The Classic Whiskey Manhattan Recipe With Variations

Classic Manhattan cocktail recipe

​The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  • Total: 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Serving: 1 serving

One of the finest and oldest cocktails, the Manhattan is truly a classic cocktail. It is a simple drink recipe that requires just a few ingredients. You can choose between rye whiskey and bourbon, though some drinkers still prefer a smooth Canadian whisky. There is no doubt, however, that this is one of the essential whiskey cocktails that everyone should know.

As with the gin martini, there are many ways that you can adapt the Manhattan to your personal taste. It has also inspired countless variations, but before you give those a taste, it's best to start off with the original.

No matter how you mix up your Manhattan, you will find that it's an ideal drink for any occasion. It is perfect for a dinner party and pairs nicely with a great variety of foods. It's also a fantastic drink for a casual night with friends.


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Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for a classic Manhattan cocktail
    ​The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  2. Pour the whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters into a mixing glass with ice cubes.

    Pour whiskey in glass
    ​The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  3. Stir well.

    Stir whiskey
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  4. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

    Strain into glass
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  5. Garnish with the cherry.

    Manhattan cocktail
    ​The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Recipe Variations

The Manhattan has inspired countless cocktails over the years. You may also notice that many share only the whiskey in common with the original recipe. Just as the name "martini" is popular with fancy vodka and gin cocktails, and "margarita" is a common choice for tequila cocktails, "Manhattan" has become synonymous with nearly any whiskey cocktail that's served "up."

  • Dry Manhattan: Use a dash of dry vermouth and garnish with a lemon twist.
  • Perfect Manhattan: Use equal parts sweet and dry vermouth and garnish with a lemon twist.
  • Rob Roy (aka Scotch Manhattan): This variation specifically calls for Scotch whiskey, typically a blended scotch.
  • Metropolitan (aka Brandy Manhattan): This cocktail replaces the whiskey with brandy.
  • Southern Comfort Manhattan: Use Southern Comfort instead of whiskey to get a hint of peach.
  • Bourbon and Blood: Blood orange liqueur is paired with bourbon and vermouth for a bourbon and blood, and a hint of tarragon adds a truly interesting twist.
  • Manhattan 101: Fresh ginger and mint shine in this fascinating Manhattan, and the powdered sugar is certainly a unique spin.
  • Mile High Manhattan: Skip the vermouth and pour a vanilla liqueur along with orange liqueur for a mile high. It gets really intriguing when you add a little anise to the mix.
  • The Rustic Manhattan: Apple whiskey and raspberry vermouth put an unusual twist on the original recipe. It is fantastic for autumn nights.

Choose Your Whiskey

The original Manhattan was made with rye whiskey. However, there was a period of time in the 1900s when rye was not readily available or as high quality as the Manhattan requires. During these decades, it became common practice to use a Canadian whiskey. When bourbon began to reclaim headlines in the last decades of the 20th century, that became a popular choice and was the newly preferred whiskey for a Manhattan.

That said, the choice is ultimately yours because it is your drink. For a sweeter Manhattan, go with bourbon. When you're in the mood for a dry and semi-spicy Manhattan, rye whiskey would be the choice. On those days when a smooth, soft Manhattan sounds good, pick up a bottle of Canadian whiskey.

The Whiskey to Vermouth Ratio

The Manhattan is much like the martini in that it requires a base spirit (whiskey or gin) with vermouth. The martini uses dry vermouth while the Manhattan uses sweet vermouth. This sweeter fortified wine works best with the majority of whiskeys. Yet, if you find the right whiskey, dry vermouth can be used to make a great drink as well. Bourbon is a great place to begin for your dry Manhattan experience.

Like the martini, each drinker will have their preferred ratio of whiskey to vermouth. The 2:1 in the recipe above is a good starting point and the most common mix for the Manhattan. Many drinkers also prefer a 4:1 mix with just 1/2 ounce of sweet vermouth for 2 ounces of whiskey. Play around with this ratio to find your personal idea of the perfect Manhattan. It's also likely that this will change depending on the particular whiskey you're pouring.

Don't Forget the Bitters

Aromatic bitters have long been the preferred accent for the Manhattan and it should be considered a required ingredient. Since we use just a few dashes at a time, it can be easy to forget their importance. However, they are the finishing touch that brings cocktails like the Manhattan into perfect balance.

There are a number of new bitters available today and you might want to explore their effects on your perfect Manhattan mix.

About That Cherry

The cherry is the customary garnish for most Manhattans, though an orange peel or twist works nicely as well.

If you opt for a cherry, think about making your own maraschino cherries, since those bright red maraschinos found at the liquor store are not as natural as you may think. In the least, pick up a high-end maraschino cherry like those from Luxardo.

How Strong Is a Manhattan?

The Manhattan is not a light cocktail. It is a very liquor-forward cocktail because it includes alcohol alone and is diluted with just a small amount of water during preparation. Assuming that an 80 proof whiskey is used, the average Manhattan is around 30 percent ABV (60 proof). This is just slightly weaker than a straight shot of that same whiskey, so take it easy with this one.

How Do You Order a Manhattan Drink?

When ordering a Manhattan at the bar, you may want to "call" your whiskey of choice. Most bars will have a house whiskey that they regularly use in the cocktail and it could be a rye, bourbon, or Canadian. You can always ask what they use and upgrade if you prefer something else. Be as specific as you like. For instance, you could either ask for a specific brand-Manhattan or a "bourbon Manhattan" (in this case you will get the house bourbon).

What Is the Difference Between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned?

Both classic whiskey cocktails, there are essential differences between a Manhattan and an old fashioned. A Manhattan is a combination of whiskey and sweet vermouth with a few dashes of bitters. An old fashioned is a mixture of bourbon or whiskey, sugar, and bitters (no vermouth).