Mastering the Classic Manhattan Cocktail: A Timeless Recipe

Ah, the Manhattan. A heavyweight cocktail that has stood the test of time. Named after the New York City borough, the Manhattan cocktail is a spirit-forward recipe calling for Whiskey, vermouth and bitters.

One of the earliest records of the drink traces it back to 1884 in a by O.H. Byron’s titled ‘The Modern Bartender’s Guide’. Yet some variations of been documented as far back as 1860. Alongside the Martini cocktail, it has paved the way for numerous other classic and contemporary cocktail recipes. 

Introduction to the Manhattan Cocktail

In the illustrious world of mixology, few cocktails hold as much prestige and allure as the classic Manhattan. This iconic drink, named after the vibrant borough of New York City, is a symbol of sophistication and refinement. As we embark on a journey to uncover the secrets of the Manhattan cocktail, we’ll explore its rich history, distinctive ingredients, and the art of crafting the perfect libation.

Unraveling the Origins of the Manhattan Beverage Recipe

Like many timeless classics, the Manhattan cocktail has its share of myths and legends surrounding its creation. One enduring tale suggests that the drink was first crafted at the prestigious Manhattan Club in the late 19th century, purportedly in honor of Lady Randolph Churchill. While this narrative has captivated the imaginations of cocktail enthusiasts for generations, historical scrutiny has cast doubt on its veracity. Regardless of its disputed origins, Manhattan’s enduring appeal lies not in its genesis, but in its timeless recipe and enduring legacy.

classic cocktail manhattan

Exploring the Ingredients

At the heart of the Manhattan classic cocktail lies a harmonious blend of carefully selected ingredients, each contributing to its distinctive flavor profile. The traditional recipe calls for three essential components: whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. While the proportions may vary to suit individual preferences, the essence of the Manhattan remains steadfast—a balanced and nuanced marriage of flavors that tantalize the senses.

Choosing the Right Whiskey

Central to the Manhattan’s character is the choice of whiskey—a decision that can greatly influence the final outcome of the cocktail. Purists often favor the bold and spicy notes of rye whiskey, harkening back to the drink’s historic roots. However, bourbon, with its smooth and mellow profile, has emerged as a popular alternative, offering a delightful twist on the classic recipe. Whether you opt for the robust intensity of rye or the comforting familiarity of bourbon, the choice of whiskey is a deeply personal one, reflecting the preferences and palate of the imbiber.

For the ideal Manhattan cocktail. traditionally Rye is the whiskey of choice. Canadian whisky, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are also commonly used.

Deciphering Sweet Vermouth Varieties

Vermouth, a fortified wine flavored with botanicals, plays a pivotal role in shaping the character of the Manhattan cocktail. Traditionally, the recipe calls for a combination of sweet and dry vermouth, each imparting its own distinct nuances to the drink. While purists may adhere to the classic formula, modern interpretations often lean towards the richness of sweet vermouth, which adds depth and complexity to the cocktail’s profile. With a myriad of sweet vermouth brands and styles to choose from, the possibilities for customization are endless, allowing mixologists to tailor the Manhattan to their exacting specifications.

Your vermouth choice can drastically change the DNA of the drink, however. Whilst a perfect Manhattan should have equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, most bartenders, including myself, will only make a sweet version (sweet vermouth only).

Personally, Antica Formula is my go-to choice with Rittenhouse Rye and Boker bitters. I feel the bitters add wonderful coffee notes to the drink.

Elevating with Bitters

No discussion of the Manhattan would be complete without mentioning the crucial role of bitters—a humble yet indispensable ingredient that lends depth and complexity to the cocktail. Angostura bitters, with their bold and aromatic profile, are the traditional choice for many Manhattan enthusiasts. However, adventurous mixologists may explore alternative bitters, such as orange or chocolate, to add a creative twist to this venerable libation. Whatever your preference, bitters serve as the secret ingredient that elevates the Manhattan from a simple cocktail to a masterpiece of mixology.

manhattan cocktail with unique garnish

Elevating with Garnishes

While the Manhattan cocktail is celebrated for its timeless elegance and robust flavors, the addition of garnishes can elevate the drinking experience to new heights of sophistication. While traditionally served unadorned, modern interpretations of the Manhattan embrace garnishes as an opportunity for creative expression and visual appeal.

Citrus Twist: A classic garnish for the Manhattan is a twist of citrus peel, typically sourced from a fresh lemon or orange. The oils released from the peel impart a subtle citrus aroma to the cocktail, enhancing its aromatic complexity.

Luxardo Maraschino Cherry: For a decadent finishing touch, consider garnishing your Manhattan cocktail with a Luxardo maraschino cherry—a sweet and tangy confection that adds a burst of flavor and visual allure to the drink.

Expressed Orange Peel: Another popular garnish option for the Manhattan is an expressed orange peel, which imparts a vibrant citrus aroma and a hint of sweetness to the cocktail. To create an expressed peel, simply twist a strip of orange zest over the surface of the drink, allowing the oils to mist gently onto the surface.

Candied Ginger: For a contemporary twist on traditional garnishes, consider adding a skewered candied ginger to your Manhattan cocktail. The spicy, aromatic notes of ginger complement the whiskey’s rich and robust flavors, creating a harmonious balance of sweet and savory elements.

Crafting the Perfect Manhattan Classic cocktail

Crafting the perfect Manhattan is an art form—one that requires precision, attention to detail, and a reverence for tradition. Begin by selecting high-quality ingredients, including your whiskey of choice, premium vermouth, and aromatic bitters. Measure each component with care, ensuring a harmonious balance of flavors that dance gracefully on the palate. Stirred to perfection and served in a chilled cocktail glass, the Manhattan is a testament to the timeless allure of classic cocktails.

Classic Manhattan Cocktail Recipe


This sweet version of the Manhattan cocktail is much prefered by us and many others. We chose bourbon but you could always up to for a Rye to make this perfect after dinner drink.
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 4 minutes
Total Time: 6 minutes
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Cocktail
Keyword: classic cocktails, Manhattan
Servings: 1 Cocktail
Calories: 191kcal



  • 60 ml Bourbon Whiskey
  • 30 ml Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 Dash Boker Bitters


  • Fill your mixing glass with ice to the top and stir to bring the mixing vessel to a good temperature.
  • Discard any water that has been created in the mixing vessel and then add your whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters.
  • Stir for up to 45 seconds to reach optimum dilution
  • Using your julep strainer to hold the ice in place. strain into a chilled glass
  • garnish with a maraschino cherry and serve!


Calories: 191kcal
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Manhattan Cocktail Variations

Some of the most popular variations are the black Manhattan cocktail recipe which swaps the sweet vermouth for the amaro Averna Italian Vermouth and adds a dash of orange bitters. We also like the brandy version for something different.

Actually, one of our favourite options which you should try is the batch the cocktail up and barrel-age it! We use a small personal barrel and age the cocktail for around a month. We feel this is enough time to add some woody notes to drink without too much oxidisation. Next recipe? How about trying out an espresso martini at home!

On Taste

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