15 Things You Should Know About the Famous Manhattan

15 Things You Should Know About the Famous Manhattan

What do you know about the famous Manhattan cocktail? Whiskey drinks have increased in popularity by 20% in the past 10 years.  One of the most famous of all whiskey-based cocktails is the Manhattan. It’s a drink that’s been around for more than a century, but the history of the Manhattan cocktail is also widely debated.

In the 1940s, a journalist recalled a story about Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill. Allegedly, she requested the Manhattan cocktail at Samuel Jones Tilden’s gubernatorial campaign.

Others have disputed this account stating that she’d just given birth to Churchill and was in England at the time. Another story about the famous Manhattan is that it was created at the Manhattan Club in New York.

Or, you might believe that a bartender in Maryland created it. During a duel, the winner passed out after seeing the blood of his challenger. A local bartender whipped up a drink to revive the winner. That bartender mixed rye, bitters and “sirup.” New Yorkers took that recipe and called it the Manhattan. 

Finally, some believe a bar known as the Manhattan Inn deserves credit. The inn’s owner created the drink. Whichever story is true, it doesn’t change the fact that whoever came up with it created a drink that would remain one of the most popular cocktails in history. 

While I’ve never been a fan of the Manhattan, they were my late aunt’s favorite cocktail, and she’d often have one after taking me into NYC or a shopping trip in New England. My trips to Manhattan with her are among my favorite childhood memories. Here are 15 things to know about the famous Manhattan. (After this article, learn 15 Things About the Classic Mojito.)

It’s Known as the “First Modern Cocktail”

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The first known bartender’s guide featured a description of the Manhattan.

The Manhattan is often referred to as the “first modern cocktail,” and Phillip Greene wrote an entire book about it. The first known bartender’s guide came out in the early 1860s, and it contained less than a dozen cocktail recipes. The Manhattan was one of them. 

It Dates Back to the 1800s

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The Manhattan dates back to the 19th century.

While no one is certain exactly which history of the cocktail is valid, the Manhattan cocktail dates back to the 19th century. It’s been around for more than 100 years.

Mr. Boston’s Manhattan Recipe

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Mr. Boston’s Manhattan features Sazerac rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Peychaud bitters and a maraschino cherry.

Everyone has their preference for the brands used in a Manhattan recipe. Some prefer bourbon over rye whiskey. Mr. Boston’s is my go-to guide for all cocktail recipes, and YouTube offers Mr. Boston’s Manhattan video. It comes down to stirring ice and the liquid ingredients, straining them into a martini glass and adding the cherry on top. Alternatively, leave the ice in and serve it in a lowball glass. The ingredients include: 

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces of Sazerac rye whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce of sweet vermouth (though many other recipes use 1 ounce)
  • 1 dash Peychaud bitters (if 1 ounce of vermouth is used, increase to two dashes)
  • A maraschino cherry on top

Why do some recipes go with a full ounce of sweet vermouth? It comes down to the level of alcohol in the whiskey. If it’s a lower proof, less sweet vermouth helps balance the flavor. If it’s a high-proof, aim for the full ounce of sweet vermouth.

Remember Manhattan’s Area Code

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Manhattan’s area code is 212.

The easiest way to remember the Manhattan recipe is to remember the area code 212.  Two parts whiskey or bourbon, one part sweet vermouth, and two dashes of bitters – 212. 

It’s Always Stirred

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You should always stir a Manhattan cocktail.

Don’t pull a James Bond request and ask for “shaken, not stirred.” While many cocktails go into a shaker, always stir a Manhattan. Adding air to the whiskey and vermouth makes for a hazy drink that’s not as visually pleasing. Shaking it also dilutes it, which changes the balance of flavors.

Here’s a little tidbit on Bond’s request. The line in Ian Fleming’s novels was the opposite. Bond asked for his martinis to be “stirred, not shaken.” Hollywood writers changed the line as it flowed better.

Ingredients Matter: Whiskey vs. Whisky

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Manhattans are typically made with rye whiskey.

Have you seen both spellings in the store and not been sure which is correct? This comes down to the country where the distilled beverage is made. In Ireland and the U.S., whiskey has the “e.” In Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Scotland and South Africa, there’s no “e.”

While you can use either spelling, using a rye whiskey/whisky is best. Rye whiskey doesn’t have the same taste as one made with barley, corn or wheat. The U.S. and Canada make a rye version, which contains 51% rye or more. A traditional Manhattan is made with rye whiskey/whisky.

How Rye Whiskey Is Made

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As its name suggests, rye whiskey is made from rye grains.

