How to make a Manhattan

I always try not to make any assumptions about my readership. I know there are a lot of cocktail geeks, nerds, and– er, ahem, aficionadoes and enthusiasts out there, but new folks discover this weblog all the time and might be new to the joys that the cocktail brings into our lives.

One of the very greatest cocktails in the history of Humankind, in the top five certainly, is the Manhattan Cocktail. Even though it’s basic — whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters — there are many subtle variations. Bourbon or rye (I prefer the latter, but I’ve had dynamite Bourbon Manhattans depending on the Bourbon), brand of sweet vermouth, 2:1 or 3:1 (I think 4:1 is not enough vermouth), type of bitters. We’ve made dozens of variations, and enjoyed them all.

For the record, you may not omit the bitters in a Manhattan any more than you would cook a steak without salt and pepper. It’s worse than that, actually, and you are free to politely but firmly correct anyone who claims that “nobody wants bitters in a Manhattan,” which I’ve actually had some bartenders say to me. It’s like a chef saying that no one wants their food seasoned.

Here’s how we make them at home most of the time.


The Manhattan Cocktail

2 ounces Rittenhouse 100 proof rye whiskey.
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Combine in a mixing glass with cracked ice and stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a brandied cherry or, for a drier and more sophisticated flavor, express the oil from a lemon peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

For a spot-on perfect tutorial on how to make one, watch Bobby Heugel of my favorite bar between L.A. and New Orleans, Houston’s Anvil Bar and Refuge:

You may have noticed that Bobby used Sazerac Rye, the six-year-0ld variety we’re fond of calling “Baby Saz,” even though the printed recipe calls for Rittenhouse 100-proof rye.  Baby Saz is really good stuff and we use it all the time, but for a Manhattan I think the bonded Rittenhouse product can’t be beat.  The higher proof gives it a bigger kick and more body and brings out more of the rye’s spicy characteristics. I highly recommend this for use in your Manhattans.

The vermouth here is Carpano Antica Formula, simply put the greatest sweet vermouth on the planet.  Sure, Cinzano and Martini & Rossi are good, and Dolin Rouge is quite good, but nothing beats Carpano (car-PAH-no).  You’ll want to drink this alone, on the rocks with a twist of orange, even more so than other sweet vermouths (all of which make excellent aperitivos).  The depth of flavor, the spice and tempered sweetness, all the Christmassy brown spices in there, are a joy to the senses.  The only disadvantages of Carpano are that it’s more expensive — $26 a bottle as compared to about $10 for Martini & Rossi, and the difference in price is justified, and entirely worth it — and that it only comes in one-liter bottles.  Half-bottles would be ideal for keeping it from going bad on you.  Vermouth may be fortified wine that keeps longer than the bottles you basically have to finish on the same day, but it’s still wine and won’t last forever.   Perhaps you could split it with a friend and decant into smaller bottles, or just use LOTS of it so that it’s still in good shape by the time you get to the bottom.

Finally, when visiting Houston, do not miss a trip to Anvil.  You’ll thank me for it later.

8 Responses to “How to make a Manhattan”

  1. Frederic said:

    Oct 14, 09 at 6:07 am

    “but nothing beats Carpano (car-PAH-no)”

    A good Barolo Chinato trumps all for a Manhattan in my book. Although they cost more than twice as much as Carpano does. I’ll have to watch that video when I’m not here at work…

  2. Chuck said:

    Oct 14, 09 at 9:20 am

    If we’re talking about the classic Manhattan recipe — whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters — then I maintain that Carpano can’t be beat.

    I love chinato, though, and though I’ve never tried that I bet it’ll be fantastic. But if you start swapping out sweet vermouth for chinato and quinquina, I might argue that it’s no longer a true Manhattan, but one of the many wonderful Manhattan variations. You could name it after a neighborhood in New York (if there are any left that don’t have a drink named for them), or maybe your own. 🙂

    Thanks for the suggestion — I shall try it soon. And I think I need to do a roundup post of all the Manhattan variations I’ve collected — there are a ton of ’em.

  3. Mike S. said:

    Oct 14, 09 at 8:32 pm

    Great drink, great video, great way to launch the redesign! And BTW, a round-up of all Manhattan variations could end up a life-long project — not that that’s a bad thing; there are some variations that I like every bit as much, and perhaps more, than the classic recipe itself (e.g., McKinley’s Delight).

  4. Rob said:

    Oct 15, 09 at 6:24 am

    Hey! He measures dashes like I do!

  5. Brian said:

    Oct 15, 09 at 6:54 pm

    Wow, he gets way more out of a shake of the bitters than I do.

  6. Chuck said:

    Oct 16, 09 at 12:44 am

    I’ve always been a firm believer in a hefty shake of bitters while dashing, with the energy coming from the elbow. 🙂

    I did learn a really good nice technique from Misty Kalkofen at Drink in Boston, though … she observed, quite correctly, that dashes shaken from a bottle are very inconsistent, depending on the size of the bottle, how much bitters is left in the bottle, the energy put behind the dash, what type of little plastic dasher bottle is on the top, and is it leaking, etc. She measures dashes from an eyedropper bottle, and learned to gauge by eye how much in the eyedropper equals one dash. That way her doses of bitters are perfectly consistent with every drink. Pretty cool.

  7. Ken Moorhead said:

    Oct 18, 09 at 12:00 am

    As one who has just recently discovered this blog (and rye, for that matter…) finding this video was perfect. I may have to make myself some bourbon soaked cherries. Hopefully they’ll last long enough to actually be used in a cocktail!

  8. Chuck said:

    Oct 18, 09 at 12:09 am

    It’s great to see you here, Ken! Very glad you found us. If you like what you see, you’re more than welcome to read ten years worth of archives. That’s a lot of goofing-off-at-work time taken care of.