Few drinks have withstood the test of time like the Manhattan cocktail. The dark mahogany, three-ingredient cocktail is spirit-forward and well-rounded. Almost as soon as it was created in the 1800s, Manhattan cocktail variations emerged, using different whiskey, bitters, or additional liqueurs. Among the five cocktails named for the boroughs of New York City, the Manhattan and its variations make a great apéritif or after-dinner whiskey cocktail.
The History of the Manhattan
Like many cocktail histories, the Manhattan’s origin story is more legend than fact. The most popular tale is that Dr. Iain Marshall created the drink in the Manhattan Club in New York for Lady Randolph Churchill, the mother of Winston Churchill. This story, unfortunately, doesn’t corroborate with evidence that Lady Churchill was, in fact, pregnant and in England at the time. Whatever the circumstances, the Manhattan was created by the early 1880s since the Sunday Morning Herald published a recipe for it in September 1882.
Originally, the Manhattan cocktail recipe was likely made with rye whiskey (or possibly bourbon), but Canadian whisky was often substituted during Prohibition since it was more easily accessible. The drink was often overlooked for its crystal clear counterpart, the Martini, and the Manhattan received a poor reputation for waxy and dyed maraschino cherries and old vermouth. Today, the craft cocktail scene is giving credit to the complexity of this iconic beverage.
The Manhattan Recipe Variations
The Manhattan has evolved over its century and a half year history. With only three ingredients in the classic cocktail recipe, choosing high-quality supplies is key.
The Spirit Ratio — The original recipe is two parts whiskey, one part sweet vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters.
*Whiskey Variations — The traditional rye whiskey will give a stronger spice note, and bourbon a mellower sweetness. There are also variations with Canadian whisky for even easier drinking. *The Perfect Manhattan — Substitute half of the sweet vermouth for half dry vermouth. *Bitters Variation — While the gold standard is Angostura bitters, some old and new recipes call for variations like Peruvian bitters.
The Garnish — There are only a few traditional garnishes for a Manhattan: *High-quality cherry, like a Luxado *Orange peel *Lemon peel, for a pre-Prohibition garnish
The Preparation — The cocktail is stirred, never shaken, to ensure the beverage keeps its silky texture and amber color.
There are many variations of the Manhattan, each offering different intrigue to the classic. Whether you stick with the original or try a variation, you’re sure to find something you like.
The earthy, bitter first taste of the Brooklyn lingers long enough to turn enticingly sweet for an intriguing take on the Manhattan. It’s made by stirring rye, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and bitter liqueur together and served in a chilled cocktail glass.
Sweetness mingles with bitterness and bubbles in this elegant Manhattan variation. The Boothby cocktail harkens back to Prohibition days. It’s made by shaking rye (or your whiskey of choice), sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Angostura bitters and topped with sparkling wine to serve.
This Irish Whiskey take on a Manhattan balances its ingredients’ grain, fruit, and herbs for a depth of flavor that is hard to beat. Make it by stirring Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, green chartreuse, and Angostura bitters together and serve strained into a cocktail glass.
The Dubliner is the perfect drink for whiskey lovers who like it on the sweeter side. The sweet citrus of Grand Marnier complements the warming Irish whiskey, and the spice of the orange bitters are rounded off with sweet vermouth.
The spirit-forward Remember the Maine cocktail is subtly sweet thanks to the sweet vermouth and cherry liqueur, with intrigue from the dash of absinthe. Stir this rye-based cocktail together and serve strained into a cocktail glass.
The Bobby Burns cocktail blends the botanicals and spice of herbal liqueur Benedictine with smoky Scotch, rounding off with sweet vermouth. It’s remarkable what stirring these three ingredients together can do.
While the name has “Manhattan” in it, the Manhattan Blanco doesn’t have the typical ingredients of its inspiration. Made with equal parts smoky mezcal, blanco tequila and rounded off with blanc vermouth and subtle orange liqueur, it has the smooth mouth feel of a Bourbon Manhattan with the bright and smoky flavors of tequila and mezcal.