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The Perfect Manhattan Cocktail

Many cocktail specialists will agree that the classic Manhattan is a wonderful cocktail: simple, balanced, and elegant. The Perfect Manhattan, on the other hand, is a separate, though closely similar, drink; the “Perfect” in the drink’s name refers to the use of two different varieties of vermouth in “perfect”—that is to say, equal—proportions, rather than a properly crafted cocktail.

Recipe for a classic Manhattan cocktail

Do you like a decent Manhattan cocktail? I do. When we’re out and about, Manhattans are one of my go-to drinks. I’ve been honing my classic cocktail recipe repertoire and thought it was time to learn how to create a perfect Manhattan at home.

Manhattans were served in New York as early as the 1870s, so I’m nearly 150 years late to the party. This Punch article on how elite bartenders build their Manhattans provided me with some tips on how to produce the perfect Manhattan.

The good news is that, while Manhattans appear to be elegant, they are actually one of the simplest drinks to create. There are only three components required (plus a cherry garnish). The key is to use high-quality components that complement one another.

You’ll be enjoying a superb Manhattan cocktail in no time if you have those. Manhattans should always be stirred, not shaken, so you can skip the cocktail shaker for them. Cheers!

Ingredients from Manhattan

The greatest Manhattan cocktails are made with four basic components that work well together. My favorite ingredients are listed in the recipe below. Remember to include ice for stirring!

Rye whiskey or Bourbon whiskey

Both rye and bourbon are whiskeys with differing compositions. Rye is spicy, but bourbon is more mellow and smooth. Most bartenders prefer rye, but it is up to you to decide. Keep in mind that vermouth will help to cool the flames.

For these drinks, I used Bulleit rye. It’s always a safe bet, and I couldn’t be happier with the results!

Vermouth Sweet

Vermouth is a wine that has been “fortified” (made stronger with the addition of brandy) and “aromatized” (infused with herbs and spices).

We want to use “sweet” vermouth for a classic Manhattan, which isn’t all that sweet. Sweet vermouths are dark red or brown in color, rather than clear. Dolin and Carpano Antica are two of my favorite selections. Dolin is the softer and smoother of the two, but it doesn’t mean it’s uninteresting. It is also less costly.

Vermouth storage tip: Because vermouth is wine, it will mature like all wines (but will keep longer than a regular bottle, thanks to the brandy). Bottles of vermouth that have been opened will keep in the refrigerator for one to two months.

Do you want to know how to use up your vermouth before it goes bad? Consume vermouth over ice as an aperitif, as the Europeans do. It tastes extremely well with an orange twist.


Angostura bitters are traditional and widely available, and you can’t go wrong with them. Bitters are steeped with unique herbs and spices, similar to vermouth. They are, however, incredibly concentrated—just a couple of dashes offer gobs of nuanced flavor.

As a garnish, a cocktail cherry

If you’re serious about your Manhattans, invest in good cherry. Luxardo cherries are my favorite. They outlast other maraschino cherries and are significantly superior. Readers have suggested that these cherries be kept in a dark, cold closet rather than the refrigerator, where they tend to crystallize. Luxardo cherries may be found at well-stocked liquor stores and on Amazon (affiliate link).

The Best Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

Manhattan is quite simple to prepare. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice and arrange a coupe or martini glass nearby.
  • Fill your mixing glass halfway with whiskey and vermouth. To taste, add a couple of dashes of bitters.
  • Stir constantly.
  • Pour the mixture into a drinking glass.
  • Enjoy.


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