10 Best Whiskeys For A Manhattan

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The Manhattan is one of the world's most iconic and historic cocktails. This pre-Prohibition libation was one of the recipes published in Harry Johnson's 1882 "Bartenders Manual," but little is known about the drink's true origins.

Per Adrienne Spillman, author of "Spirited: Cocktails From Around the World," for decades, the Manhattan was believed to have been created for Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, at New York City's now-closed Manhattan Club in 1874. However, as Bloomberg reports, there have been serious doubts about the cocktail's exact origins, and there were certainly no cocktail writers back then to chronicle drinks history like we have today. Needless to say, the Manhattan cocktail is full of folklore and has been inspiring countless riffs for nearly 150 years.

Another aspect of the Manhattan that earns it "icon status" is that it was one of the first cocktails to use sweet vermouth, according to Spillman, which was new on the scene during the late 1800s. And while the drink has evolved significantly over the years — the original recipe called for gum syrup and absinthe (via Difford's Guide) — this spirit-forward drink begins with a robust whiskey as the foundation.

Rye whiskey vs. bourbon for a Manhattan

While rye was the traditional variety of whiskey used back in the 19th century, bourbon is the most commonly utilized option in today's bars and restaurants (as it's more popular now), but a Manhattan can be made with any preferred whiskey variety, so long as it can hold up to the sweet vermouth. And don't forget the maraschino or brandied cherry for garnish!

As for the whiskey, we've narrowed down 10 whiskeys ranging from the original rye variety beloved by New Yorkers at the turn of the century to Kentucky bourbons and even a few novelty varieties that will make for excellent Manhattans today. Whether you prefer the classic cocktail, a lower-ABV Reverse Manhattan, the ultra-bitter Dry Manhattan, or one of the dozens of other takes on this historic drink, these whiskeys are sure to inspire your craft cocktail obsession.

They are also some of the most revered whiskeys on the market today and are excellent picks for not only a Manhattan, but also an Old Fashioned, Godfather, or simply sipping neat.

1. Basil Hayden Toast

Basil Hayden's latest addition to its iconic lineup of Kentucky bourbons is a unique and sophisticated take on the classic rye whiskey that was first used in Manhattans during pre-Prohibition New York. The 80-proof whiskey relies on a unique mash bill (a combination of grains for fermenting alcohol, per Distiller) that leans most heavily on brown rice instead of rye for a smooth sweetness, delightful nuttiness, and greater depth of flavor that will even have whiskey haters pleased. VinePair gave this bottle an impressive 92 rating, making it an excellent pick for both sipping and mixing, as the publication says it offers notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak that are fully expressed in the aromas and flavor.

Basil Hayden Toast is also different from the brand's other offerings in that there is a more complex aging method, according to Robb Report. A portion of the aged bourbon goes through a second aging process for around two months in a toasted barrel and is then blended back in with the rest of the brown rice-based whiskey it was aged with to create a truly experiential bottle of bourbon.

Basil Hayden Toast Bourbon Whiskey is widely available in liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers. It typically retails for $55 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

2. Legent Bourbon

Legent Bourbon is an all-star partnership between Fred Noe, a Kentucky bourbon distiller who works with Basil Hayden and other Jim Beam brands, and Shinji Fukoyo, the chief blender at Japan's ever-popular Suntory. Wine Enthusiast Magazine ranked it as one of its Top 100 Spirits of 2020 and also listed it as one of the lists best buys.

The bourbon-making process begins with a historic Noe family recipe made with limestone water and aged in newly charred white oak barrels, according to the brand. Some of the bourbon then gets to rest in sherry or red wine casks, which bring a hint of tart fruitiness to the mixture. Then, Fukoyo takes over and artfully blends the portions that have been aged in the sherry and red wine casks with the original mixture to create a beautiful flavor profile that offers the best of Kentucky bourbon and Japanese whisky.

Whiskey Reviewer says this is a bourbon that has a depth of character and is made for easy sipping rather than being overly sophisticated, making it a great option for experimenting with cocktails like the Manhattan.

