Mix It Up

7 Manhattan Cocktail Riffs

You could easily say that exploring Manhattan Cocktail variations is like exploring the very essence of cocktails themselves.

By: Tiff Christie|May 16,2021

The Manhattan Cocktail is many things – it is an enduring classic, it’s easy to make and it is perhaps one of the most famous Cocktails in the world.


Fourth Regiment


White Manhattan

Clint Eastwood


Reverse Manhattan

Black Manhattan

It was originally believed to have been invented in the late 1800s in New York City’s Manhattan Club, although that origin story like so many others has been disproved and the true birth of the drink has been lost in time.

An early recipe, such as the one that can be found in Harry Johnson’s 1900 Bartender’s Manual called for the inclusion of a dash of Gum Syrup and Absinthe. Both these ingredients have been dispensed with over the years.

The recipe also called for Orange Bitters, although the prevalence of Angostura Bitters has to lead to their replacement. Interestingly the recipe simply calls for ‘whiskey’ without stating what form but many believe that this would have been Rye as New York was very much a Rye-based city at that time.

No matter what the history (or lack of it), is easy to think of the Manhattan as simply a Martini that uses Rye Whiskey rather than Gin, and sweet vermouth rather than Dry.

While many believe that the Manhattan is simply everything you need in a cocktail—richness and warmth from the whiskey, the sweetness and complexity of vermouth, and bitters to balance everything out.

This trio of classic ingredients makes a perfect starting point for endless Manhattan variations; we have seven riffs here but it is an easy cocktail with which to experiment and here are a few ways to get started.

Specify Your Whisk(e)y

While Rye is the traditional Whiskey used, a little Bourbon will give the drink a slightly softer, sweeter edge. Even Irish & Japanese Whisky will change the nature of the base. If instead to opt for Scotch, then you are making the classic Rob Roy.

Try A Different Base Spirit

Traditionalists may cringe at the idea of changing the nature of the base spirit but a little Añejo Tequila, Dark or Aged Rum and even Apple Brandy or Cognac can truly work beautifully and are defiantly worth exploring.

Try Different Vermouths

With only four simple ingredients, the Vermouth you choose can have quite a significant impact on the drink. Whether you chose a Vermouth like Carpano Antica, Dolin Rouge, Punt e Mes, Martini & Rossi or even a Sherry-based Vermouth, will all impart a completely different flavour to the final drink.

Up the Bitters

As we said, it is believed that the original cocktail used Orange Bitters but a combination of Orange and Angostura Bitters can help brighten the cocktails edges. But why leave it there? There are a whole host of artisanal bitters on the market today, from Barrel-Aged Bitters and Walnut Bitters to even Chocolate Bitters that can add some unexpected seasoning and complexity.
Of course, Cocktail Bitters are not the only bitters you can try, as a number of Italian herbal Liqueurs perfect options. Averna or Cynar are perfect Amaros with which to experiment, as well as so many others from this family.

Invert The Measurements

In this age of low AVB, using more vermouth than whiskey, in a Reverse Manhattan, is a great way to get all the Whiskey and Vermouth goodness but a little less booze.

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7 Manhattan Cocktail Riffs

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