This Christmas Manhattan cocktail has all the flavors I associate with the holidays: cinnamon, orange, clove, allspice, and nut. By using a vermouth infused with mulling spices, and a bit of orange spice-infused syrup all the sentimental flavors of the season can be nosed and tasted in one easy cocktail.
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What is a Manhattan?
It’s classic whiskey cocktail consisting of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, usually in a ratio close to 2 parts whiskey to 1 part vermouth. While bourbon is very popular today in Manhattans, the earliest Manhattans were probably made with rye whiskey.
The Manhattan is a cocktail first recorded in the 1880s and early 90s coming from a bar in New York called the Manhattan Club. These original Manhattans had an even ratio of vermouth and rye whiskey in them, but still had bitters for balance.
The best Manhattans are those that highlight the inherent aromas and flavors of the whiskey with the flavor of the sweet vermouth and the balance of the bitters.
For more information:
Flavors in a Holiday Manhattan Cocktail
I love the flavors of orange and spice around the holidays, and a recent Christmas Simple Syrup I made inspired me to infuse some sweet vermouth with mulling spice to make a great Christmas Manhattan cocktail.
The Mulled Vermouth, or Christmas Vermouth, as I’ve been calling it, takes just 24 hours to infuse a sweet vermouth in the fridge with some mulling spice. The spice mix has cinnamon, clove, allspice, cardamom and star anise in it. It adds subtle baking spice and licorice notes to the sweet vermouth but doesn’t detract from the overall balance of the cocktail.
I also added Rivulet pecan liqueur, one of my favorite nut liqueurs to the cocktail, and just a touch of that Christmas Simple syrup I mentioned above. Adding both gave a little thicker mouthfeel to the cocktail, and that touch of syrup brightened up the mulling spice notes from the infusion.
Because orange is a traditional ingredient in mulled wine, I decided to add orange bitters to the cocktail, as well as some cinnamon bitters. Those two additions tied the sweet vermouth’s mulled flavors to the whiskey.
If that holiday spice syrup sounds intriguing you have to try it in this Christmas Old Fashioned.
How to Make a Christmas Manhattan Cocktail
Like all classic Manhattans, this cocktail is built in a mixing glass. Place the cocktail coupe in the freezer or fill with ice to chill while you make the cocktail.
Next add the whiskey, mulled vermouth, Rivulet pecan liqueur, christmas syrup and bitters into the mixing glass and fill with ice.
Stir for 30 seconds, then strain the cocktail into the prepared glass.
For me, I wanted a simple and classic garnish that highlighted the orange flavors so I added a orange twist and a single star anise.
Remember to balance both the level of bitters and the amount of that orange spiced syrup you add to the flavors you’ve infused in the sweet vermouth. A more powerful infusion will require a bit more syrup and Rivulet to tone down the flavors and balance them with the whiskey
How to Choose a Whiskey for this Holiday Manhattan
I presented this cocktail as a welcome cocktail for a Manhattan Cocktail Lab in December and it was very well received. Because I was teaching three variations on the Manhattan during the class, I chose to use a lower proof, smoother bourbon that I might have if making it for myself.
Using Woodford Reserve as the base spirit was a brilliant choice for that purpose. It allowed the students in the class, all bourbon enthusiasts, to taste the specific flavors infused in the vermouth, the Rivulet’s nuttiness tied to Woodford’s flavors and that bright bit of orange that both Woodford and syrup had.
They all agreed they liked the Christmas Manhattan cocktail the best of all four they tried!
If you want to focus on the infused spices in the mulled vermouth, use a 86-92 proof bourbon that is very evenly balanced with some orange and baking spice notes in it.
If, instead, you prefer to focus on a more complex bourbon and let the vermouth, bitters and other ingredients support the bourbon or whiskey as the star, choose a vibrant, brash bourbon that’s around 95-105 proof that has some secondary orange, nut and spice notes. The other ingredients will draw those flavors into a more central role in the overall flavor of the cocktail.
How to Batch this Holiday Manhattan
One thing I love about Manhattans is how easy they are to batch. If you’re new to batching, head to my article Easiest Method Ever to Batch a Cocktail for Your Next Party. Because they are just spirits and bitters, you don’t have to worry about fresh juice going bitter over time.
The other great thing about batching Manhattans is that their ABV is high enough you can pop them in the freezer for a few hours if you want to get it really cold before serving at a party.
Here’s how to batch this cocktail for a party of 8:
Batched Christmas Manhattan
- 1.75 cups bourbon, I used Woodford Reserve
- ¾ cup mulled Christmas vermouth
- ½ cup Rivulet pecan liqueur
- 2 tablespoons Christmas syrup (orange, clove, cinnamon, allspice infusion)
- 5 dashes cinnamon bitters
- 5 dashes orange bitters
- 3/4 cup water
- Garnish: orange twist and cinnamon stick
Add ingredients to a large pitcher. Stir until well combined. Taste test. If additional bitters are needed, add them in small quantities until you like the balance. Place in the fridge to chill completely. It usually takes 4 hours, but I leave it overnight. Before serving, taste test again now that it’s chilled and adjust bitters and syrup if needed. About an hour before your party, place it in the freezer to chill.
To serve, pour 3 to 3.5 oz into a chilled coupe and garnish. If guests are serving themselves, keep the cocktail in a bottle on ice to make sure it’s well-chilled from the first pour to the last.
Other Cocktails You Might Enjoy
- Christmas Old Fashioned
- Liquid Tiramisu
- Cinnamon Christmas Sour
- Gingerbread Manhattan
- Cranberry Gin and Tonic
- Gingerbread Martini
- How to Make the Perfect Bourbon Eggnog
- Eggnog Espresso Martini
- Peppermint Chocolate Old Fashioned
- Bananas Foster Manhattan
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Christmas Manhattan Cocktail
- Add ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice.
- Stir for 30 seconds, until well-chilled.
- Strain into a chilled couple glass and garnish.