Back of the Napkin
September 7, 2023

The Manhattan: A Stirring Tale of Elegance and Variations

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Today we’re embarking on a journey through time to uncover the rich history of the Manhattan cocktail. This classic libation has been a staple in the world of mixology for generations, and we’ll explore its origins, evolution, and some delightful variations that have stood the test of time. So, raise your glasses, and let’s dive into the tantalizing world of the Manhattan cocktail.

The Birth of a Classic

The Manhattan cocktail’s origins are shrouded in mystery, yet its allure is undeniable. This iconic libation has graced the glasses of countless imbibers over the years, and its story is as intriguing as the drink itself.

One popular legend attributes the creation of the Manhattan cocktail to a bartender at the illustrious Manhattan Club in New York City in the late 19th century. The tale goes that it was first served at a grand banquet in honor of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. While this origin story adds a touch of glamour to the cocktail’s history, it’s essential to acknowledge the skepticism surrounding it.

Another theory suggests that the Manhattan’s roots stretch back to the early 1860s when a bartender named William F. Mulhall crafted the first iteration of this beloved concoction at a bar called the “Hoffman House” in New York City. According to this account, Mulhall’s creation quickly gained popularity among the city’s elite, cementing its status as a classic.

Regardless of the disputed origins, there’s no denying the Manhattan’s prominence in the cocktail pantheon. Its simple yet sophisticated combination of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters has endured the test of time and evolving tastes.

As we raise our glasses to the Manhattan cocktail, let’s celebrate not just its birth but its everlasting legacy—a testament to the enduring allure of finely crafted cocktails in the tapestry of human history.

The Base Recipe

Before we delve into the variations, let’s master the classic Manhattan cocktail recipe. This elegant concoction combines the warmth of whiskey with the sweetness of vermouth and the aromatic charm of bitters. Here’s how to make it:

Classic Manhattan Cocktail


  • 2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters


luxardo cherry or lemon twist


  • Fill a mixing glass with ice.
  • Add the whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters.
  • Stir until well chilled, about 30 seconds.
  • Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a luxardo cherry or a lemon twist.

Chapter 3: Variations on the Classic

Now, let’s explore some classic variations of the Manhattan cocktail that have captured the hearts of cocktail enthusiasts over the years:

Dry Manhattan

For a drier twist on the classic Manhattan, swap out the sweet vermouth for dry vermouth. The result is a more spirit-forward and slightly less sweet cocktail with a crisp, sophisticated taste.

Perfect Manhattan

The “perfect” in this variation refers to the use of both sweet and dry vermouth, creating a harmonious balance of flavors. It’s perfect for those who appreciate a more nuanced cocktail.

Rob Roy

This variation substitutes whiskey with Scotch whisky, providing a smoky and complex flavor profile. The Rob Roy is a nod to the Scottish heritage of its main ingredient.

Black Manhattan

Dark and mysterious, the Black Manhattan replaces sweet vermouth with Averna, an Italian amaro. This variation brings a rich, herbal complexity to the mix, perfect for those who enjoy bittersweet flavors.


A twist with a Brooklyn flair, the Greenpoint uses rye whiskey and Chartreuse, a French herbal liqueur. The result is a vibrant cocktail with herbal and spicy notes.

Blood and Sand

A departure from the classic, the Blood and Sand adds a fruity twist by incorporating orange juice and cherry brandy alongside the whiskey and sweet vermouth. It’s a delightful concoction with a bold, citrusy character.

The Manhattan Legacy

Throughout its storied history, the Manhattan cocktail has remained a symbol of elegance and sophistication. Its enduring popularity speaks to its timeless appeal, and the variations we’ve explored today showcase the versatility of this classic libation.


We hope you’ve enjoyed our journey through the history of the Manhattan cocktail and the delightful variations that have emerged over the years. Whether you prefer the classic recipe or one of its intriguing variations, the Manhattan continues to hold its place as an iconic cocktail that has stood the test of time.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast for more episodes that blend history, technology, and trivia with the art of mixology. Cheers to the Manhattan cocktail, a true classic in the world of spirits!