The Perfect Manhattan: Next Time, Order American Rye - The Whiskey Wash

The Perfect Manhattan: Next Time, Order American Rye

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve randomly questioned several bartenders as to their preferred choice of whiskey for making a Manhattan. Almost everyone I spoke with said that over-proof American rye provides the best balance for this classic cocktail, and many suggested Rittenhouse because of its quality for the price (typically between $26 and $35 a bottle, depending on where you live). Some of the cocktail crafters I spoke with were kind enough to share their spin on this staple:

Seattle Staple Michael Cadden (of Tin Table, Ocho, and Tavern Law fame), who can now be found behind the bar at the newly acclaimed Meet the Moon Café, prefers American ryes for his Manhattans. “I like the spicy balance it brings to the cocktail. Other whiskeys are good, but tend to tip the flavor balance. Bourbon, having a corn base, tends to be sweet.” Cadden also enjoys something over-proof to provide the right structure for the cocktail.


A classic Manhattan cocktail (image via Larry Vincent/flickr)

Cadden uses an Amaro as the bitter portion to provide “a little more depth and herbal notes than traditional Angostura Bitters.” Carpano Antica adds big jam-like, sweet notes on the front of the cocktail, then the Segesta Amaro’s herbal notes spike about two thirds of the way through the palate, with warm spicy rye notes supporting throughout. Cadden then adds a light lemon zest to ensure the whole drink doesn’t taste “too dark.”

Michael’s Perfect Manhattan

  • 1.5 oz Rittenhouse or Pikesville Rye
  • ¾ oz Carpano Antica Forumula Sweet Vermouth
  • ¾ oz Segasta Amaro

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail coupe or on the rocks (whichever you prefer). Garnish with a lemon zest.

Conor Cook, who can be found behind three of Tom Douglas’ bars (The Carlile Room, Brave Horse Tavern, and Cantina Leña), said that his go-to spirit for the perfect Manhattan is also an overproof (100 or 101) rye whiskey because it stands up well. He likes to balance out the Italian vermouth with smoky bitters.

Conor’s Perfect Manhattan (Inspired by the Carlile Room)

  • 1.5 oz Rittenhouse Rye
  • ½ oz Carpano Antica
  • “A couple” dashes of house-made Smoky Angostura Bitters

Add ice to cover above liquid level. Stir well to blend and chill, then double strain into chilled glass. Garnish with a Luxardo maraschino cherry.

Finally, I’m a firm believer in the cheap magic that Old Overholt and Martini Rosso sweet vermouth provide if you’re on a budget and/or having to make a ton of Manhattans for an event.

Lindsay’s Manhattan on the Cheap

  • 1.5 oz Old Overholt Rye
  • ½ oz Martini Rosso Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into double old fashioned or short martini glass with single large ice cube. Garnish with maraschino cherry or lemon twist.