12 Best Bourbons For A Manhattan

The perfect balancing act of booziness, sweetness, and bitterness, the Manhattan is one of the most enjoyable cocktails to tinker with. While the traditional recipe calls for rye whiskey, straying from that whiskey variety offers the chance to experience this cocktail anew — even more than 140 years after its creation. In that vein, swapping in bourbon whiskey — rye's corny cousin — can be a rewarding experiment.

We don't mean to imply you can substitute rye with any old bourbon and still enjoy a perfect Manhattan, of course. The heavy sweetness of some bourbons can throw the cocktail's balance off-kilter, and may cause it to taste too much like sweet corn. Now, you'll still find sweetness when you select a quality bourbon. After all, the difference between bourbon and rye comes down to its mash bill (with bourbon requiring at least 51% corn compared to at least 51% rye in, well, rye whiskey). But with the right bourbon, you'll also find fruitiness, spice, and a spirited kick that enhances the Manhattan experience.

Bourbon is one of our favorite spirits to experiment with, so we compiled a list of bourbon whiskeys you should consider using when making the mixed drink. Since I've marketed, sold, served, poured, and enjoyed premium spirits for over ten years, I'm well-suited to guide you through this process and help you elevate this classic cocktail. Here are the 12 best bourbons for a Manhattan.

Blanton's Original Single Barrel Bourbon

The bottle for Blanton's Original Single Barrel Bourbon looks like a trophy because it kind of is one. It's your reward for discovering a bourbon with history, character, and an elusive presence. We'd also say the bottle resembles a collectible toy, which makes sense if you consider the Manhattan cocktail a metaphorical playpen (as we do).

Now, aside from its status as the world's first single-barrel bourbon variety, Blanton's Original Single Barrel Bourbon can be a complex and generous addition to your Manhattan. On the palate, it offers corn-derived sweetness that manifests as honey and caramel, while cooking spices, citrus, and dark fruit also shine through. These dark fruit and spice flavors integrate wonderfully with a Manhattan's sweet vermouth and bitters, as does the innate sweetness of its caramel notes.

We may have the Original Single Barrel's mash bill to thank for making this bourbon so suitable for a Manhattan. The alleged grain lineup contains 12-15% rye, after all, which could explain why it's such a great substitute for the cocktail's typical rye-forward spirit. Of course, the distillery doesn't openly disclose the details of its mash bill ... but if it tastes like rye? It might as well be used as rye when it comes to mixing cocktails. Whether real or perceived, the rye-like spiciness in this bourbon adds depth to any well-made Manhattan.

Noah's Mill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

One of Willet Distillery's more respected bourbons, Noah's Mill premium Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey exemplifies what this spirit is all about. Offering complex nutty and dried fruit flavors with distinct dry wood notes, this bourbon makes for a sophisticated and structural Manhattan.

A whisper of rye-like herbaceousness sparks intrigue, and walnut and chestnut notes give the stiff cocktail some chew — with a robust oakiness that tapers into the finish. Acidity tightens the spirit and helps it drive through the sweetness of a Manhattan's vermouth, while the tannic quality of the oak is a perfect match for a fortified wine. All these lavish notes of nuts, dried fruit, and spice fold elegantly into the drink alongside a few dashes of quality bitters.

Interestingly, Noah's Mill was once one of Willet Distillery's premium sourced whiskeys. Prior to 2012, the actual whiskey was distilled outside of its walls, a as Willet was a distillery in name only between 1984 and 2012. But Willet has ushered in a new era and fired up its own stills since then. Noah's Mill is now created fully in-house, though without an age statement, we can only infer the Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has spent at least four years in new charred oak barrels.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Living in Manhattan may be incredibly expensive, but the bourbon in your Manhattan cocktail doesn't have to be. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is one such affordable favorite. This worthwhile value spirit brand doesn't offer many surprises, but it's still a delicious and reliable bourbon that can deliver a rich and satisfying Manhattan at a consumer-friendly price tag. The usual suspects of bourbon are all present and accounted for — namely oily sweet caramel, vanilla, oak, and light spice, as well as a touch of toasty coffee and chocolate.

These are all great layers for a chunky Manhattan, although you may want to dial back the sweet vermouth a touch and consider an extra dash of bitters to create balance. Now, Buffalo Trace-branded bourbon may come at an inoffensive price bracket, but the distillery actually has its fingers in many pies. In fact, the illustrious Blanton's and W.L. Weller (also on this list) are part of the Buffalo Trace family of brands, as well.

Although the price for Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is generally much lower than Blanton's, the same attention to quality shines through. Additionally, you're likely familiar with the following sentiment that personal preference varies, so feel free to experiment and have fun. Ultimately, Buffalo Trace is a well-rounded, smooth, and moreish bourbon — resulting in a Manhattan with the same qualities.

