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Best Manhattan Variations

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classic manhattan cocktail in a coupe with an orange garnish
Classic Bourbon Manhattan Cocktail

For a cocktail as popular as the Manhattan there are probably hundreds of variations, if not more. A few have made it into the standard cocktail canon. If you’ve mastered the classic Manhattan, or you want to branch out into variations of the Manhattan cocktail, here are a few cocktails to start with.

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In part one, where we looked at how to make a classic Manhattan cocktail, we covered the three main elements of the drink: the base spirit (whiskey), sweet vermouth, and bitters. Most of these variations turn one or more of these elements on their heads with delectable results.

Cocktails Similar to the Manhattan

While there are easily 25-30 common variants of the Manhattan, I’ve chosen to share just a few of the most common with you. These are also variations of the Manhattan cocktail that are easy to make and easy to find ingredients for.

If you want to see a full list, head over to Difford’s Guide or the Wikipedia entry for the Manhattan Cocktail.

For the method of how to make a Manhattan, you can start with my article on the classic Manhattan cocktail which includes instructions and tips on how to make a great one.

We’ll start with an easy one, and one I’ve covered before, the Perfect Manhattan.

Perfect Manhattan

two manhattans with orange garnish
Balanced Perfection – Perfect Manhattan

This variant of the classic Manhattan cocktail is built with the common ratio, 2 whiskey to 1 vermouth, but the vermouth portion is split evenly between sweet vermouth and dry vermouth. For whiskey enthusiasts who find the Manhattan too sweet, a split between the two main types of vermouth creates a drier cocktail. In short, the Perfect Manhattan gives you a perfect balance between vermouth types and whiskey. How to make a Perfect Manhattan:

  • 2 oz whiskey
  • ½ oz dry vermouth
  • ½ oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes bitters

Dry Manhattan

If you’re trying to convert a martini drinker to the Manhattan, you might move them toward a Dry Manhattan. The recipe for a Dry Manhattan uses dry vermouth rather than sweet – the same vermouth used in martinis. Because whiskey is so much sweeter than vodka and most gin, substituting out dry vermouth for sweet can be more appealing to your martini drinkers. In addition, friends who aren’t fond of sweet drinks (or who prefer drier wines) will appreciate the flavor combination. How to make a Dry Manhattan:

  • 2 oz whiskey
  • 1 oz dry vermouth
  • 2 dashes bitters

Reverse Manhattan

If we keep the same basic elements, but change the ratios, we have the ingredients to make a Reverse Manhattan. Quite simply, you swap out the ratios between the whiskey and the vermouth, making the Manhattan cocktail 2 parts sweet vermouth to 1 part whiskey.

This does a couple of things. It changes the balance of the cocktail, increasing the sweetness of its flavor and pulling the wine notes and the aromas and flavors from the infusion in the vermouth forward. It also lowers the alcohol content of the drink. If you want to have more than one cocktail and make it home safely, you might switch from Manhattans to Reverse Manhattans, dropping the alcohol content, but keeping the whiskey in sight on the palate. How to make a Reverse Manhattan:

  • 2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz whiskey
  • 2-3 dashes bitters (will depend on the aromatics of the vermouth)

Black Manhattan

black manhattan with orange chip and star anise garnish
Best Black Manhattan

Next up is my favorite Manhattan, the Black Manhattan cocktail. The recipe for the Black Manhattan is simple, you’ll just replace one ingredient. We’ll replace the vermouth with amaro. If you’re not familiar with amaro, it’s a bitter liqueur with Italian roots, made from a base of alcohol infused with different herbs, flowers, roots, barks and spices. It’s a low alcohol spirit – from 15% to 40% alcohol by volume and it’s often imbibed on its own, over ice, or in a spritz.

There are hundreds of Amari (plural of amaro), each with its own secret and proprietary infusion methods and ingredients, but the thing to remember is that while they are bitter, they are also often sweet, making them a perfect replacement for the sweet vermouth in a Black Manhattan.

Now because you are adding a bitter element directly into the cocktail, the bitters you’ll choose to add (if any are needed) are directed by your choice of amaro. Taste testing is required. Oh, no, the horror!

Many establishments use Averna amaro for their Black Manhattan, but I am currently in love with Foro Amaro. Paired with Michter’s rye it makes a fabulous Black Manhattan. I usually add some sorghum and sassafras bitters, or some chocolate bitters, just to balance out the rich cocoa and coffee notes from Foro.

