3 Riffs on the Manhattan, the Classiest of Classic Cocktails

March 30, 2018

Being a great host also means being a great home bartender. We've partnered with Johnnie Walker and Bulleit to help you master a few classic whiskey cocktails, and put your own spin on them—whether you're mixing one up for yourself or entertaining guests.

Photo by Julia Gartland

Does anything make you feel quite as civilized as a Manhattan? Dating back to the mid-19th century, it’s one of the cocktail world’s true classics. Balanced with rich, herbal sweet vermouth, it’s the kind of drink that proves a good whiskey doesn’t need much to become a compelling cocktail. (It also happens to be one of the best excuses to snack on maraschino or brandied cherries, which are the Manhattan's most typical garnish.)

Of course, like many classics, there are tons of possible variations. Swap out American whiskey for Scotch, and it’s known as a Rob Roy. Split the vermouth between sweet and dry, and it’s known as a “Perfect” Manhattan. (Whether it’s more perfect than the original—well, that’s up to you.) Trade vermouth for another weighty, low-proof bottle and you have an entirely novel drink that’s still fully in the spirit of the classic.

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Here are three riffs on the Manhattan, showing off the cocktail’s endless versatility, for winter, spring, and beyond.

Bourbon Manhattan

A true Manhattan is all about balance—in this case, robust bourbon with weighty, herbal vermouth. Want to get a little more creative? Other low-alcohol elements can work well, too. In place of the vermouth, try olorosso sherry, ruby port (garnish with a lemon twist instead of orange), or even medium-bodied amari (Italian herbal liqueurs; with these, try a grapefruit twist).

Rob Roy

A Scotch Manhattan is known as a Rob Roy, and balances the pleasantly smoky spirit with just enough sweet vermouth. For an interesting variation, try New Orleans-style bitters, which are bright red and have a hint of anise.

Perfect Rob Roy

With both sweet and dry vermouth, a “Perfect Manhattan” is a little lighter and drier than the classic. Here we’re using that idea for a Scotch version, which lets the complexity of the smoky spirit shine through. For a more spring-friendly take, change it up a bit by replacing the dry vermouth with the slightly sweeter, more floral vermouth style known as Bianco, which picks up on Scotch's fruit and vanilla notes.

Whiskey isn't just great for sipping—it's great for cocktails, which you should keep top-of-mind as you're preparing to host all sorts of spring get-togethers. Like where this is going? Stay tuned: We're sharing six more great drink recipes—including riffs on the Old Fashioned and the Whiskey Sour—all featuring Johnnie Walker and Bulleit.

Do you have any favorite bourbon, rye, or scotch cocktails? Let us know in the comments!

JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK LABEL Blended Scotch Whisky. 40% Alc/Vol. Imported by Diageo, Norwalk, CT.

JOHNNIE WALKER RED LABEL Blended Scotch Whisky. 40% Alc/Vol. Imported by Diageo, Norwalk, CT.

BULLEIT Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. 45% Alc/Vol. The Bulleit Distilling Co., Louisville, KY.

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Spirits and travel writer; author of Brooklyn Bartender.

1 Comment

M April 2, 2018
As bourbon is quite common in Manhattans, I'd suggest the amari-centric Black Manhattan as a top alternative. Such a tasty way to change up the formula.

Is there some sort of legal reason that all of these cocktails fit the "standard drink size" health standard for what constitutes one drink, and not the age-old 2:1, or 3-ounce cocktail?