Legent Bourbon is widely available in liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers. It typically retails for $36 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

3. Law's Whiskey House San Luis Valley Bonded Rye

Law's Whiskey House is one of several Colorado-born whiskey brands that have made The Centennial State a burgeoning hub for American whiskey production. InsideHook even goes so far to say that Law's makes the best American Rye on the market right now. The brand's San Luis Valley Bonded Rye is a popular pick that feels traditional for a Manhattan as it is a rye whiskey, but it also offers a unique flavor profile that balances Amaro and will make for a unique and memorable Manhattan.

Law's Whiskey House San Luis Valley Bonded Rye, along with the brand's entire label of products, is made with heirloom grains from family-owned farms across Colorado, according to the brand, and Maxim says this makes for a special drinking experience compared to other American whiskeys that typically use commercial wheat varieties as their foundations.

The bottle boasts cooling notes of wild mint and fennel with touches of brown sugar, sea salt, and orange tea on the palate along with tobacco notes and a rich and buttery mouthfeel. The whiskey is aged for more than six years in charred oak barrels and this variety is the first bottled in bond rye whiskey in state history.

Law's Whiskey House San Luis Valley Bonded Rye is available at select liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers. It typically retails for $80 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

4. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

With its strong ties to the Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve is one of the most iconic Kentucky bourbon brands out there. Its signature Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey variety received an "A" rating by Drinkhacker for the serious, refined, and diverse drinking experience it offers compared to other dominant and easily accessible bourbons on the market. And if that's not enough, this particular variety from Woodford Reserve has won 13 gold medals. In fact, the brand touts that this variety features more than 200 flavor notes to make for a one-of-a-kind drinking experience for sipping on the rocks or blending in a cocktail.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey features malt and rye as the most prominent grains and is produced at the brand's distillery that is now a National Historic Landmark that began making bourbon in 1812. The brand says it has one of the longest fermentation processes in the industry, which helps create that multi-faceted flavor profile which includes everything from dried fruit, rose petal, and baking spices to tobacco, black pepper, and cedar.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is widely available in liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers. It typically retails for $40 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

5. Stranahan's Sherry Cask

Another Colorado whiskey brand to have on your radar, Stranahan's produces a range of seven single-malt whiskey varieties for every type of drinker and price point. We have our eyes on the premium Sherry Cask bottle, which Men's Journal says offers a dessert-like drinking experience, thanks to the depth of flavor from aging in 40-year-old Andalusian sherry casks.

The making of Stranahan's Sherry Cask begins with aging the brand's 4-year-old Rocky Mountain Single Malt into these sherry barrels. This leads to a unique aroma and tasting profile that features cherry, raisins, almonds, and leather on the nose as well as honey, fig, and walnut on the palate.

Whisky Advocate gave this bottle a 90 rating and also notes that drinkers may also get notes of milk chocolate Toblerone, grape soda, and even candied ginger, so it's definitely worth tasting this variety several times to become acquainted with all of its nuances.The sipping experience ends with a simultaneously buttery, sweet, and smoky finish that will make for a stellar Manhattan cocktail.

Stranahan's Sherry Cask is available in select liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers, including the brand's online shop. It typically retails for $80.

6. Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky

Heaven Hill is one of Kentucky's most well-known distilleries and produces six brands of whiskey — the most popular being Heaven Hill and Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse's Straight Rye Whisky makes a strong Manhattan case, as it features a double-punch of spice that's part woodsy and part vegetal, and an effortless balance of warm holiday spices that is sure to elevate your favorite Manhattan variation.

Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky is not for the faint of heart. This bottle is 100 proof and aged for four years to really pack a memorable punch (or maybe not-so-memorable). This variety from Heaven Hill has received numerous accolades, including a 95-point rating at the 2019 Ultimate Spirits Challenge.

According to the brand, Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky features aromas of toffee, dried fruit, and sweet peppers; cocoa, citrus, and baking spices on the palate; and a long, smooth finish with hints of maple spice. Even better, it's our best value pick on this list, boasting both high marks from respected institutions and a low price.

Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky can be found in liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers. It typically retails for $25 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

7. Belle Meade Reserve

While Jack Daniels may be Tennessee's most iconic whiskey, Belle Meade Bourbon is on the rise as a top-rated bourbon pick from The Volunteer State.

Belle Meade Bourbon offers a distinct flavor profile and a perfect balance of spice, dried fruit, and oak, all of which pair well with the sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters of a Manhattan. Bourbon Inspector gave the Reserve bottle an impressive 93.75 rating, earning the highest points for its elegant maple and baking spice aromas.

Belle Meade Reserve is the brand's premium variety and was voted one of the Top 20 Whiskys by Whisky Advocate in 2018. According to the brand, Belle Meade Reserve is made from the best barrel selections that are combined to produce its most superior (and a higher-proof) bourbon. This bottle also has a high rye content, which is perfect for mixing up a Manhattan made in the traditional style. The small-batch bourbon offers rich, full flavors of vanilla, caramel, spices, and stone fruits, making t a strong choice for a variety of other cocktails as well.

Belle Meade Reserve is widely available in liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers. It typically retails for $60 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

8. Kings County Straight Bourbon

Did you know New York makes some pretty fantastic whiskey, too? Kings County Distillery is a Brooklyn-based brand that uses local grains to create a bourbon that's causing a stir. According to Paste, the bottling is also distinct from other bourbon brands, as it has the local New Yorker in mind who is likely toting home a bottle on foot, which is why you'll often find Kings County products offered in 200-milliliter and 300-milliliter sizes.

Kings County Straight Bourbon uses 80% organic corn from New York's Finger Lakes region and English Golden Promise barley for a high-malt recipe that is far different from many of the wheat- and rye-based bourbons on the market. This highly decorated bourbon is double-distilled before going through a 3- to 6-year aging process, and the brand boasts that it's "surprisingly robust for its age." You'll experience notes of cherry, vanilla, and holiday spices that is an excellent non-traditional Manhattan cocktail pairing.

Kings County Straight Bourbon is available at select liquor stores in 24 states and via online retailers (including its own e-commerce shop). It typically retails for $69 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

9. Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old

According to Drinks International, Bulleit is the top-selling American whiskey brand for 2022, defending its title from 2021. Uproxx ranks Bulleit's Bourbon 10 as the best permanent variety in the brand's lineup for its complex flavor profile and versatility. This bottle also received a 93 rating from Wine Enthusiast Magazine, which is one of many accolades.

Bulleit follows a family-made, high-rye recipe to produce bold and spicy varietals that have won numerous gold medals. Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old is aged for, you guessed it, 10 years, in charred American white oak barrels to produce its rich, smooth, and complex sipping (and mixing) experience. This variety offers notes of caramel, vanilla, dried fruit, and spices with a smoky finish that makes a unique bourbon pick for spicing up your favorite Manhattan recipe.

Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old is widely available in liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers. It typically retails for $50.

10. Willett Family Estate Cask Strength 4-Year Rye Whiskey

Willett Distillery is a storied Kentucky bourbon and rye brand that produces beautiful bottles inspired by Edward Willett's designs that date back to 1684. The brand's Family Estate Cask Strength 4-Year Rye Whiskey offers a classic flavor profile and spirit-forward strength. Each barrel of this small-batch production label varies in alcohol level, so make sure you're aware of the proof number before drinking or mixing.

This bottle is the highest proof of the bunch (typically around 110-115 proof), which is perfect for those with an affinity for spirit-forward cocktails. Aromas of brandied cherry and baking spices, vanilla and spice on the palate, and a long, spicy finish is a dream pairing for a classic Manhattan cocktail. Plus, the bottle makes a sophisticated adornment for your bar cart or cabinet.

Willett Family Estate Cask Strength 4-Year Rye Whiskey is widely available at liquor stores nationwide and via online retailers. It typically retails for $70 for a 750-milliliter bottle.