I realized the other day that I had somehow managed to get through my adult years having never tried one of the most classic of all drinks: The Manhattan. As a cocktail enthusiast, this was an embarrassing oversight. The truth is, I’ve never much cared for whiskey and its variants; not in mixed drinks and certainly not straight (tequila is my liquor of choice followed closely by gin and rum). I strive to be well-rounded so I recently started to sample more whiskey-based drinks. It didn’t take long for me to officially become a whiskey convert! I’ve been making whiskey drinks at home the last few weekends. My timing seems off. Summer evenings are meant for refreshing Gin & Tonics and Margaritas, not wintry Maple Leafs and Tipperarys. I decided it was high time to try a Manhattan, a perfect drink anytime of year.

The Manhattan is a simple as it gets: whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and a cherry garnish. As is the case with most classic drinks, variations abound. A Dry Manhattan uses dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth whereas a Perfect Manhattan uses a combination of the two. Manhattans can be made using rye whiskey, blended whiskey, bourbon, etc. In place of the traditional Angostura bitters, bartenders may change things up by using orange bitters or Peychaud’s bitters. Oftentimes, bartenders will come up with their very own signature Manhattan. For my first time, I decided to stick with a Classic Manhattan using rye whiskey and sweet vermouth.

Prior to Prohibition, rye was the dominant whiskey in America. By the time Prohibition was repealed, people no longer had a taste for rye and it nearly disappeared completely. Although it can still be difficult to find, rye has been experiencing a small revival of late. Bartenders are rediscovering it for its fantastic mixability. Rye is spicier and drier than other whiskeys making it an ideal choice for mixed drinks. I realized that many of the cocktail recipes that I was anxious to try called for rye. So, I finally picked up a bottle of Old Overholt which is generally regarded as a reliable brand (and, incidentally, one of the few that survived Prohibition).

Sweet vermouth is another recent addition to my liquor cabinet. Robert bought me a bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth for my birthday and now I can’t imagine life without it. It reminds me a little bit of port but with a subtle herbal undertone. In fact, if you don’t have any sweet vermouth lying around, you can make yet another variation on the Manhattan: the Ruby Manhattan which uses port in place of the vermouth.

I had my rye, I had my sweet vermouth, and I dusted off my old bottle of Angostura bitters. Now, all I needed were the cherries. I don’t garnish every cocktail I make at home. I understand that the garnish sometimes makes the drink, but I usually can’t justify paying $1 for a lemon just for one or two twists. This time, I decided to go all out by garnishing not just with a cherry but with my very own homemade maraschino cherries! Let’s be honest – store bought maraschino cherries are pretty frightening with their fake fluorescent red color and sickly sweet taste. Homemade cherries were sure to be better. Some people macerate cherries in brandy with spices, but I decided to go a more traditional route by using maraschino liqueur. Maraschino liqueur, which hails from Croatia, is sweet with a rich cherry and almond flavor. I gently heated up the liqueur and then added some cherries that I had picked up that day at the farmer’s market. I sealed it all up in a jar, put in the fridge and two weeks later – voilà – homemade maraschino cherries!

I was finally ready to make my first Manhattan. The Manhattan is one of the easiest drinks to put together. I love that you don’t have to squeeze any citrus or sugar any glasses. You don’t even have to shake it! Simply put all of the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir, strain into a cocktail glass and top off with a cherry. Ready in mere seconds, the Manhattan is a lovely cocktail. The rye adds a nice spiciness while the vermouth adds sweet and earthy notes. My maraschino cherries were quite rich and sweet. After sitting in a Manhattan soaking up even more booze, these cherries packed a punch and were like a little decadent dessert at the end of your drink. I think they would be delicious over ice cream. I enjoyed the classic Manhattan so much that I also tried a Perfect Manhattan using both sweet and dry vermouth. Next time, perhaps I’ll try coming up with my very own signature Manhattan.


  1. Great article. I too am a recent whiskey convert.

    Comment by Daniel Talsky — August 14, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

  2. I’m so glad I’m not pregnant any more. Make me one please?

    Comment by Katie — August 14, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

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