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Balanced Perfection – Quarantine Perfect Manhattan

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twp manhattans orange garnish
Balanced Perfection – Perfect Manhattan

A Perfect Manhattan isn’t just a description, it’s a cocktail in an of itself. Rather than the usual combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, a perfect Manhattan uses equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth – creating a cocktail that’s slightly drier, a little less sweet but still focuses on the whiskey.

This week’s exploration of Quarantine Manhattans as three previous entries: the French Quarter Manhattan, the Chocolate Ginger Manhattan and the Coffee Manhattan.

For those of you living with martini drinkers, you’ll likely have a bit of dry vermouth in the house. Add a half ounce of the dry and your favorite sweet vermouth and you’ll be on your way to a Perfect Manhattan. Gentle reminder to keep your vermouth in the fridge after it’s been opened. As a low proof fortified wine vermouth is not shelf-stable enough to sit out for a days or weeks without a significant change to its flavor profile.

two manhattans with orange garnish
Balanced Perfection – Perfect Manhattan

But let’s step it up for this riff on a Manhattan, we’re not only doing a Perfect Manhattan, we’re doing a split base Manhattan. A split-base cocktail marries two spirits together as the base for the cocktail. It’s almost as if you’re making your own small-batch whiskey blend for a cocktail base.

Since we’re a whiskey-centric household, I’m going to combine a rye and bourbon together. For me, I wanted to combine the mouthfeel of rye and the sweet and vanilla notes of bourbon. To do that, I’m going to use Wilderness Trail rye and Henny McKenna single barrel bottled in bond bourbon. Note: I’ve also made a version with a split base with Henry McKenna and Willett 3 year old rye that I much prefer, but the Willett rye is not a rye for everyone. I find it sweet and minty, with a great mouthfeel. Together with the McKenna it’s a match for me. However, for those who aren’t as in love with Willett rye, the Wilderness Trail rye is a superb match. Most people will probably prefer that one.

Now, what if you don’t have those two at home? You’ll have to get out some of your favorite bourbons and ryes and make your own match. To do this, I usually get out a few of each and pour a small amount in some Glencairn glasses and nose and sip each one. Think about which two might go together best. For matching flavors, I rely more heavily on sense of smell than taste. For me, if two things match aromatically they are almost always a good match for tasting.

So here’s your homework before you start your Perfect Manhattan: set out several bourbons and ryes, nose each one, pour bit of some combinations you like in a glass to see if you like how they taste together. A Manhattan is a spirit-forward cocktail. It’s one of my favorite cocktails because you always get to taste the whiskey in the cocktail. Once you’ve picked your two spirits for the base, you’re almost ready.

two manhattans with orange garnish
Balanced Perfection – Perfect Manhattan

In terms of bitters, I matched equal parts also of cherry and orange bitters. Now cherries and oranges are very often the garnish used for standard Manhattan, and in keeping with our theme of balancing, I’ve put equal amounts of both in the cocktail. Adjust to your liking, but for me, the hints of Woodford’s spiced cherry and orange bitters enhance the cocktail even further.

So match up your bourbon and rye, get our your vermouths and bitters and get ready to create a the Balanced Perfection.

two manhattans with orange garnish

Balanced Perfection – A Quarantine Perfect Manhattan

Picture of Heather Wibbels, Cocktail Contessa, pouring a cocktailHeather Wibbels
This balanced perfect Manhattan uses a split base of spirits paired with both sweet and dry vermouth to build a fascinating cocktail that’s easy to sip and subtly different from a common Manhattan. Using two bitters to build up elements usually only focused on in the garnish brings out the bitter notes to marry them with the cherry and orange garnish used so often for Manhattans.
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Course Drinks
Cuisine Bourbon Cocktail
Servings 1


  • 1 oz bourbon – Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled in Bond
  • 1 oz rye – Wilderness Trail Rye or Willett 3 year old Rye
  • ½ oz sweet vermouth
  • ½ oz dry vermouth
  • 5 drops Woodford’s spiced cherry bitters
  • 5 drops Woodford’s orange bitters
  • Garnish: orange peel and cherry


  • Combine whiskies, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir until chilled and well-combined, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass and garnish with orange and/or cherry.
Keyword manhattan, vermouth
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By on April 10th, 2020
Picture of Heather Wibbels, Cocktail Contessa, pouring a cocktail

About Heather Wibbels

Heather Wibbels is a whiskey and cocktail author (Executive Bourbon Steward, no less) with a passion for cocktails. She loves researching and designing cocktails, drinking cocktails, and teaching cocktails. Mostly whiskey cocktails, given her Kentucky location.

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