Cocktail Guide: How To Make a Manhattan

Clear long-stem glass filled with a brown cocktail garnished with a brandied cherry

For a cocktail with history and party appeal, look no further than the Manhattan Cocktail: It’s perfect as a classic elegant drink to serve at your next cocktail gathering or enjoy with a special friend on a cosy evening. In this food blog, we explore the 19th century origins of the cocktail and draw on our expertise as a leading hospitality consultancy to offer recipes and variations for this favourite drink.

Origins Of The Manhattan Cocktail

The Manhattan cocktail is a classic cocktail believed to have originated in the late 19th century, during the Gilded Age, in New York City. The exact origin story is a bit unclear, but it is widely believed that the cocktail was first created at the Manhattan Club in New York City, for a banquet hosted by Lady Randolph Churchill in honour of US presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The year is often attributed to the 1870s or early 1880s. While there are several variations of the story, the consensus is that the drink became popular and named after the club where it was introduced.


The classic Manhattan cocktail is a simple and elegant drink that requires only a few ingredients:

2 oz Rye whiskey or bourbon

1 oz Sweet vermouth

2-3 Dashes of Angostura bitters

Maraschino cherry or lemon twist, for garnish (optional)

long-stem cocktail glass filled with a brown liquid and garnished with 2 brandied cherries sat on a pink surface


Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with ice.

Add the rye whiskey or bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters.

Stir the mixture with a bar spoon until well-chilled (about 20-30 seconds).

Strain the cocktail into a chilled cocktail glass or over a few ice cubes in a rocks glass.

Garnish with a maraschino cherry or a twist of lemon peel, if desired.

Cocktail Variations

The Manhattan cocktail is a versatile drink that lends itself to various creative variations. Here are a few popular ones.

  • Perfect Manhattan: In this variation, equal parts of sweet vermouth and dry vermouth are used instead of only sweet vermouth. So, it’s typically 2 oz rye or bourbon, 1/2 oz sweet vermouth, and 1/2 oz dry vermouth.


  • Dry Manhattan: For those who prefer a less sweet version, the dry Manhattan uses dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth. The recipe would be 2 oz rye or bourbon and 1 oz dry vermouth.


  • Brandy Manhattan: In this variation, brandy is used as the base spirit instead of rye or bourbon. The recipe would be 2 oz brandy, 1 oz sweet vermouth, and 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters.
  • Black Manhattan: This modern variation uses black walnut bitters in place of Angostura bitters, giving the cocktail a nuttier and slightly bitter flavour.


  • Rob Roy: A Scottish variation of the Manhattan, the Rob Roy uses Scotch whisky instead of rye or bourbon, maintaining the other ingredients of the classic recipe.


  • Coffee Manhattan: In this twist, cold brew coffee is added to the mix, giving the cocktail a delightful coffee flavour.
Black Manhattan Cocktail garnished with a cherry on a dark wooden surface
Black Manhattan

As with any cocktail, the quality of the ingredients used can greatly impact the flavour, so using a good-quality whiskey, vermouth, and bitters will result in a superior Manhattan cocktail. Enjoy responsibly.