W. L. Weller Special Reserve

Well, well, Weller: Another Buffalo Trace brand that titillates in a Manhattan cocktail. Unlike Buffalo Trace's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, W.L. Weller's Special Reserve flaunts a wheat-forward mash bill, instead. This means the second most prominent grain used is wheat rather than rye or barley. While the exact proportion of wheat in this bourbon's mix is undisclosed, there's enough to influence the flavor of the whiskey — and help create a unique yet delightful Manhattan.

Choosing wheat over rye results in a less spice-forward bourbon than others on the list. But this also likely promotes some of the whiskey's fruitier notes of cherry and apple, along with dry, grainy hay and mint. There's still an oaky black pepper and cooked spice note on the palate, which keeps this bourbon savory enough for an enjoyable and balanced Manhattan.

The caramel, honey, and vanilla give a silky structure to W.L. Weller's Special Reserve and make it clear what spirit is in your Manhattan. The cherry that lingers on the palate is the cherry on top (especially when paired with an actual maraschino cherry garnish). Overall, this is a great bourbon to reach for when you want a lighter, more delicate Manhattan.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Woodford Reserve's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey may be a popular staple at any respectable back bar, but you may not think to ask the bartender for a Manhattan made with it. However, this is a critical error for anyone who enjoys a full-flavored and silky Manhattan.

This generous bourbon has a lot to offer cocktails, and the rye in its mash bill makes it an easy consideration for our Manhattans. Featuring 18% rye in the bill is nothing to scoff at, and it contributes complex spice notes. That said, this spirit also exceeds bourbon's minimum limit for corn, as it comprises 72% of the mash bill. The result is an unrestrained bourbon that has the heft and sweetness of toffee and brown sugar notes, along with a rye throughline of cinnamon and cooking spice. Further complexity comes from the brighter citrus and vanilla notes, as well as some toasty cocoa for good measure.

This is a bourbon that connects with the complementary elements of a Manhattan's typical rye while still being apologetically bourbon. The velvety texture of Woodford Reserve contributes to a pleasant-sipping Manhattan, as well. You can also dial back the sweet vermouth to help thin out the sweetness and viscosity if that's not your A-1 Manhattan.

Michter's US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Michter's US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon expression is another small-batch approach to America's beloved spirit — one that features a star in its name for good measure. Unsurprisingly, then, this all-American Kentucky bourbon performs well in a Manhattan (even when the cocktail is served in the big city itself).

With some distinctively rye-like notes and baking spice alongside a touch of licorice, this bourbon fits into a Manhattan better than you may initially expect. Michter's US*1 has the backbone we know and love for bourbon, including rich caramel and vanilla. But the smokey oak it features up front gives it some heft. There are some additional interesting flavors and aromas in orange rind, cocoa, and cherry, which add further depth and complexity. Ultimately, though, the toasted oak gives this bourbon structure and its defining character.

Michter's US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon supports each of a Manhattan's three core tenets. It offers its own sweetness, connects the bitterness to spice, and punches in the booziness with a 91.4 proof. And while there's no age statement for this brand's Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey, we can confidently say all of this spirit's components have been aged at least four years.

Angel's Envy Port Finish

This expression from Angel's Envy – technically labeled Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels — spends up to six months finishing in ex-Portuguese port casks on top of the four-to-six years spent aging in new white oak barrels. The result is a beautifully aged whiskey that's enhanced with a berry and wine kiss from its time in port barrels. This also happens to be one of the main reasons this bourbon is so good in a Manhattan, as a whisper of vinification goes a long way in marrying the whiskey with the cocktail's fortified wine ingredient (sweet vermouth).

The extra time in the barrel also ensures its toasty nut and vanilla flavors permeate the bourbon and hug a Manhattan's other ingredients. Unlike some of the bolder expressions on this list, Angel's Envy is characteristically subtle and refined. Dried fruit, cherry, and orange rind elevate the palate to a brighter bourbon which balances the weight of vermouth and contrasts the bitters. What's more, there's a solid 18% rye in its mash bill, bringing this bourbon just a little bit closer to the traditional Manhattan whiskey.

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

Four Roses Small Batch bourbon welcomes the Manhattan drinker with a sweeter tooth, while balancing its caramel with spicier notes. On the nose and palate, brown sugar and butterscotch are ever-present, and robust cooking spices like cinnamon, anise, and black pepper pick up what a Manhattan's bitters put down. These spice characters are maintained throughout the finish, escorting the sweet vermouth to the next sip.

Four Roses Small Batch isn't without a lighter hint of fruit, though, as stonefruit and citrus shine through to sunny up a Manhattan. There's a fair whack of rye in the mix, too, which suits the cocktail rather well. Four Roses blends four of its bourbon recipes to create Small Batch, combining its two mash bills. Mash Bill B contains 35% rye and 60% corn, while Mash Bill E has 20% rye and 75% corn. Both use 5% barley, as well, but let's just forget about that minuscule number. 

