You wouldn't trust a skinny chef, and I'm drunk as hell

The Manhattan

The question I get asked probably most frequently in my day to day life is “What’s your favourite cocktail.” Shows how alright my life is eh? My answer is nearly always the same “Asking a boozehound to pick his favourite cocktail is like asking a painter to pick his favourite colour.” Much eye rolling ensues I’m sure.

However if I am pressured more I may come out with the following phrase “If, god forbid, I were ever on a desert island and had to pick only one cocktail, oh please never let that happen, it would probably be the Manhattan”

One of the most complex classic cocktails yet contains so few ingredients and so easy to make. The manhattan is balanced, strong and deliciously tasty, i will be covering it after the jump.

Read about the history of the manhattan here.

The manhattan was probably the first cocktail to contain vermouth, and oh man what a way to kick off the trend, the manhattan first appeared in the updated version of jerry thomas’ guide which was published in 1887 (it was the original version that was published in 1862). The most common claim to the invention of the Manhattan was that it was created by Winston Churchill’s Mother at the Manhattan Club in New York in 1874  to celebrate an electoral success for Governor Samuel Tilden. Another claim is that a Broadway saloonkeeper named Black invented it in the late 1880s.

However (and I hope you’re still reading at this point) these are probably not true. More likely is that the manhattan was created along with its siblings (the bronx, the brooklyn etc) to properly represent the 5 boroughs of New York.

It’s funny, I’m a lot newer to food and photography than I am to cocktails. Yet taking photos of drinks is a lot harder. With food you can sorta find the right angles to make the food look as appealing as possible, with drinks it pretty much looks the same from every angle. With some drinks you can do fancy garnishes but with the majority of classics (which are the best ones anyway) the ingredients are the focus. Which is hard to convey via photography. So whilst these photos are pretty good, I think most of realising how good this is is going to have to come from my descriptions.

Whenever people are unsure what to have I usually steer them in the right direction with various categories of words (sweet, spicy, fruity, bitter etc) The manhattan falls under “Aromatic” and is in fact the cocktail I would use to describe the word. This drink is perfectly balanced without containing any citrus. It is not too sweet or bitter, and you can really pick up subtle nuances of vanilla, citrus and warming flavours from the whiskey, and the herbal character of the vermouth shining through with the bitters tying everything together in one sumptuous package.

Yeah that paragraph sounds a bit pretentious, but I really want you to try this, just once. If its made by me thats just a bonus!

Recipe follows the photos.

Alright time for the recipe. Whilst the manhattan is pretty forgiving, I must insist upon a couple of things.

  • This drink must be stirred
  • Bitters are not optional
  • Rye is preferable but you may use bourbon, using another spirit whilst delicious I’m sure must be called something else
  • Vermouth must be fresh

Now, when you go into most bars and order a manhattan, the ‘tender will ask you “sweet, dry or perfect?” Now see I’m not a fan of this, for me it implies that the original (which is sweet) is not the best (which it is) or balanced. People who may not know what they are ordering tend to say perfect because it rolls off the tongue better than sweet.. which is unfortunate. If people like a dry or perfect manhattan that’s fine, but if you don’t say it I’m not going to push you towards it.

The question I ask a lot more often is “Which whiskey would you prefer?” This opens a lot more directions of flavour to go in. Rye or bourbon? Higher ABV? Sweeter? Spicier?

If they’re really crazy about their manhattans you can discuss which vermouth and which bitters too. But that is kinda extreme.

Obviously money is an issue too, whilst I would love to have it with the most premium rye available, unfortunately my budget must force me to pick the best for the money. Therefore my best manhattan recipe is.


2 Shots Rye (I used rittenhouse bottled in bond) Whiskey (or bourbon)
2 Dashes angostura bitters (bokers if you have it…)
1 shot antica de formula vermouth (sub a good sweet vermouth in if unavailable)

The reason I have named antica by name is because man.. it just makes a manhattan unbelievably tasty. It can overpower however so make sure you use a good hearty whiskey. I like to use Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond because it can really stand up to it.

