Manhattan cocktails hold a very prized place at the top of the cocktail heirarchy. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun with flavors and open up the door to some wild and crazy Manhattan variations. Because I love the Manhattan dearly, I always want to make it more approachable to those who think they don’t like bourbon or spirit-forward drinks.
I start adding in other flavors or flavor combinations than just vermouth and bitters and see where that takes us. Part of the fun of the Manhattan cocktail is how varied it is. Not only do you find a wide range of variations just by playing with variations of whiskies, vermouths, and bitters, you also open possibilities by adding liqueurs, infusions and aromatic garnishes.
French Quarter Manhattan
Let me introduce you to a nutty riff on a Manhattan called the French Quarter Manhattan. It’s an easy cocktail with only three ingredients, but each ingredient truly matters. It’s a cocktail that lets the nut flavors shine and pulls out lovely sweet and toasted notes from the bourbon. The chocolate bitters added to it are the icing on the cake. This simple and fun Manhattan variation adds pecan liqueur and chocolate bitters to a bourbon base. Its flavor reminds me of chocolate pecan pie or a chocolate covered praline.
If I’m headed to a party, or making a drink for a new bourbon drinker, I share this Manhattan cocktail as a good starting place. It’ll get them excited about bourbon, and about how easy it is to make.
Midnight on the Bayou – Black Manhattan Riff
When I created the cocktail, I had a crisis. I wanted a Manhattan, but I was also craving a Sazerac. So, I ended up combining the flavors of the two together. It’s a classy combination of the flavors from Manhattan cocktails and Sazerac whiskey cocktails. For the base spirit, I went with a rye to keep wit the Sazerac theme. But I added a healthy dose of the licorice and a splash of maple syrup to tone down the anise notes. In the end, the cocktail tasted like a dark Manhattan with a strong anise nose and flavor. Refined and elegant, and easy to garnish with a bit of candied ginger.
Bananas Foster Manhattan
Indulge in banana/caramel/whiskey/vanilla flavors in this cocktail riff on a classy flambe dessert. Without the cream it’s a glorious adult cocktail! What’s better than a flambe? A flambe with bourbon. Upon opening a bottle of Giffard’s Banane du Bresil my first desire was to create a cocktail that tasted like a bananas foster dessert. I chose to forgo the ice cream and concentrate on that lovely caramel and cooked banana flavor prevalent in the dessert. I was not disappointed. Plus, I had the chance to get out the kitchen torch and caramelize the tops of a few banana slices for garnish.
My answer to the Espresso Martini is this Coffee Manhattan. Fancy up your Manhattan cocktails with a little cold brew and coffee liqueur to get that midday pick me up. Paired with chocolate and coffee bitters, this Coffee Manhattan leans heavily on the coffee flavor profile with whiskey’s vanilla notes and oak flavors strong in the finish of the drink. By using whiskey as the base spirit, the cocktail flavors round out, more than just a hit of coffee with a strong vodka base. But of course, I would say that as I prefer whiskey.
Boys on the Side
A celebration of the sweet and sassy women in our lives! This combines raspberry, chocolate and amaro in a balanced cocktail of sweet and bitter. This cocktail tastes like chocolate covered raspberry truffle with just a hint of dark bitter notes like a fine piece of bittersweet chocolate. Designed for Valentine’s day, it’s a perfect Manhattan cocktail riff when you need a pick me up or a dessert cocktail.
Stepping out from under vermouth and liqueurs, I’ve put together a cocktail at the end of this article (because I never want to leave you without a new cocktail). It’s a combination of rye, Campari, and chili-infused chocolate liqueur. The chili infusion adds spicy heat to each sip, emphasizing the peppery flavors of the rye and competing with the bitterness of the Campari. You’ll just keep bringing the coupe back up to your lips to take another sip of one of these spicy Manhattan cocktails. Head to the bottom of the article for the recipe for this one!
ThRUMbelina Rum Tiramisu Manhattan
Rum and pineapple are partners in tiki but add in a little tiramisu flavor and the chocolate and coffee bring up the complexity and curiosity in each sip of the cocktail. Make the cocktail for a friend, but don’t reveal the contents. See how easily they sip it and ask for another. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure of combining coffee and pineapple the first time I crafted a cocktail with them together. However, I’m now a convert of coffee flavors paired with any citrus. The bitter notes present in any citrus (think of the scent and taste of the peel) meld well with the bitter notes from roasted coffee.
Exit Strategy – Black Licorice Manhattan
Prepare to leave the world behind after one of these cocktails blending the orange of oleo saccharum, chocolate liqueur, absinthe, and a fabulous bourbon. For licorice lovers, the pairing of orange, licorice and chocolate is a sublime experience. You’ll be amazed. This was a cocktail that worked at the first pour – and continued to deliver with every sip. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart with the strong licorice flavors, but if you love licorice and absinthe, it’s an amazing, balanced cocktail.
Legacy and Remembrance – Uncle Nearest Apricot Manhattan
Gentle notes of apricot and bitter aromas of Amaro Nonino combine to elevate the flavors and fragrance of Uncle Nearest’s 1856 expression. It’s an elegant, complex mix of flavors and scents to bring Uncle Nearest’s strengths to the forefront and celebrate the brand’s excellence and achievements. A touch of sage rubbed inside the coupe and used a garnish connects with some of the grassy notes of Tennessee Whiskey and adds a great, easy garnish for this elegant cocktail.
Caramel Orange Manhattan
Need a classy pick-me-up being quarantined from your usual celebrations? Try this Caramel Orange Manhattan. Bursting with flavors that resonate with bourbon whiskey, it’s easy to keep classy or dress up as a dessert with whipped cream and a drizzle of salted caramel. It might be a little over the top and venture into frivolous territory with the whipped cream, but it is a fun presentation for Manhattan cocktails that can be a drink or a dessert.
Honeyed Moonlight – Moonshine Manhattan
Dress up your moonshine in this moonshine Manhattan fit for sipping. It’s a balanced blend of moonshine, honey mead and peach – all the tastes of summer, with that small bit of sourness from the mead’s wine-like production. Garnished with a fresh sprig of lavender it’s an elegant sip of summer. Make sure to use Saint Luna Moonshine or a high-quality moonshine. This one’s elegance needs a smooth-sipping moonshine that can stand on its own.
Chocolate Ginger Manhattan
Punch up chocolatey Manhattan cocktails with the heat and spice of ginger. It’s an unlikely but compelling match and one that’s easy to sip at the end of a long day working from home. Instead of focusing on the sweetness of the ginger, this adds more of the spice and heat of ginger to match with a balanced whiskey. Make sure to use a mid-proof whiskey so it can balance well with the chocolate and ginger in the Manhattan cocktail variation.
Recommended Bar Tools
You don’t need every slick, beautiful bar tool out there, but there are several I’ll recommend. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, that does not affect the cost of the items below.) My favorite pieces usually come from the Cocktail Kingdom section of Amazon:
You may already have these bar essentials, but just in case:
- 2 oz rye whiskey – 100 proof
- ¾ oz Campari
- ¼ oz chili-infused crème de cacao
- 12 drops Crude Big Bear Coffee and Cocao bitters
- Garnish: lemon wheel and dried chili
- Combine whiskey, Campari, crème de cacao and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, or if the heat of the infusion got away with you, serve on the rocks. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a dried chili.