Manhattan: Best Cocktail Recipe + 5 Delicious Variations
A glass filled with a clear, amber liquid, garnished with a maraschino cherry. This cocktail is no ordinary drink; it’s a Manhattan, a drink that has stood the test of time. Dive into the world of this beloved cocktail as we dissect its ingredients, origins, and some innovative twists on this classic recipe.
In this blog post, we’ll transport you back to the heart of New York City, where the Manhattan cocktail was born.
We’ll guide you through the unique ingredients that make this timeless drink, explain its relationship with another beloved cocktail, the Old Fashioned, and provide the steps to crafting the perfect Manhattan.
Finally, we’ll explore delicious variations and similar cocktails you want to try.
If you’re a connoisseur of cocktails or even someone who enjoys an occasional drink, you’ve come across the Manhattan cocktail. This cocktail has garnered a loyal fanbase, and for good reason.
Its allure lies in its perfect blend of ingredients and its history. Let’s dive into the past, composition, and art of pairing whiskey with vermouth to make the ideal Manhattan.
Brief History and Origin of the Manhattan
As one of the pillars of classic mixology, the Manhattan has a past as rich and nuanced as its flavor. According to popular legend, it was first poured in the 1860s at the Manhattan Club in New York City.
Lady Randolph Churchill, the mother of the future British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, organized a banquet at the club, a social hub for the city’s elite.
The banquet honored presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden, and to make the occasion even more special, the bartender crafted a unique cocktail that was an instant hit. Thus, Manhattan was born.
However, like many cocktail origin stories, this account has been challenged. Some argue that Lady Randolph was pregnant with Winston Churchill while in Europe during the banquet. Other sources suggest the drink was already in other parts of the city before the banquet.
Despite these debates, there’s no denying that Manhattan took its first steps in New York City. Its popularity quickly spread, and the cocktail became a staple across bars in America and, eventually, the world.
Key Ingredients: What’s in a Manhattan?
The charm of the Manhattan lies in its simplicity and the symphony of flavors it creates. A classic Manhattan comprises three key ingredients: whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters.
The whiskey can be either rye or bourbon, depending on personal preferences. Rye whiskey was the original choice, bringing its dry, spicy notes to the cocktail.
However, Canadian whiskey, which is lighter and smoother, became more common during the prohibition era. Today, bourbon is also often used, with its sweet, full-bodied profile.
The next component, sweet vermouth, lends complexity to the cocktail. Vermouth is a fortified wine that uses various botanicals. The 'sweet' in sweet vermouth comes from Italy and denotes a red, semi-sweet, and slightly bitter style of vermouth.
The last touch on a Manhattan is a dash of bitters. Bitters are alcoholic beverages flavored with botanical matter, resulting in a bitter or bittersweet flavor. The Angostura variety, with its blend of herbs and spices, is typically used in a Manhattan.
The drink is stirred with ice, strained into a glass, and garnished with a maraschino cherry.
The Art of Pairing: Best Whiskey-Vermouth Combinations for a Manhattan
Choosing the right whiskey-vermouth pairing is pivotal to crafting the perfect Manhattan. It’s all about balance and harmonizing the flavors.
When using rye whiskey, consider full-bodied vermouth to stand up to the robust flavor of the rye. A brand like Carpano Antica, with its rich and complex profile, can hold its own against the assertive spice of rye whiskey.
If bourbon is your whiskey, consider a smoother, more subtle vermouth. With its lighter, drier profile, Dolin Rouge vermouth complements the bourbon’s sweet, full-bodied nature without overwhelming it.
Creating a Manhattan is like conducting a flavor orchestra; the ingredients should play together harmoniously, with each component shining without overshadowing the others.
You’ll discover the combinations that delight your palate the most as you experiment. The beauty of the Manhattan lies in its versatility, allowing for personal expression while remaining true to its classic roots.
The Manhattan vs. The Old Fashioned: What’s the Difference?
The realm of classic cocktails is brimming with robust flavors, refined blends, and an intriguing history. Among this plethora, two prominent names—the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned—stand out as quintessential whiskey-based concoctions.
Despite their common foundation, these cocktails distinguish themselves through unique taste profiles, preparation methods, and cultural significance. To the untrained eye, they may appear similar, but their differences are pronounced and compelling.
Since the 19th century, these cocktails have shared a common era of inception, also called the 'Golden Age' of cocktails. While the Manhattan comes from the glittering elite gatherings in New York City, the Old Fashioned—true to its name—has a more traditional lineage.
