Mixing With: How To Make A Manhattan

Making The Manhattan
Making The Manhattan

This time on Mixing With, I’d like to share a classic cocktail that I really enjoy, and show step-by-step how to make it.

Up until recently, when I thought about vermouth, I always equated it with a Martini. I enjoy my Martini with Plymouth Gin, dry vermouth, stirred (naturally), and garnished with as many olives as can fit on a toothpick.  Vermouth doesn’t keep forever (after opening, three months in the fridge to be exact), and so I wanted to see what else I could make with it.

I really love rye whiskey, so it was an easy jump to go from the Martini to a Manhattan, a cousin of the Martini. Legend has it that the Manhattan cocktail was invented at New York’s Manhattan Club around 1873 possibly for a banquet in honor of Samuel J. Tilden’s election as governor. At that time is was half whiskey, half vermouth, with a dash of orange bitters. The recipe today has changed a bit but it’s delicious and easy to remember: “212” (the area code for Manhattan) – 2 ounces whiskey, 1 ounce vermouth, 2 dashes bitters.


2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
1 ounces Italian sweet vermouth (or for a dry Manhattan, use dry vermouth)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice, and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist.

The Necessary Tools
The Necessary Tools

A Manhattan is a stirred drink (as it is all spirit with no citrus). To make a Manhattan, you need the following gear: a pint glass, a jigger, a julep strainer (the silver thing with the holes), a bar spoon, and a cocktail glass.

Chill the Glass
Chill the Glass

It’s very important to always chill the glass you are serving in ahead of time. Cocktails are meant to be served nice and cold, and when you put a nice cold cocktail into a room temperature glass, you end up with a lukewarm cocktail. You can chill your cocktail glass by putting ice in it while you mix your drink or by storing it in the freezer. Glassware is an important part of cocktails because it dramatically impacts the presentation. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on glasses – I found these pretty cocktail glasses at the Goodwill. Thrift stores and consignment shops are great for vintage glassware.

Build the Drink
Build the Drink

Making great cocktails is all about measuring. Using a good jigger like the OXO Steel Double Jigger makes getting the right amount of spirits into your cocktails easy. Measure your ingredients with the jigger and pour each into the pint glass, then fill the glass with ice. It’s important to start with your ingredients before you add the ice, as building a cocktail over ice makes the ice melt too fast and you don’t get the right mixture and dilution. Also, don’t skimp on ice, or your cocktail may not dilute enough.


Stirring is pretty easy, but it may take a little practice. To get good at stirring I started out with a glass full of ice and some water and then moved on to mixing cocktails. To start, just slide the bar spoon in between the ice and the glass, and stir so that you are pushing the spoon around the inside of the glass while the ice stays in the center. It’s important to do this smoothly and rattle the ice as little as possible. Stirring incorporates the ingredients and dilutes the cocktail so it tastes balanced and has a nice, silky feel in your mouth. When you get it right, it’s just awesome.

Stirred and Diluted
Stirred and Diluted

When the drink is diluted properly, you can see the level of the ice has gone down. Some say stir between 30 or 40 times, but you really have to watch the ice melt and the glass chill as ice can really vary. The cocktail should be cold and nicely balanced.

The Finished Manhattan
The Finished Manhattan

Dump out the ice from the cocktail glass that you are chilling. Put the julep strainer over the mouth of the pint glass and pour the cocktail into the chilled glass. Again, you don’t want to rattle the ice around too much as you pour. Try to make it a nice smooth motion.

The Manhattan is traditionally garnished with either a twist of lemon or an orange peel. Some like a cherry as a garnish (especially if you make it with sweet vermouth), but if you do use a cherry, be sure to spring for the nice Luxardo Cherries. There’s nothing worse than a bad maraschino cherry to mess up a beautiful Manhattan. The Manhattan is a great drink you can make with only a few ingredients. It’s also one which can be easily changed up by switching between the dry and sweet vermouth or changing up your bitters (see our Woodford’s Cherry Bitter Review).

How do you like your Manhattan? What whiskey do you use? How do you mix it up? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Nice detail on the post & kudos on the rye. But why Dolin vermouth? It’s sticky-sweet and its botanical bill is reminiscent of “pizza spice.” Is it because the #mixologists love it? They spend all day trying to look educated. But asking ’em why they like things will draw some very interesting (and usually blank) answers. Dolin Dry = improvement over the macro brands. That’s a recipe that was due for a comeback. Their red is just an attempt to capitalize on the white’s immediate popularity, though. Martini or Cinzano are far superior and yield a balanced Manhattan. Punt E Mes is great for a lil’ bitter coffee/chocolatey kick. Many default to Carpano Antica [and I do at my bar out out of corp. obligation] though I think it’s overused too. It’s quick to overpower damn near everything. Anyways, all of the above are better than Dolin Sweet.

    • Bought Dolin Rouge because it’s nice in a Negroni, but it sounds like we need to do a piece comparing vermouth.

  • a Manhattan is traditionally garnished with a brandied cherry, not a twist. Though the drink was invented before maraschino cherries came to our shores, that has been the garnish for the last 100 years or so.

    Dave Wondrich has a piece on this if you want to check it out in both “Imbibe” and Esquire (the latter is online).

  • Chris

    Great guide. I love Manhattens and playing with variations of the drink. Couple comments.

    For the really traditional verison make sure to chill the mixing glass well first too. You should fill it with ice for several minutes before making the drink. Then, before adding the ingredients drain any melted water from the mixing glass while keeping the ice. This will get it as cold as possible with little dilution.

    Sometimes I do a variation I learned from a great bar tender in Vegas. I use half rye and half JD Honey Bourbon. It’s a bit sweater and has a nice taste. Most often Ill shake this and serve it in a highball over ice. Purest hate skating spirits but I find it works well with this mix.

    Best Manhatten on the planet is at The Perfect Martini bar in Bareclona.


  • Mark

    I’m a big believer in using rye, or at least a high-rye bourbon, just love the spicy contrast to the sweet vermouth. Also used the Bernheim Wheat Whiskey and brings a lot to the table as a mixer

    Dolin is pretty good, plays well with any whiskey, and I’ve even enjoyed playing around with the Dolin Blanc (clear but sweet).

    But my fave mix is using Redemption Rye with Carpano Antica. I go a bit heavy on the rye, maybe 2 1/4 oz, to balance the heavy Carpano, and this is killer with either angostura or orange bitters.

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