Perhaps the two most famous cocktails in the world are the Martini and the Manhattan. While Martinis are the subject of debate–whether to shake or stir (stir being the proper way to make a Martini), how much vermouth to use, or even to use vermouth at all–Manhattan enthusiasts are far less vocal about their libation. That does not mean that the Manhattan lacks history or pedigree; in fact, that’s far from the truth.
The Manhattan has roots dating back to the late 19th century. According to legend, the cocktail was created in the 1870s at a Manhattan party to support a presidential candidate. The drink proved quite popular with people ordering it as the “Manhattan cocktail,” and the name stuck. As with most stories of liquor and cocktails, the origins of the Manhattan may be more apocryphal than true. After all, who really writes down the exact moment they created a new cocktail?
Either way, the Manhattan is a close relative of a cocktail named after another New York borough, the Brooklyn. The Brooklyn cocktail consists of whiskey, dry vermouth, and just a touch of maraschino liqueur, instead of the Manhattan’s base of whiskey and sweet vermouth.
So what makes the perfect Manhattan cocktail? Classically, the Manhattan should be made with rye whiskey, but most bars will instead serve bourbon or even Canadian whisky unless specified otherwise. I like the spice notes from rye, especially from Rittenhouse rye whiskey, but I also think Old Forester bourbon makes a fantastic Manhattan. Ultimately, it is your choice, so choose a whiskey that you like because a good Manhattan elevates and highlights the flavors in the whiskey, rather than covering the flavor like other mixed drinks.
The real key to the Manhattan is the ratios. Using a three to one ratio of whiskey to sweet vermouth will result in an impressive drink every time. For more complexity, add three dashes of Angostura bitters and three of Regan’s orange bitters, and you’ll have the best Manhattan cocktail you’ve ever tasted, guaranteed.
As for the garnish, I eschew the traditional maraschino cherry with its lurid color and lack of flavor. Instead, I prefer an Italian amarena cherry or perhaps even an orange twist if I’m out of cherries. Investing in better quality cherries will result in a more impressive drink. I’d much rather have a flavorful amarena cherry in my cocktail than a cherry that is better suited to being on top of an ice cream sundae.
The Best Manhattan Cocktail
- 3 oz whiskey (Rittenhouse rye or Old Forester bourbon recommended)
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 3 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
- 1 amarena cherry for garnish
- In a mixing glass, add first 4 ingredients.
- Add ice.
- Stir for 30 seconds.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with an amarena cherry