The term "Old Fashioned" was coined in the 1880s as a homage to drinkers who preferred their drinks made the "old-fashioned way"—spirits, sugar, water, and bitters—without the flamboyant mix-ins that had become popular.
At their core, both cocktails share a backbone of whiskey and bitters, but the harmony of ingredients is where the divergence becomes apparent. A classic Manhattan uses whiskey (traditionally rye), sweet vermouth, and bitters, garnished with a maraschino cherry.
On the other hand, an Old Fashioned is more elemental, made with whiskey (often bourbon), a sugar cube, water, and bitters, garnished with an orange slice and a cherry.
These ingredient differences are not just listed items in a recipe but lead to a discernible disparity in taste profiles. The rich, herbaceous, and subtly sweet vermouth of the Manhattan tempers the rye’s spice to produce a balanced blend that results in a complex yet harmonious drink.
On the contrary, the Old Fashioned is all about letting the whiskey shine. The sugar and water help dilute the spirit just enough to unlock its flavors, and the bitters add depth without masking the whiskey’s character. The result is a simple and flavorful cocktail.
Recipe: Mastering the Classic Manhattan
Creating a classic Manhattan cocktail requires a careful blend of ingredients, good technique, and keen attention to detail. The recipe is relatively simple, but each step is crucial to achieving the perfect balance of flavors. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to prepare a traditional Manhattan at home.
Before starting, gather all the necessary ingredients and tools. For a classic Manhattan, you will need the following:
- 2 ounces of Rye Whiskey: You can substitute bourbon or Canadian whisky, but rye is the traditional choice.
- 1 ounce of Sweet Vermouth: Choose a high-quality brand to complement the whiskey.
- 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters: A classic choice for the Manhattan, these bitters add depth to the drink.
- 1 Maraschino Cherry: This serves as the garnish and gives the cocktail some sweetness.
The tools needed are:
- A Mixing Glass: This glass can combine all the ingredients.
- A Bar spoon is essential for stirring the drink.
- A Julep Strainer: It helps to strain the cocktail into the glass.
- A Coupe or Martini Glass: The traditional vessels for serving a Manhattan
Now that you have all the components, it’s time to start the cocktail-making process.
Step 1: Add the Ingredients
In your mixing glass, pour 2 ounces of rye whiskey. Follow it with 1 ounce of sweet vermouth. Finish by adding two dashes of Angostura bitters. It’s important to measure accurately to maintain the balance of flavors in the cocktail.
Step 2: Stir the Cocktail
Use your bar spoon to stir the mixture. The aim is to blend the ingredients and chill the drink without diluting it excessively. Stir gently for about 30 seconds.
Step 3: Strain and Serve
Place your julep strainer on top of the mixing glass and strain the mixture into your serving glass. This process ensures no ice or other solid particles make up the final product.
Step 4: Garnish
Finally, garnish the drink with a maraschino cherry. Drop it into the glass. The cherry adds a touch of color and sweetness to the drink.
Remember, the key to a great Manhattan lies in the quality of its ingredients and the careful balance of flavors. Use high-quality whiskey and vermouth, and make sure to measure accurately.
How to Serve and Savor a Manhattan
It isn’t merely a cocktail; it’s a sensory experience meant to be savored slowly. Serve it in a chilled coupe or Martini glass, straining the mixture from the mixing glass. A well-made Manhattan should not be cloudy, a testament to careful stirring rather than aggressive shaking.
Once poured, garnish it with a maraschino cherry, ideally one of high quality. You must savor the whiskey fragrance mingling with vermouth before the first sip.
Let the liquid play on your palate, teasing out the flavors of the whiskey, the sweet and botanical notes of the vermouth, and the enhancing touch of the bitters.
Ideal Time and Occasions for Enjoying a Manhattan
This versatile cocktail is fitting for various occasions. Its elegance makes it perfect for formal events or sophisticated gatherings. It’s excellent for a pre-dinner drink, as its vermouth component whets the appetite. It’s also suitable for a relaxed evening when you truly appreciate its complexity.
That said, the best time for a Manhattan is whenever you’re in the mood for a well-crafted, flavorful cocktail that embodies the classic spirit of mixology.
Food and Flavor: Perfect Pairings for a Manhattan
These bold flavors demand dishes that can match them in food pairing. Grilled or smoked meats, hearty cheeses, and chocolate-based desserts are excellent companions.
