What To Look For Before Ordering A Manhattan

The Manhattan isn't a trend drink, it's a personality drink. It's more high maintenance than an Old Fashioned, not as persnickety as a martini, and definitively cooler than a Cosmo. You are either a person who drinks Manhattans (and has the digital-only New Yorker subscription to prove it), or you're not.

The Manhattan follows many of the basic rules of classic cocktails. It has a glamorous myth from the 19th century attached to its invention. It should be stirred, not shaken. It comes with a twist of citrus (orange, in this case), and sometimes a cherry garnish. And it only requires three ingredients: rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters. The result is a spirit-forward cocktail with layers of spice and botanicals, a full, velvety mouthfeel, and a sweet, woody aftertaste.

Many people are convinced that they don't like Manhattans, and it might not be their fault. With a drink so simple, it's surprisingly easy to screw up. If one ingredient is off, it can ruin the entire drink. And until the Manhattan is resurrected as the next drink of the moment, many bars will remain ill-equipped to craft a satisfactory rendition.

When deciding whether or not your bar of choice can make you a proper Manhattan, there's one thing you need to pay attention to.

Where's the vermouth?

Sweet vermouth is typically the make-or-break ingredient for a good Manhattan. But if the vermouth is old or not properly stored, it will give your Manhattan a terrible sour taste. This is because vermouth is a fortified aromatized wine, and spoils quickly just like wine does. Vermouth must be stored in the refrigerator after opening, and even then will only last for a month. If opened and left out on the counter, it will go bad much faster. So if you can see vermouth at a bar (i.e. if it's not tucked away in a refrigerator), you probably don't want it in your Manhattan.

"This three-ingredient cocktail includes vermouth, which can and does go bad," bar manager Alisha Kaplan toldĀ Insider. "If you see an old dusty bottle of vermouth on the back bar, run for the hills."

Also check to see if your bar has a proper cocktail list before ordering a Manhattan. If it doesn't, or if it's clear that the place is focused more on beer, liquor, and well drinks, you might want to opt for something else. Even if their vermouth is properly stored, if they don't use it frequently it's probably been sitting there for a long time turning. Save yourself some hassle and order an Old Fashioned instead. We won't judge.