This means the bourbon — and a Manhattan that uses it — flaunts the best of both worlds of between rye and bourbon whiskey. Quite frankly, who wouldn't want a Manhattan with all the spice of a rye-enriched bourbon plus the sweetness of a corn-heavy one?

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

Elijah Craig's Small Batch Bourbon is remarkably smooth (even with 47% ABV or 94-proof). Offering up notes of cozy, slightly smoky spice, baked apple, honey, and marzipan, this is what we'd call a comfort whiskey. And the layered complementary flavors of this bourbon make it an excellent addition to a Manhattan.

The Small Batch from Elijah Craig really showcases the depth of a corn-heavy bourbon, with a mash bill potentially holding 78% of this grain. There are a few light and herbaceous touches of mint and eucalyptus, as well, preceded by complex notes of chocolate, coffee, orange rind, baking spice, and soft vanilla. In a Manhattan, these various flavors tie together with the spice and herbaceous components of bitters, and the fruity and fortified sweet vermouth.

This is one bourbon to reach for if you want a truly elevated cocktail. Refined and sophisticated, it can be enjoyed beside a mansion's most lavish fireplace. More than that, this particularly whiskey has been on a roll in the past decade. It earned Double Gold wins at the 2021 and 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, as well as the title of Best Small Batch Bourbon in the same competition in 2018.

Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon

One of our favorite bourbons for an old fashioned cocktail can be easily transplanted into its cousin the Manhattan: Bulleit's Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Bulleit bourbon contains a whole lot of rye, after all, with 28% going into its mash. This, of course, means the brand's bourbon has a little of what straight rye whiskey might bring to the cocktail, while also revealing sweet maple, toasty oak, and cooking spice notes.

There's plenty of tropical fruit presenting itself on the nose, and the palate delivers on the promise of rich nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon. There's also vanilla and toasted oak and cocoa, while keeping the fruit salad flavors on the table. These fruity notes are delightful additions to a Manhattan, adding levity and intrigue to a cocktail that already has a fair amount going on with it.

While this whiskey offers a wide range of flavors, they're all somewhat restrained, so be ready to pull back on the bitters by a dash or two. This can help to avoid masking some of the bourbon's more subtle notes.

Traverse City American Cherry Edition

This one's just for a bit of fun, but hear us out. Traverse City American Cherry Edition begins life as the brand's bourbon ... before it's macerated in cherries from the property's own orchards. This imbues the spirit with a sweet kick of pervasive cherry flavor and aroma. Unsurprisingly, this spirit is significantly sweeter on the palate than a normal bourbon, which makes it less of a sipper and more of a mixer or cocktail ingredient.

Now, let's be frank: This bourbon is a stark departure from the more elegant and sophisticated Manhattan substitutes featured on this list. More of a joker in the pack, the cherry presence in this spirit is dominating, so there's not a lot of complexity to be derived from the whiskey itself. Does this mean that a Manhattan made with this spirit is doomed to be a sickly, over-candied mess? Absolutely not. In fact, by substituting some or all of the sweet vermouth with dry vermouth, balance can be restored to the cocktail.

Similarly, an extra dash of bitters can help neutralize the intensity of this cherry whiskey's sweetness. Let this be your sign to stir things up and experiment with the options out there. It might even be the Manhattan that convinces your non-whiskey-drinking friends to rethink the cocktail.

Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

If nobody ever praised Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for its quality, its stylish bottle would still garner admiration. Thankfully, the bourbon inside each bottle is also remarkably smooth, with a subtle balance of understated flavors. It was developed to honor Meredith Basil Hayden Sr.: A rye farmer-turned-distiller who produced bourbons with a higher percentage of the grain. Consequently, Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a high-rye spirit with a rumored mash bill comprised of 27% rye – inviting many recognizable characters to the table for a Manhattan.

Black pepper, dried fruit, cinnamon, and honey are all present upon sipping. Caramel and vanilla also make a welcome appearance, while toasty oak notes fill out the guest list for a pleasant experience. This is a refined and restrained bourbon, so you may wish to reduce the sweet vermouth and bitters just a tad, or up the amount of bourbon you add. Since the whiskey is only 80-proof, there's some room for a slightly heavier hand when portioning your bourbon into the cocktail.


To assemble a helpful list of the best bourbons for a Manhattan, we considered bourbons that both stood out and exhibited qualities that suit this particular cocktail. After assembling a master list, selections were made to exclude overlap of products and promote the bourbons that taste better specifically in the form of a Manhattan cocktail. Bourbons with notable abilities to contrast, complement, or reflect the other ingredients of a Manhattan stood out and made the final cut.

We also considered and included bourbons with a range of quality and price tiers to give readers options that suit their budget (no matter what that is). Additionally, we have tried most of these bourbons — both by themselves and in Manhattans (or a similar concoction). But wherever necessary, we used public information, opinions, and reviews from the world of bourbon whiskey to ensure the list consisted exclusively of genuine recommendations.