The Definitive Manhattan Cocktail History & Ingredients Guide

The Definitive Manhattan Cocktail History & Ingredients Guide

A classic drink for any whiskey lover, the Manhattan cocktail blends together the warmth of whiskey and the sweetness of vermouth to create a perfectly balanced, after dinner tipple.

Manhattan cocktail

The Manhattan has survived countless trends over the decades and is still widely regarded as one of the greatest and most popular classic cocktails around the world today. Although its history may be foggy, there are several theories about how the Manhattan cocktail came to be. Keep reading to learn all about its fascinating background, how you can make it at home and the difference behind some of the most popular variations.

Manhattan Cocktail History

With cocktails as old as the Manhattan, you’ll no doubt hear hundreds of theories as to who invented it first. Possibly the most popular was that it was created in the mid-1870s by Dr Iain Marshall who came up with the recipe during a party in the Manhattan Club in New York City thrown by Lady Randolph Churchill. The party was a huge success and the cocktail became an instant hit, with several people later asking for the Manhattan in other bars and clubs. 

However, while this story still circulates, it was later revealed to be a myth as, at the time, Lady Randolph Churchill was pregnant (with Winston Churchill) and was at home in England...not partying with politicians in New York City.

Another popular theory is that a bartender, known simply as ‘Black’, invented the cocktail in the 1860s at the iconic Hoffman Bar in New York where he worked. This story came from the 1923 book called ‘Valentine’s Manual of New York’, but there are very few details as to why and how Black created it. So, still to this day, the Manhattan Club lays claim to the ownership of the recipe.

While we may never know the truth about where this cocktail comes from, the mystery of the Manhattan only adds to its appeal 

Manhattan cocktail

What Ingredients are in a Manhattan Cocktail?

The dark and delicious Manhattan cocktail contains just three ingredients, whiskey, vermouth and aromatic bitters mixed together and strained in a coupe glass and garnished with a Maraschino cherry for the perfect blend of sweet and sour. This cocktail is known for its spicy, edgy flavour and has an air of sophistication around it. Its balancing flavours also makes it the perfect aperitivo to enjoy before dinner.

Our ready-to-drink Manhattan cocktail combines the rich flavours of Bulleit Bourbon with the sweetness of Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino and the twist of Angostura Aromatic Bitters, for a high-quality cocktail that’s impossible to resist.

Premixed Manhattan cocktail

What’s the Difference Between Dry, Sweet and Perfect Manhattan Cocktails?

When ordering a Manhattan at a bar, you may have come across the terms Dry Manhattan, Sweet Manhattan or even a Perfect Manhattan. This can be confusing for first-time cocktail drinkers so we’re here to define what each one actually means to help you discover which one suits your taste best.

  • Sweet Manhattan - This cocktail is actually the ‘standard’ recipe that most bars will follow and uses sweet vermouth topped with a cherry. It’s perfect for those who aren’t avid whiskey drinkers but want to try something new.
  • Dry Manhattan - This substitutes the sweet vermouth for a dry expression and is garnished with a lemon slice for extra bitterness rather than a cherry. 
  • Perfect Manhattan - This cocktail includes equal measures of both dry and sweet vermouth for a perfectly balanced blend and again is garnished with a lemon slice. 

Browse our other premium, pre-mixed whiskey cocktails we have available on our menu for you to build your own cocktail box with. Or, choose our exclusive Whiskey Box which includes six classic whiskey inspired cocktails.

Want to learn more about classic whiskey cocktails? Have a read of our Old Fashioned Cocktail History & Ingredients Guide.