Stir in a mixing glass with lots of ice until cold and diluted to perfection (this will change depending on how good your ice is) takes about a minute for me. Then strain into a cold coupe or martini glass.


Sorry about the capitals there. Its important though. If its a dry manhattan use a lemon peel.

Garnish with a cherry. A real one. If you don’t have a real cherry please don’t put that neon red plastic BS in. Just leave the orange peel in as a garnish instead.

Heres a shot of the ingredients I used. Stay tuned after the picture I will post a couple of variations.

So yeah thats how you make the manhattan, an absolutely fantastic drink. My goodness.

Heres some variations.


4 parts rye whiskey
2 parts dry vermouth
1 part maraschino liqueur
1 part amer picon

Same instructions for manhattan.

Red Hook:

4 parts rye whiskey
2 parts punt e mes
1 part maraschino liqueur

Little Italy: 

2 shots rye whiskey
3/4 shot sweet vermouth
1/2 shot cynar

Stiff Upper Lip: (There will actually be a whole post about this one soon, this is a bonus for having stuck to the end 😉 )

2 shots bourbon whiskey
3/4 shot lemon
3/4 shot sugar
3/4 shot antica de formula
1 dash angostura

Shake and strain, garnish with a lemon twist.

Thanks for stopping by.



10 responses

  1. Hi – thanks for liking my Manhattan Bulleit, I have to say, I’m glad that you did as it has revealed your blog to me and I love it. And I must agree with your desert island sentiment, ‘my’ Manhattan, that I now fondly call “the White Bulleit” (due to the Bianco) has become my favourite drink. At first I thought the Manhattan was a ‘real’ man’s drink – James Bond doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But now, I find it’s a ‘real’ woman’s drink too. Lovin’ it. … cheers!

    16 February, 2012 at 1:39 AM

  2. I actually had my first Manhattan last Friday, with Bourbon (JIm Beam, nothing fancy), and it was fantastic. Very basic ingredients, so I wasn’t expecting much, but it was the bomb. I’ve got that Rittenhouse at home, but no vermouth yet. I can probably only get my hands on the Martini brand, but I’ll do so as soon as I can afford it. I can see myself drinking these a lot.

    16 February, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    • Absolutely, the first time I ever had one I was blown away.

      Yeah martini is pretty much the standard nowadays for manhattans it seems. Thanks for the comment!

      16 February, 2012 at 2:55 PM

  3. Thanks for the post, I do love a delicious manhattan myself from time to time, but generally more of a negroni boy. I was wondering where you found your reference regarding the origin of it being alongside the other Burroughs of New York? I’ve found confirmation that it was not created by Churchill’s mother as I believe he was being Christened faraway from the Manhattan club at the time. However, I can’t find anything to confirm that it was clearly not created at the Manhattan club, nor anything stating that it was created at the same time as the bronx and brooklyn etc? Would love to find such a reference if you can point me in the right direction. thanks!

    21 February, 2012 at 3:35 AM

    • Don’t get me wrong, I drink negronis by the bucket. But that might just be because I am lazy and I don’t have to shake anything.

      As to my source. It was this article.

      But the more I read it, and the more I consult my books the more it looks like that is the only place that says it. I am a man of science and may have to edit it from “most likely” to “another theory” ha.

      I’ll check my library and if I find any more info I’ll post it here.

      21 February, 2012 at 2:08 PM

      • Thanks for the reply. If you haven’t already you should definitely pick up a copy of David Wondrich’s book “Imbibe!”. It has some excellent historical research including the Manhattan along with many more. Well worth the read.

        21 February, 2012 at 5:02 PM

      • That is definitely my most thumbed through book of my collection. Anything by that man is awesome.

        Have you read his sequel, “Punch” ?

        21 February, 2012 at 5:14 PM

      • Indeed I have! Also good reads are Boozehound and the new PDT Cocktail book.
        Since you are a scientist of the cocktail, I’d love your feedback on my recent “A Martini by any other name” post:

        21 February, 2012 at 6:33 PM

  4. The Manhattan is one of my top 5 drinks. Thanks so much for liking my post, I’m excited to follow you and share your wonderful blog.

    2 March, 2012 at 3:31 PM

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