  • 2 oz rye (I use Michter’s)
  • 1 oz amaro (I use Foro)
  • 2 dashes bitters if needed. (I use 16 drops Sorghum and Sassafras bitters and 1 dash chocolate bitters.)

Brandy Manhattan

If you’re in Wisconsin or Michigan, where brandy is king, you’ll often see whiskey cocktails with a brandy substitution. The Brandy Manhattan cocktail recipe follows the basic ratios we’ve seen throughout each variant. Two ounces of a base spirit, brandy, with an ounce of sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. A whiskey drinker might balk at this but make a variation with a split base of rye and brandy and you’ll change their mind.

  • 2 oz brandy
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1-2 dashes bitters

Cuban Manhattan

While we’re replacing the base spirit, let’s swap out for another aged spirit, rum. Rum often ages in used bourbon and whiskey barrels. While notes from the whiskey sneak into the rum as it ages in the barrel, when you drink rum, you have no doubt that it’s made from sugarcane or molasses rather than grain. But for tiki fanatics, or people who just love rum in any cocktail, the Cuban Manhattan can be a great way to make an elegant rum cocktail and eventually talk them into trying a little whiskey. How to make a Cuban Manhattan cocktail:

  • 2 ounces aged rum
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1-2 dashes bitters

Rob Roy

This variation of the Manhattan cocktail is one you may have already heard of. Instead of using an American whiskey, we’ll swap out for a Scotch whisky, preferably one that’s not too smokey so that the vermouth aromatics aren’t overwhelmed by the peat flavors. Speyside and Highland Scotch are both excellent choices for preparing the Rob Roy cocktail. Make note that angostura bitters might be too aggressive here on their own. A finer aromatic bitter like Peychaud’s might be a better choice, depending on the Scotch you decide to use. How to make the Rob Roy cocktail:

  • 2 oz Scotch whisky
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (see note above)

Mexican Manhattan

Guess what else is aged in former bourbon and whiskey barrels? That’s right, tequila. Anejo and reposado tequilas both find homes in whiskey barrels as they age. Both anejo and reposado tequilas make a wonderfully distinct Manhattan. If you’ve got a tequila drinker you’re trying to convert to whiskey, moving them from a Mexican Manhattan to a split base Manhattan (with tequila and rye) to a classic Manhattan may win them over. Here’s how to make the Mexican Manhattan cocktail:

  • 2 oz reposado or anejo tequila
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters

Conclusion: Manhattan Cocktail Variations

black manhattan with orange chip and star anise garnish
Best Black Manhattan

For a simple cocktail, the Manhattan really has a lot of ways to dress it up and change the flavors. Like any great classic cocktail, it’s inspired many riffs. Roll up your sleeves, get out your mixing glass, and see which of these Manhattan Cocktail variations appeal to you.

I’m sharing my favorite Black Manhattan recipe here so you can delve into the wonders of a fine Manhattan riff. If you don’t have Foro amaro, Averna works well with many bourbons, but I love the deep coffee and chocolate notes in Foro. It reminds me of drinking a great porter beer.

If you like non-traditional variations on the Manhattan cocktail, check out these other fun Manhattans I’ve created:

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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:

You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:

Pin it: 8 Manhattan Cocktail Variations
black manhattan with orange chip and star anise garnish

Best Black Manhattan

Heather Wibbels
Combine chocolatey, mocha flavor notes from Foro amaro with Michter’s rye and sit back for a smooth and velvety ride. The combination of Michter’s rye, smooth, yet complex, and Foro amaro are a magical match. Add a little bit of sassafras and sorghum and chocolate bitters and you’re done.
5 from 1 vote
Course Drinks
Cuisine Bourbon Cocktail
Servings 1

Ingredients
  

  • 2 oz Michter’s rye
  • 1 oz Foro amaro
  • 16 drops Sorghum and Sassafras bitters
  • 1 dash chocolate bitters
  • Garnish: orange peel and star anise

Instructions
 

  • Combine rye, amaro and bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled and diluted. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with expressed orange peel and a whole star anise. Try to sip slowly.
Keyword amaro, bitters, black manhattan, manhattan, sweet vermouth
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By on September 10th, 2020

About Heather Wibbels

Heather Wibbels is a whiskey enthusiast (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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