Classic Spotlight - The Mystery of the Manhattan (with recipes)

As with most infamous classic cocktails, there are many theories as to the origin of the “Manhattan”. By definition and in the truest sense, the Manhattan is a splendid, well-balanced cocktail. The warmth and full-body character of the whiskey, the sweetness and complexity of the vermouth, and the bitters to balance everything out is perfection in a glass.

Whoever created the Manhattan, new the importance of American whiskey, specifically straight rye, which was the spirit of choice in the 19th century and the type of traditional whiskey used.  It was taken to a whole new level when bourbon was introduced, which in my opinion, makes for a truly magnificent concoction. With a myriad of bourbons with their special intricacies and nuances on the market today, you can satisfy everyone’s individual palate.

The classic Manhattan appeared by the 1890s and it is well documented that it was one of the first cocktails that called for vermouth as a modifier. That is, the sweet kind.  The Manhattan predates other vermouth giants like the Martini, the Martinez, and the Rob Roy. It is the patriarch of vermouth drinks.

There’s evidence that the Manhattan was invented at the Manhattan Club in New York (hence the name), and the club’s official history makes that claim. According to popular legend, the recipe was created by Dr. Iain Marshall during a dinner party there in 1874 or created by Jennie Jerome (AKA Lady Randolph Churchill), Winston Churchill’s mother who wanted to honor presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden.  This story is often seen in print, but don’t necessarily believe it. As Liquor.com advisor David Wondrich pointed out in his book Imbibe!, Lady Randolph was in England about to give birth to little Winnie at the time she was supposed to be partying in the Big Apple.

Others contend the drink was created as an homage to the “Manhattan” borough.

The most accurately writing account we have on the true birth of the drink is from a story written by William F. Mulhall, a bartender who applied his trade at New York’s famed Hoffman House for more than 30 years, starting in the early 1880s. “The Manhattan cocktail was invented by a man named Black, who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the eighteen- sixties—probably the most famous drink in the world in its time,” Mulhall wrote.

Even though Mulhall’s account came many years after the drink appeared on the scene, we do know that the man was a legendary bartender.

Regardless of the exact story, it’s most likely the Manhattan originated in New York somewhere around the 1880’s. It differed from its predecessors (and the original “cocktail” formula) by omitting the sweetener and adding vermouth.  Even today, the Manhattan is still considered one of the most famous “Spirit Forward” classic cocktails.

 

The Manhattan Recipe:

In today’s world, just like most classic cocktails, you never really know what you’re going to get when you order a Manhattan in a bar. I’ve seen them served in a highball glass and margarita glass. I’ve also seen them served in a rocks glass or a cocktail glass when the bartender never asked them how they would like it “on the rocks” or “straight up” or garnish a lemon twist or cherry without asking them which they prefer.  You should expect to receive a cocktail with some kind of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, but how much of each is ultimately determined by the customer or bartender. Unless specified by the customer, make it according to the classic recipe below. Also listed below are many variations of the Manhattan, which include different types of whiskey, different amounts of vermouth and bitters, and some modern twists on it.

 

The Classic Manhattan

  • 2 oz Old Overholt Rye whiskey (Old Overholt is a tough find, but worth it to fully enjoy “the classic”)
  • ½ oz Italian Sweet Vermouth
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Maraschino cherry or brandied cherry for garnish

Prep – Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass with half ice. Stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass using a julep strainer. Garnish with a cherry.

 

The Manhattan

  • 1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (I prefer Templeton or High West Double Rye)
  • 1 ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi)
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Garnish: 1 lemon twist
  • Glass: Cocktail

Prep – Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with half ice. Stir, and strain into a cocktail or coupe glass using a julep strainer. Garnish with a lemon twist.

(This version courtesy of “Employees Only” Bar in NYC)

 

Bourbon Manhattan

  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • 1 oz Italian sweet vermouth (I prefer Noilly Prat Rouge)
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Garnish: 1 Cherry
  • Glass: Cocktail

Prep – Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with half with ice. Stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, coupe glass, or rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a cherry (If you prefer a dry Manhattan, use dry vermouth instead of sweet and garnish with a lemon twist.)

(This version courtesy of Dale DeGroff)

 

Perfect Bulleit Manhattan

The use of both sweet and dry vermouths makes this classic perfect. In addition, a dash of potent blood orange bitters in place of the usual Angostura. The result is an intensely aromatic and complex take on the classic.

  • ¾ oz Bulleit Rye Whiskey
  • ¼ oz Dry Vermouth
  • ½ oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 dash Blood Orange Bitters
  • Garnish: 1 Maraschino cherry
  • Glass: Rocks

Prep – Add the rye and both vermouths to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Top with the bitters and garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

 

Cowboy Killer

I served this Manhattan-like cocktail at a country-western themed cocktail party this winter.

  • 3 maraschino cherries
  • 2 oz Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz Grand Marnier
  • 2 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Garnish:  1 cherry
  • Glass:  Cocktail

Prep – Lightly muddle three cherries in a mixing glass. Add all ingredients and ice. Shake well and fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish 1 cherry.

 

Boulevardier

Here is another classic Manhattan-like cocktail that is similar to an Italian Negroni.

  • 1 oz Eagle Rare Bourbon
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz Campari
  • Garnish:  Orange Twist
  • Glass:  Cocktail Glass or Rocks Glass

Prep – Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish orange twist.

 

Paper Plane

Here is a very herbal, strong, and aromatic organic whiskey-based cocktail using SLOW HAND white whiskey from Greebar Distillery in L.A.

  • ¾ oz SLOW Hand White Organic Whiskey
  • ¾ oz Aperol Aperitif
  • ¾ Amaro Ramazzotti
  • ¾ Fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 dashes of BAR KEEP Fennel Bitters
  • Garnish: Lemon twist
  • Glass: Rocks

Prep – Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish a lemon twist

 

Western Cocktail

  • 2 oz Wigle Small Cask Series Organic Rye Whiskey
  • 3/4 oz Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
  • 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Garnish - Orange twist
  • Glass - Cocktail Glass

Prep - Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish orange twist (gently flame)

 

Modern Blood and Sand

  • 1.5 oz (ri) Straight Rye Whiskey
  • splash of Sweet Vermouth
  • 1/2 oz Cherry Herring
  • 1/2 oz Lillet Blond Aperitif
  • splash of orange juice
  • 2 dashes of Fee Brother Cherry Bitters
  • Garnish: Cherry and Orange twist
  • Glass - Coupe

Prep - Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish orange twist and cherry.

 

The following are some of the more common Manhattan variations:

Rob Roy aka Scotch Manhattan - Scotch is used instead of rye whiskey and Angostura bitters are replaced by orange bitters

Dry Manhattan – served with a twist, a Dry Manhattan is made with dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth

Martinez – Gin is used instead of rye whiskey and orange bitters instead of Angostura. Dry vermouth and Maraschino Liqueur is also used

Fourth Regiment – This is a classic that uses a 1:1 ratio of whiskey and vermouth, 3 dashes of Aromatic bitters, such as orange, cherry, or saffron