What's Really In A Manhattan?

Sweet, spicy, and sturdy, the Manhattan is an iconic cocktail with a history that spans more than a century. The drink is praised for its intensity and excellent balance of contrasting flavors, and it's this level of complexity that has allowed the cocktail to stand the test of time. But have you ever wondered: What's really in a Manhattan?

Local lore suggests that the Manhattan was created at New York City's Manhattan Club in the 1880s, as noted by Spirit of York. This origin story has it that the drink was thought to be crafted specifically for a party held by Winston Churchill's mother, explains The Daily Beast, although this theory has since been disproved. Alternatively, the cocktail might have been the invention of a Broadway bartender named Black, reports SFGate. Regardless of how it came to be, two things are certain: The cocktail has roots in Manhattan, and it has maintained its popularity.

In a sampling of "100 best bars in the world," Drinks International finds that 36% say the Manhattan is one of their top 10 requested cocktails. However, there is still some debate over how to make the perfect version based on whether to use rye or bourbon, what type of bitters should be added, and if the cocktail should be garnished with a cherry or a citrus twist.

A great choice for an aperitif

Liquor.com explains that there is only one true way to make a Manhattan and that's by stirring together two parts whiskey, one part sweet vermouth, and a couple of dashes of bitters. Purists suggest serving the cocktail chilled (but without ice) in a coupe cocktail glass and decorating it with a cherry. The appeal of the drink can be credited to the harmonious blend of spicy rye that's balanced by herby bitters and the subtle sweetness of vermouth, which also makes it the ideal cocktail to serve as an aperitif.

While the classic recipe remains a favorite, many bartenders have taken to crafting unique renditions for a twist on a traditional ManhattanDifford's Guide details more than 30 variations, including the orange marmalade-infused Breakfast Manhattan, the dry vermouth-based Manhattan, the scotch-based Rob Roy, and the red wine-focused Red Manhattan.

Interestingly, while the younger generations are said to consume significantly less alcohol than their predecessors, The Takeout suggests that cocktail culture is starting to pique the interest of Gen Z thanks to online platforms like TikTok, where bartending tutorials are shared in three minutes or less. It seems that what's old is new again, and the nostalgic Manhattan is no exception.