Classic Cocktails from A-Z: Manhattan

November 29, 2012

Some things just go together -- and the obvious accompaniment to food is drink. Welcome to Booze52, in which we explore all manner of libations, from A to Z, that do much more than just wash down a meal.

Today: A classy drink that has never left the cocktail A-list.

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When it comes to favorite cities, I’ll take Manhattan. And when it comes to favorite whiskey drinks, ditto.

The classic Manhattan has to be one of the most satisfying of all cocktails. It’s like a liquid layer cake -- each ingredient is immensely flavorful and satisfying. Credited to The Manhattan Club, the place where it was prepared for Winston Churchill’s Brooklyn-born mum in the 1870s, appreciation for the Manhattan crosses genders, generations, and palates. 

This drink is a true treat, whether you’re bellying up to the humblest of backwoods bars, networking at a fancy party in Los Feliz, or simply wowing your father-in-law (something I recently did) by stirring one up. 

Want to fancy up your barware to to match your sophisticated drink? We have you covered.

Why has the Manhattan kept its place on the A-list of historic cocktails for 140 years? Let us count the ways: 

  1. The name -- it’s a classic in and of itself.
  2. The bold, complementary flavors of spicy whiskey and sweet vermouth are a perfect match.
  3. If your drink is chilled properly, it will stand up to ice. (Good news for rocks lovers!)
  4. The cocktail has stayed true to its roots but still plays nice with many different variations. (See below!)


2 ounces rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Brandied cherry (for garnish)

Combine first three ingredients in shaker filled partway with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with brandied cherry.

Save and print this recipe here.

Want to play a little? Here’s a starter list, complete with variations, so you can have a more Manhattan happiness this holiday season:

• Make a pitcher of Manhattans for a crowd by mixing 2 parts rye whiskey, 1 part sweet vermouth and a few drops of bitters per serving to a glass pitcher. Voila! Chill until you're ready to use.
• To go old-school, make it with rye. And, If you want to be a locavore about it, this will get you there.
• Bourbon will add a smooth, Southern sweetness to the drink. I use this one.
• It takes a robust, confident cocktail to work both on the rocks and up -- for a lovely twist, serve your Manhattan over ice in a lowball glass. 
• Switch up your vermouth -- for a tiny bit of bitterness and herbal flavor try stirring this in.

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • MplsCitified
  • serafinadellarosa
  • TheHipHostess
  • Michael Hoffman
    Michael Hoffman
  • mtrelaun
I spend about an equal amount of time behind the laptop and behind the stove. In between preparing and writing about food, I love to hang out with my husband, three children, big shaggy dog and two cats. History is also my thing, especially the Regency period, U.S. Westward expansion and World War II. Favorite drinks: good pinot noirs and classic martinis. Favorite book: Pride & Prejudice. Favorite obsessions: Laura Ingalls Wilder and South Dakota


MplsCitified October 24, 2014
Great classic recipe. For an interesting twist, I have subbed Cynar for the vermouth. It's delicious and gives the drink some herbal notes. Similar to a Little Italy, but not as sweet, which I prefer.
serafinadellarosa December 10, 2012
I've been really getting into Manhattans lately after visiting an old friend (93 yrs old) in the Seattle area. Had my first Manhattan with him over 30 years ago and he drinks them regularly every evening. When I came back from my trip I wanted to carry on with this Manhattan thing. After a little research and a trip to the liqor store I was introduced to Rittenhouse rye. I picked up the sweet vermouth (Dolin) and some West Indies orange bitters and headed home. I started drinking them on the rocks but switched to straight up just because I didn't want to miss any of the great Rittenhouse flavor. Oh dear, this is a gorgeous drink. No more Martinis for me. They absolutely pale in comparison to the seductive flavors of the Manhattan.
Erika K. December 12, 2012
So funny; I made one for my husband a few weeks ago and his eyes bulged out (he's mostly a vodka drinker). Then last night he asked me to make him another one. A quick acquired taste!
TheHipHostess December 2, 2012
To this day the aroma of a Manhattan instantly takes me back to my 50's childhood. Funky plastic drink stirrers and all! My Grandmother's cocktail of choice. I'm going to have to try one again. Thanks...sweet memories.
Michael H. December 2, 2012
Lovely article about one of my favorite drinks. A pitcher of Manhattans is a lovely idea. I made one for an office party recently: http://instagram.com/p/R1BfJQIc0S/
mtrelaun December 1, 2012
There's a really sweet story about Manhattans in the Dec. 3rd of the New Yorker, http://nyr.kr/11xZpp4.
Greenstuff December 1, 2012
Sweet vermouth is red vermouth.
cverry November 30, 2012
Maple Manhattan - ummmm good.
Erika K. December 12, 2012
what's in it?
veronika's K. November 30, 2012
Just checking - but would that be a sweet RED vermouth?
dymnyno November 29, 2012
Love, love a Manhattan to relax with after a tough day. I recently discovered Blood Orange Bitters which are to die for in a Manhattan.