Rye whiskey is made by mixing rye grains and water, and it’s boiled. Yeast helps with fermentation, which is the next step.

Fermentation takes place in closed containers for some time. It can take up to two weeks for the rye mash to break down into alcohol. After that process ends, strain the liquid to remove any remaining rye particles and yeast.

Distillation takes place next. As the liquid heats up, it vaporizes, and that vapor becomes the rye whisky you find in bottles. As a result, you have the whiskey that goes into a Manhattan drink.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

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Speakeasy bartenders during Prohibition often used Canadian Club whisky rather than rye.

During Prohibition (1920 to 1933), rye whiskey became difficult to get hold of. As a result, a speakeasy’s bartender often used Canadian Club whisky instead.

Enjoy One of the Top 10 Mixed Drinks

Cold Refreshing Boozy Irish Blonde Whiskey Cocktail with Orange and Sherry
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The Blonde Manhattan is a variation of the regular Manhattan.

In 2020, the Manhattan appeared on the 10 most requested mixed drinks. Additionally, there are also dozens of variations for patrons who prefer something sweeter or fruitier. For example, a Blonde Manhattan mixes moonshine, sweet vermouth, orange liqueur and orange bitters.

Another fruity Manhattan takes the classic recipe and adds mashed ripe cherries. After stirring it, strain the cherry pulp.

The Manhattan vs. a Rob Rob vs. a Martini vs. an Old Fashioned

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A martini is another classic cocktail.

This quartet of drinks is very similar, but they do have differences. The Rob Roy is the closest in terms of actual ingredients. 

  • Rob Roy – Replace the rye whiskey with Scotch whisky and omit the cherry.
  • Martini – Replace the rye whiskey and sweet vermouth with gin and dry vermouth.
  • Old Fashioned – Sugar syrup is added to the mix to soften it.

It’s Not as High in Sugar as You Might Expect

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Manhattans are not very high in sugar.

A Manhattan is relatively low when it comes to sugar content. One drink has around 170 calories, of which are 3.3 grams of sugar. Surprisingly, it also contains a trace amount of fiber (0.2 grams.)

Non-Alcoholic Manhattan Recipes Exist

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You can use juice or non-alcoholic whiskey to make an alcohol-free Manhattan.

Creating a non-alcoholic Manhattan drink might seem hard as whiskey is the main attraction. You have options. A non-alcoholic version mixes:

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces of plain cranberry juice
  • 1 3/4 ounces of pulp-free orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp sour cherry juice
  • 1/4 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 dashes of orange bitters
  • A maraschino cherry on top

As an alternative, mix:

  • Ice
  • 1 1/2 ounces of non-alcoholic whiskey, such as Spiritless Kentucky 74 or Ritual Zero Proof
  • 1 ounce apple cider
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • A maraschino cherry on top

Hot Water Bottle Manhattans Were Part of a Classic Movie Scene

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The Manhattan cocktail was featured in the movie “Some Like It Hot.”

“Some Like It Hot” in 1959 featured a famous scene that involved the Manhattan cocktail. The movie starred Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as Jazz musicians on the run who pose as women to escape the mob.

Marilyn Monroe’s character shows up at Lemmon’s train bunk ready to party. He has a bottle of whiskey, she gets some ice and others bring a bottle of vermouth and a hot water bottle. Soon, they’re all drinking hot water bottle Manhattans from paper cups and having a great time.

“Manhattan Cocktail” Is Also a Lost Movie

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“Manhattan Cocktail” is the name of a movie from 1928.

The drink’s popularity spilled onto the big screen with the 1928 movie “Manhattan Cocktail.” Despite the artwork showing actress Nancy Carroll sitting in a Manhattan, the movie is a drama involving a small-town girl trying to make it on Broadway. It’s a silent movie that’s believed to be lost forever other than photos and a one-minute snippet that remains.

Try a Trendy Twist on the Classic Manhattan Recipe

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A twist on the Manhattan involves Averna, which is made from juniper berries and other ingredients.

During the early 2000s, San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch speakeasy, bartender Todd Smith created a spin on a classic Manhattan recipe that developed a large following. Known as the Black Manhattan, it’s made by stirring together:

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce Averna, an Italian liqueur made from Mediterranean herbs, juniper berries, citrus, licorice, and other secret ingredients.
  • 1 dash of Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash of orange bitters

Those are key facts and fun information about the famous Manhattan. Now, have this famous cocktail as you read some of the most famous quotes about bourbon and whiskey.

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