The Manhattan: The King of Cocktails

Nothing brings a smile to my face like a good cocktail. Yes, I enjoy beer and wine as much as the next guy, but a good cocktail is special in a way that those other beverages are not. Cocktails are almost always enjoyed in a social setting. They involve some degree of preparation and ritual. And they taste so damn good!

Cocktails seem to be experiencing a renaissance of late. No longer are gin and whiskey just “old people” drinks. Even the younger generation seems to be weaning itself off of vodka-tini drinks and enjoying cocktails with a richer palette.

As for me, I have two favorites that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Growing up my dad was a gin martini drinker, but he always had a great appreciation for bourbon. And while I have fond memories of eating gin soaked olives on his lap, my first cocktail love was (and is!) the Manhattan.

The Manhattan is known as the King of Cocktails because….well just because it is. It is rich and spicy and delicious. It packs a kick and is honest about that with its luscious booziness. I love a well made Manhattan. Heck, I even like a mediocre Manhattan. In fact I’ve only had two Manhattans in my life that I did not like. Both were at restaurants. Both were watery messes. Both bartenders should be ashamed for such offensive disregard for their craft (you can’t mix a good Manhattan? Really? Then what the hell can you mix?). But I digress.

Thanks to the recent surge in the popularity of whiskey, the Manhattan is also experiencing a rise in popularity. And it is about time! The following is my go-to Manhattan recipe. But I know that Manhattan drinkers are a passionate bunch, and even though it’s a simple drink there are an infinite number opinions on how to make a great one. After the recipe I go into some detail on each ingredient to acknowledge the wonderful diversity of the Manhattan drinker.

The Manhattan Cocktail


The King of Cocktails

  • 2 parts Bulleit Bourbon
  • 1 part Martini & Rossi Rosso sweet vermouth
  • 3 shakes Angostura Bitters
  • Bada Bing cherry for garnish

Place ingredients in a tall glass or shaker with ice.
Stir gently but briskly for 60 seconds.
Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a cherry

That’s it! But let’s look at the details:

The Ratio

2:1 is the most common Manhattan ratio. Those who prefer their Manhattan a bit sweeter may go closer to 1:1. Those who like it drier drift towards 3:1. But 2:1 works for me!

The Whiskey

I can already hear the objections…yes, yes a “true” Manhattan is made with rye whiskey. I specify bourbon because it is more common in today’s liquor cabinets (including mine) — although rye is becoming more available. Bulleit Bourbon is a bit higher in rye than most bourbons and is widely available (Costco!) so I find it a great choice. But what about other whiskies? Canadian? Tennesee? Yes! Absolutely! If you have a favorite whiskey then by all means use that in your Manhattan. But not Scotch — since that will make it an entirely different drink.

The Vermouth

Unlike the gin martini,  where vermouth’s contribution is subtle, the Manhattan has a healthy dose of it. So its contribution is as important as the whiskey’s. Martini & Rossi is the standard bearer for sweet vermouth and it’s widely available and tastes great. If you want to splurge then try Carpano Antica. It has rich, herbal flavors with a note of vanilla that is just spectacular in a Manhattan (but be careful — it easily overpowers milder whiskeys). The vermouth field is growing quickly so feel free to experiment. My brother and I have recently tasted at least 8 different sweet vermouths so there are lots of choices out there.

The Bitters

Angostura is the bitters for Manhattans. But if you are fortunate enough to have a well stocked liquour store with other bitters feel free to give them a try. I’m pretty heavy handed with the bitters in my Manhattan recipe since I enjoy the herbaciousness it brings to the drink. A side note: a few years ago there was an Angostura bitters shortage that drove fear into the hearts of Manhattan lovers nationwide. Thankfully that was eventually resolved and we could all rest easy once again.

The Garnish

If you want a cherry then I highly recommend you try to find Badda Bing cherries. They are much tastier than those neon red maraschino cherries you find in the grocery store. For a change of pace I sometimes prefer a healthy orange twist — and I mean healthy. With a paring knife cut a thin, broad swath of orange peel (avoiding getting too much white pith). Then fold it lengthwise over the glass to release the oil and wipe it around the rim before dropping it in. If you want to impress your friends you can flame the orange oil as it squirts out of the rind with a match.

Stir vs Shaken

The general rule is that you stir cocktails that contain only alcohol and you shake cocktails that have mixers or fruit juice (no offense intended Mr. Bond). Shaking tends to result in a cloudy drink, and chips the ice causing more dilution. I love the dark, amber color of a stirred Manhattan, and while a little dilution is good (it softens the drink) too much results in a watery mess. Note that stirring takes longer to cool a drink than shaking — that’s why I suggest a full 60 seconds.

On the Rocks?

Happy Hour while camping

Happy Hour is an important part of camping.

While the classic Manhattan is served up in a martini glass, it is absolutely acceptable to have it on the rocks. In fact some of the best Manhattans I’ve had have been on the rocks, in a plastic glass, during happy hour while camping. The best!

Shop At Trader Joe’s?

I love a good bargain as much as a good drink. Trader Joe’s in our area stocks Bulleit Bourbon, and their Ponti sweet vermouth is a fine substitution for Martin & Rossi.

Look at that! An entire blog post dedicated to one grand drink. At the start I mentioned I had two favorites. My second? That will be the subject of an upcoming post.