How To Make a Proper Manhattan
It's tough to say exactly what the most ordered drink has been over the course of my bartending career. If I had to guess, it’s probably a tie between the Manhattan and the Cosmo (I started slinging drinks at the peak of Cosmo popularity, so much cran!). While Old Fashioneds surged in popularity, the Manhattan has always stayed the course. It's the sort of drink I love to make behind the bar because it's easy to execute, while also allowing endless possibilities for a custom cocktail. Bourbon or rye? What kind of sweet vermouth, soft or aggressive? Which kind of bitters? Make it perfect? Every time. Bah-dum-dum. (Dad bar jokes, those are free.)
But before we go getting fancy, there are a couple things to consider with "simple" drinks. The fewer the ingredients, the more room you have for error. That means you have to measure. I know, I know, what are we doing, baking a pie?! But guess what, proportions are key here. Next, make sure you're using quality ingredients. Just because we're making a cocktail doesn't mean you should use inferior spirits. Especially when we're talking about a cocktail that's entire purpose is to showcase the spirit. And last, make sure you're using good technique. Chill and dilute, and always use a cold glass. If serving on the rocks or a large rock, it’s still not a bad idea to start with a cold glass. And remember, you should always stir a Manhattan. The cocktail police will not show up at your door if you shake it, but you’ll have to live with the shame and disappointment.
First, a few recommendations for spirits. I typically prefer the base spirit to be 90 proof or slightly higher, so most suggestions will reflect that. Higher proof means that the base spirit will continue to shine despite the dilution. No need to use anything too fancy, but you can if you want to. I like my base to have rougher edges and then let the vermouth round it out. I also personally prefer an orange twist for my regular Manhattans, so feel free to get creative.
Some Beginner Options
Bourbon: Eagle Rare, Old Forester 100 Proof
Rye: Russell's Reserve 6 year, Rittenhouse 100
Sweet Vermouth: Carpano Antica (sweet, full bodied), Punt E Mes (aggressive, spicy), Dolin (soft and delicate)
Bitters: Angostura (classic) or other "aromatic bitter" & Regan's Orange
Manhattan (Classic, OG)
2 oz bourbon or rye
1 oz sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Traditional Garnish: brandied cherry or Luxardo cherry
Add ingredients to a mixing glass, remembering to measure the ingredients with a jigger, then stir with ice until chilled (about 30 seconds should do), strain into a chilled cocktail vessel and garnish with a cherry (or twist if you prefer).
2 oz bourbon on rye
.5 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Traditional Garnish: Lemon twist
In a mixing glass, stir with ice until chilled (about 30 seconds should do), strain into a chilled cocktail vessel and garnish with a lemon twist, squeezing the oils into the glass.
Manhattan (New School)
2 oz rye
1 oz Byrrh*
1-2 dashes each of orange bitters and aromatic bitters
Garnish: cherry and/or orange twist
In a mixing glass, stir with ice until chilled (about 30 seconds should do), strain into a chilled cocktail vessel and garnish with an orange twist, squeezing the oils into the glass, or a cherry.
*Byrrh is an aromatized, aperitif wine made with quinine. It can be used as a substitute for "classic" sweet vermouth.