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How to Make the Perfect Manhattan Cocktail

By TBSP Angela
Created March 9, 2017
Connoisseurs of the classic drink known as the Manhattan revere it for its balance of pungent, sweet and bitter flavors.

The cocktail named for one of NYC's most popular boroughs is said to have originated in the city's own Manhattan Club back in 1874, although folklore reports a version of the drink containing sugar syrup in place of one of the ingredients (vermouth) was invented on the fly by a Maryland bartender one year prior to revive an injured party at a duel.

The Standard Manhattan Recipe

The three ingredients in the standard Manhattan cocktail are whiskey, vermouth and bitters in the ratio of 2-3 parts whiskey to 1 part vermouth with 1-2 dashes of bitters.

A Manhattan is a diehard's drink, though, where the specific type of whiskey (rye or bourbon) and the specific type of vermouth (sweet Italian or dry French) makes all the difference between a perfect drink and one that's patently undrinkable.

How to Make A Manhattan Cocktail Video

In this video from, Alan Katz shows you just how easy it is to make this classic cocktail.

Shaken or Stirred

The age-old question regarding this drink remains: Should a Manhattan be shaken or stirred? And the answer, as you might expect, is: It depends on the drinker.

Staunch stirring advocates assert that shaking the ingredients together creates an unsightly cloudiness in the appearance of the drink that stirring doesn't cause. Proponents of shaking argue that it is the only way to thoroughly mix the ingredients together for a suitable tasting drink.

The ultimate decision is in the hands of the person enjoying the drink (or the bartender, if the drinker has no preference).


One criterion both shakers and stirrers agree upon when it comes to making a Manhattan is that the ice must be strained from the liquid before the drink is served. In other words, a Manhattan is always served chilled, but never on the rocks. Some makers will shake their Manhattan with ice in a cocktail shaker and then strain it into a chilled glass.


Most Manhattans are served with a twist of lemon or lime peel. Some also have a maraschino cherry added—though the people most averse to a shaken Manhattan due to its cloudy appearance tend to eschew the cherry for the same reason.


There are many variations on the standard Manhattan, most made by altering one of the three ingredients. Whiskey variations include a Brandy Manhattan (made with brandy instead of whiskey), a Scotch Manhattan (made with scotch instead) and a Southern Comfort Manhattan (can you guess?).

Vermouth variations include:

  • a Dry Manhattan contains dry (French) vermouth instead of the standard sweet (Italian) vermouth

  • a Perfect Manhattan contains dry vermouth and sweet vermouth in equal parts

  • a Jumbo contains rye whiskey and both dry and sweet vermouth in equal parts, with no bitters at all

  • a Honolulu is a Jumbo with bourbon in place of the rye

  • a Rosemary is made of one part bourbon and one part dry vermouth, also with no bitters

  • a Brown University is a Rosemary with orange bitters added

Bitters variations include:

  • a Monahan replaces the bitters with Amer Picon, a bittersweet French aperitif

  • a Narragansett replaces the bitters with anisette

  • a McKinley's Delight contains cherry brandy in place of the bitters and adds an additional dash of absinthe

  • a Sherman keeps in the Italian bitters but adds on top of it three dashes of absinthe and one of orange bitters

However you mix it, a Manhattan is a connoisseur's drink on par with the Martini and the Gin and Tonic, in which a perfect drink is all about the proper blend of ingredients for a perfect balance of sweet, bitter and sharp flavors.

So what's your vote: shaken or stirred?