Cocktail cherry for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. For the Manhattan: 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. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry and serve.
  2. For the Old Fashioned: Place the sugar cube in a lowball glass and add the bitters. Add the water and mash and swirl it with a muddler or wooden spoon until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Add the bourbon whiskey and swirl to combine. Add a large ice cube. Use a knife to remove a 1″ wide strip of the orange peel. Squeeze the orange peel into the drink to release the oils. Gently run the peel around the edge of the glass, then place it in the glass. If desired, garnish with a cocktail cherry for additional sweetness.
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Stirred
  • Cuisine: Cocktails

Keywords: Manhattan vs Old Fashioned

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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