Blue cheese complements the drink’s sweet and spicy notes with its robust flavor. Dark chocolate desserts bring out the rich undertones of the whiskey. Remember, the goal is to complement, not overpower, the drink’s complexities.
Choosing Your Glassware: The Best Glass to Serve a Manhattan
The glassware isn’t merely about aesthetics; it enhances the cocktail experience. A Manhattan is usually served in a coupe or Martini glass, allowing the drinker to appreciate the cocktail’s color and aroma.
These glasses use stems, ensuring your hands don’t warm the drink. Whatever glass you choose, it should be chilled before pouring the cocktail to maintain the Manhattan’s ideal serving temperature.
Exciting Variations of the Manhattan
If you’ve developed a fondness for the Manhattan, you might be interested in exploring other cocktails that share some of its characteristics.
Whether it’s the use of whiskey, the inclusion of vermouth, or a similar flavor profile, these cocktails offer an exciting venture into new yet familiar territories. Here are five other cocktails that Manhattan lovers will likely enjoy.
As previously discussed, the Old Fashioned shares its whiskey base with the Manhattan. Comprising whiskey, a sugar cube, a few dashes of bitters, and a twist of citrus, its beauty lies in its simplicity.
The subtlety of the added flavors ensures the spotlight stays firmly on the whiskey. These qualities make the Old Fashioned a brilliant choice for those who appreciate the warming character of whiskey, which also shines in a Manhattan.
The Negroni is a gin-based cocktail that mirrors the Manhattan’s composition and complexity. The classic Negroni recipe calls for equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, a bitter Italian aperitif.
The result is a cocktail that skillfully juggles sweetness, bitterness, and strength, offering a symphony of flavors with each sip. If you enjoy the balanced harmony of the Manhattan but wish to explore beyond whiskey, the Negroni could be your next favorite.
Meet the Boulevardier, a delightful cocktail that is essentially a bourbon-based Negroni. It calls for bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari, offering a bright mix of sweetness, bitterness, and spiciness.
Its similarity with the Manhattan is the whiskey-vermouth combination, but the addition of Campari takes it to a different, slightly more bitter realm. If you appreciate the Manhattan’s whiskey-vermouth duo but seek a novel twist, the Boulevardier is worth a try.
The Rob Roy resembles a Manhattan that replaces rye or bourbon with Scotch whisky. This substitution brings forth diverse flavors, subject to the kind of Scotch used.
Whether smoky, peaty, sweet, or smooth, the Rob Roy carries these Scotch whisky profiles into a familiar Manhattan-like structure, making it a fascinating pick for whiskey aficionados keen on exploration.
The Sazerac is a New Orleans classic that prioritizes the boldness of the whiskey. Its list of ingredients includes rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud’s Bitters, and a hint of absinthe.
The outcome is a rich and intricate cocktail, subtly anise-flavored due to the absinthe. The Sazerac offers an exciting, exotic twist if you enjoy the spicy rye tang in your Manhattan.
Similar Cocktails You Will Enjoy
If the world of whiskey, vermouth, and intricately balanced flavors fascinates you, the journey doesn’t stop with Manhattans and their immediate variations. Here are three more cocktails that, while not direct relatives, share specific appealing characteristics with the Manhattan.
The Whiskey Sour is a classic cocktail that whiskey lovers will appreciate. Made with bourbon, lemon juice, and a sweetener, typically simple syrup, it perfectly balances sweet and sour flavors.
The egg white creates a frothy top layer, giving the drink a creamy mouthfeel that contrasts beautifully with its sharp flavor profile. It’s a simpler cocktail, but one that highlights whiskey’s versatility.
The Martini is an iconic cocktail to explore for those drawn to the Manhattan’s vermouth component. Primarily a gin cocktail, the Martini combines gin and dry vermouth in a delicate balance.
The garnish adds a final flavor note, typically an olive or a lemon twist. Despite its simplicity, a Martini can be a complex and nuanced drink, much like a Manhattan.
The Sidecar is a classic cocktail that shares the Manhattan’s sophistication and elegance. It’s made with cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice, offering a beautiful blend of rich, fruity, and sour flavors.
The sugar-rimmed glass adds a touch of sweetness with each sip. While it doesn’t include whiskey or vermouth, its balance of flavors and classy presentation make it an excellent choice for Manhattan lovers looking to branch out.
The Manhattan is a timeless cocktail, blending simplicity and sophistication. Its variations and similar cocktails offer a vast playground for exploration. So grab your mixing glass and embark on your Manhattan journey, one sip at a time.