Crafting a Bourbon Manhattan at home is both easy and rewarding. Follow our recipe and craft the classic cocktail at home in just five minutes. You’ll feel like you’re at your favorite bar at 1am but without the drama.
The Manhattan cocktail has been on our radar for a while. But why?
Perhaps it’s because of our connection to the classic cocktail’s namesake city. Perhaps it’s because we’re partial to bourbon cocktails lately. Perhaps we just like this drink that’s as tasty as it is iconic.
Considering how easy it is to craft a Manhattan at home, you may wonder why it took us so long. Seriously, it’s the 18th cocktail recipe that we’ve mastered and shared with our fellow lazy mixologists. Our response can be summed up in two words – maraschino cherries.
The Manhattan is so classic that it requires just the right ingredients. One of those ingredients is maraschino cherries. But not just any maraschino cherries. As it turns out, procuring the right maraschino cherries isn’t so easy to do in Lisbon during a pandemic.
After a little disappointment and a lot of patience, we secured the right maraschino cherries. And, finally, we have our version of the best Bourbon Manhattan recipe to prove it.
What Is a Manhattan Cocktail?
The Manhattan isn’t just a drink that evokes memories of late night drinking sessions. It’s also a member of the unofficial cocktail hall of fame.
David A. Embury anointed six drinks as cocktail standard bearers in his 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing. Besides the Manhattan, these drinks include the Daiquiri, Jack Rose, Martini, Old Fashioned and Sidecar.
Barflies can confidently order this cocktail around the world from Manhattan to Mumbai without explanation and rarely without disappointment. If a bartender doesn’t know how to craft a solid Manhattan drink, then he or she isn’t much of a bartender.
History of the Manhattan Cocktail
The Manhattan has thrived for more than a century. After surviving prohibition in the 1920s, it was famously imbibed by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot in the 1950s. Popular as ever, perhaps more so, it’s currently a standby cocktail choice for hipsters and codgers alike. Who knows? They may even drink this cocktail at the same dark bars.
As its name implies, the Manhattan was invented in Manhattan, New York’s most famous borough, or so we think. While historians can definitively trace the pre-prohibition cocktail back to the 19th century, its exact origin is as cloudy as a Dirty Martini.
Some historians assert that it was invented at the Manhattan Club in New York City in the 1870s. Others trace it back a decade further. Regardless of exactly when and where it was invented, the original Manhattan recipe isn’t so different from today’s combination of ingredients.
Bourbon Manhattan Ingredients
Sipping a Manhattan reveals a complicated flavor profile that’s actually not complicated to craft. In fact, only four ingredients (plus ice) are required. These ingredients are whiskey (typically bourbon or rye), sweet red vermouth, Angostura bitters and maraschino cherries.
Mixologists have a choice between using rye whiskey or bourbon when crafting a Manhattan. Since we prefer bourbon’s sweeter flavor over rye’s more spiciness in this cocktail, our recipe features bourbon. You may or may not agree with this choice… and that’s okay.
Since bourbon is the star ingredient in this drink, using the right bourbon is key. We like to use moderately-priced Four Roses bourbon in our recipe. This Kentucky straight bourbon has a relatively low (40%) ABV and a pleasant flavor with hints of vanilla and caramel. Accordingly, it plays well with the other ingredients and doesn’t overpower the drink.
To us, using Angostura bitters is a must for its specific spicy, herbaceous flavors. As for the vermouth, we use Italy’s classic Martini Rosso. Other sweet vermouth makers include Carpano, Cocchi and Contratto.
We mentioned above that we waited to craft a Manhattan at home until we had the right cherries. After Mindi’s mini-meltdown, we finally procured them after an email from our favorite Lisbon liquor store alerted us to their arrival.
While we were okay to garnish our Pink Lady cocktail with neon red grocery store maraschino cherries, we held out on crafting Manhattans until we had these black beauties. Though Luxardo cherries are literally four times the price, they’re totally worth it.
How To Make a Bourbon Manhattan Cocktail
It’s common knowledge that the Manhattan is a sophisticated sipper. Now we’ll share the classic cocktail’s dirty little secret.
This cocktail is one of the easiest cocktails we’ve ever crafted and requires absolutely no special bar tools. That being said, we use a jigger, cocktail strainer and bar spoon when we craft Bourbon Manhattans at home.
The next step is to pour the liquors into a mixing glass and add two dashes of the bitters. We use the bottom of our Boston shaker for this step but almost any vessel should work.
The third step is to add ice and stir until the liquids are both chilled and combined. You don’t need to use special ice and you don’t need to shake. In fact, this drink should be stirred and not shaken.
The final step is to strain the mixture into a glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry or three. We like to use a coupe glass for this drink though a small martini glass would work equally well.
Bourbon Manhattan Variations
The simplicity of the classic Manhattan recipe creates a multitude of options for those who like to mix things up both literally and figuratively. While we’re partial to crafting our Manhattans with bourbon and vermouth in a 2:1 ratio plus a couple dashes of bitters, you may prefer a different combination.
The most obvious variation is to use rye whiskey instead of bourbon whiskey. Another is to drink the Bourbon Manhattan on the rocks in a lowball glass.
Here are some additional options for mixologists who are both lazy and adventurous:
Bourbon Manhattan Cocktail Recipe
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.