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5 Rye Whiskeys To Elevate Your Manhattan Cocktail

There are numerous variations on the classic Manhattan cocktail, as well as varying origin stories (read on to find out more). Sometimes, the classic method is a classic for a reason. However, you can put your own personal spin on your Manhattan cocktail just by changing the rye whiskey used in the recipe. 

Below I have provided my own personal approach to the drink, as well as some rye whiskies that can truly elevate your Manhattan. I will also answer some of the most common questions about the Manhattan cocktail. 

As an aside, some of the origin story recipes have sugar syrup/gum syrup in them. I don’t personally use it – I tend to think of the Manhattan as a whisky martini –  but feel free to add some if you want to get experimental. Although, I’d advise no more than half an ounce at most. 

Not yet a rye drinker? Find the perfect 6 rye whiskeys to get you started, here

Manhattan Cocktail Recipe 

The classic Manhattan recipe:

  • 1 oz of Cocchi Torino (different brands will give you different flavors)
  • 2 oz of a rye of choice 
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters. Or as many dashes of bitters as you want
  • Maraschino cherry to garnish. A lemon twist works just as well. 

Sazerac Rye, 45% ABV 

BUY NOW: $19.95

With its 51% rye content, Sazerac Rye is going to provide you with a little more sweetness within the drink as a whole. Sazerac is famous for the combination of rich vanilla and fresh black pepper, all working in a quaint harmony together. 

Bringing bitters and vermouth into these flavors gives you a very well-balanced and measured style of Manhattan that offers good sweetness, bitterness, earthiness, and spice. 

Ragtime Rye, 45.2% ABV 

BUY NOW: $34.99

Ragtime rye makes everything smell like sweet cherries and Coca-Cola, that is quite a wonderful thing. Packing a huge 72% rye into this liquid, rye grown specifically within the New York district, much like the city itself, this thing is gonna give you buzz, excitement, and some flavors that will wind and dine you for hours. 

Those cherry and cola notes are accentuated in a huge way when mixed with bitter and red vermouth in a Manhattan cocktail. A lemon toast on this gives those cherry notes an even bigger platform to work with. 

Old Overholt Rye, 40% ABV

BUY NOW: $16.99 

The definition of a session product. This is the kind of Manhattan that you can just put away with a good group of friends. I’ve spoken at length about Old Overholt on at least two separate occasions on this website, but it’s for good reason. It’s affordable, tasty, and mixes well. 

The most impressive thing about putting this into a cocktail is the intensity of grapefruit notes that seem to come out of nowhere. With this stock being a little younger you can also allow the vermouth to assert a little more dominance in this liquid setup – that may be more beneficial for some than others, but it’s an interesting and tasty way to drink through an evening. 

Balcones Texas Rye, 50% ABV

BUY NOW: $35.98

Make everything bigger with liquids from Texas! This 100% rye, 100-proof whisky is such an incredible way to enjoy this slow drink. Balcones have used four different types of rye in this liquid, one of them being chocolate rye and another being a roasted type of rye. 

The use of these things together provides such a deep and intense flavor of chocolate, orange oil, honey, butter, and a little bit of tobacco to boot. Essentially, if you’d like one of the best drinking experiences of your life. Check out Balcones, just in general, not just for fun cocktails. 

Redwood Empire Emerald Giant Rye, 45% ABV

BUY NOW: $29.95

A very subtle, minty nod to a Manhattan cocktail. Your choice of red vermouth will impact this bigger than the rest, as even with a 95% rye content and at 45% ABV this is a very subtle and gentle style of Californian rye that wants loads of flavors to develop throughout its length on your palate. 

I’d perhaps even use only one drop of bitters when putting this one together just to see if it has enough of a punch on the finish without overpowering it with ginger and soft spices.

The History of The Manhattan Cocktail 

There are numerous theories regarding the origin of the Manhattan cocktail, with various sources citing different creators since the late 1800s. 

The Manhattan most likely emerged around the 1860s-1870s in New York. In fact, the first written reference to the Manhattan dates to 1882 in a newspaper called The Olean Democrat. In the column, the writer says that “[i]t is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters came into vogue. It went under various names – Manhattan cocktail, Turf Club cocktail, and Jockey Club cocktail.” 

Two years later, the first written recipe for the Manhattan was published in a book named The Modern Bartenders’ Guide, although there were two variations of the recipe in this book. 

The Manhattan Club in New York, to this day, claims to be the birthplace of the Manhattan cocktail, with the New York Sun reporting just that in 1891. However, another theory that is widely accepted is that the concoction was created by a man named George Black. 

Whoever invented the Manhattan, there is no doubt that it has its orgins in New York City.

Black ran a bar on Broadway from 1874 until 1881 that was named the Manhattan Inn. A bartender named William F. Mulhall, who worked in another bar named Hoffmann House, stated in 1923 that George Black created the Manhattan cocktail and named it after his establishment. 

Whatever the true origins of the Manhattan, there is no doubt that it changed the definition of what a cocktail could be, with the inclusion of fortified wine (vermouth) being a novelty at the time. 

What Is A Manhattan Cocktail Made Of? 

Whilst there are many variations of the Manhattan cocktail, with ingredients adjusted to the tastes of the drinker, the classic recipe calls for whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and a maraschino cherry for garnish. 

Traditionalists insist that rye whiskey and sweet vermouth be used for an authentic taste. 

What’s the difference Between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan? 

Both the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan are whiskey-based cocktails but with a few key differences. 

The Old Fashioned is made from sugar, Angostura bitters, whiskey, and a garnish of orange twist and a maraschino cherry. 

On the other hand, the Manhattan does not call for sugar and has the addition of vermouth (dry or sweet, depending on your personal taste). Furthermore, the Manhattan is not usually garnished with an orange twist. 

Is a Manhattan just a whiskey Martini? 

Try some of the rye whiskeys above next time you make a Manhattan cocktail.

The short answer is no, not really. 

Whilst a Martini is made with vodka or gin and vermouth and a Manhattan is made with whiskey and vermouth, there is a key addition to the Manhattan. A classic Manhattan recipe calls for bitters (usually Angostura). Plus, Martinis are usually garnished with an olive, whereas Manhattans call for cherries. 

Is The Manhattan a strong cocktail? 

Yes, the Manhattan is a strong cocktail, with the majority of the liquid used being made up of whiskey. Whichever whiskey you use (scotch, bourbon, rye, etc…) it will be at least 40% ABV, sometimes up to the mid-60s. 

The addition of 16-18% ABV vermouth serves to bolster the alcoholic content, not to mention the Angostura bitters (which are usually around 44.7% ABV). 

The Manhattan is a rich and flavourful drink that packs a powerful alcoholic punch. 

Check out more on whiskey cocktails, here.

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Phil Dwyer

Having worked in whisky retail for a decade, and running Whisky Wednesday on YouTube for nearly as long, Phil has always wanted to learn, talk and tell everyone as much about whisky as he can.

Whisky can be overly complicated at times. Phil wants to end that. Brands have pushed far too much jargon into the drinking atmosphere; it's difficult to breathe when whisky is mentioned at times.

Phil also manages The Whisky Shop Manchester stocking some of the best drams on the market.

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