The Best Manhattan Recipe: As Easy As 3-2-1

As we close out Bourbon Heritage Month, we’re sharing one of our favorite classic whiskey recipes that is too often overlooked. Consider this your primer on not just the Manhattan, but on how to make the best Manhattan recipe every time. While Manhattan’s are often thought of as drinks served straight up, they can be served over loose ice, a large ice rock, or straight up. Any way is the right way to enjoy this best Manhattan recipe.

Now, a Manhattan only requires 3 ingredients, so how hard can it be to mess this drink up? It’s so easy. You see, the simpler the cocktail is, the more crucial each component is. Meaning you need quality ingredients, and each one makes an impact. So, let’s break this down and ensure you get a Manhattan as great as its namesake.

The Best Manhattan Recipe

Making a Manhattan is as easy as 3, 2, 1

  • 3 dashes of bitters
  • 2 ounces of whiskey
  • 1 ounce of sweet, red vermouth

Add the above ingredients to a mixing glass, stir for approximately 10 seconds, and pour into an up glass or over ice. Garnish with your choice of orange peel, cocktail cherry, olives, or nothing at all.

Seems pretty simple, right? We never said the best manhattan recipe was a difficult recipe! So, now that you’re confident you can make a Manhattan, let’s break down the three ingredients to ensure you make a great Manhattan…

Picture of a manhattan from the best manhattan recipe

The Best Bitters For Manhattan Cocktails

While 3 dashes of an ingredient may make you wonder how important it really is, bitters are a crucial component when it comes to making the best manhattan recipe. Bitters are a concentrated addition of herbs, spices, citrus, bitterness, and/or sweetness for cocktails. For a full bitters deep dive head on over here, but the short story is that bitters are steeped in high-proof alcohol and tradition.  Too much will be overwhelming but a dash here or a drop there can truly elevate your cocktails. Bitters fall into 2 main categories: Flavoring or Amplifying.

There are tons of flavors to play around with in both categories, so a bitters sample pack can be a great starting point.


The most well-known Flavoring bitters is probably Angostura- a proprietary blend of a bittering agent and spices that are reminiscent of Christmas. Also enveloped under the umbrella of “aromatic” bitters, Angostura is the staple that every bartender has in their arsenal. But aren’t all bitters aromatic? Well, they have aromas, but aromatic bitters are layered with a sweet base, a bitter backbone, and a bit of spice- as opposed to the main aroma or flavor being more one-note, citrusy or savory for example.

Amplifying bitters enhance the flavors already established in a cocktail, versus adding its own. Mole bitters in a Manhattan are an excellent addition to a whiskey that already has deep cocoa and/or chili spice, Charbay’s Doubled & Twisted for example. Orange bitters in addition to Angostura can calm down some of the more prominent spices and pair well with vermouth (try 1 dash of orange to 2 dashes of Angostura to start).

Play around with bitters whenever you make cocktails…not just when you’re whipping up the best manhattan recipe here for your friends. It’s amazing how much of a difference simply using different bitters can make to any cocktail!

Best bitters for the best manhattan recipe

What Is The Best Vermouth For Manhattan Cocktails?

I’m glad you asked! If you’re thinking that vermouth is that gross shit in a martini, then head on over to our deep dive for you on the topic of vermouth. But the the short answer is…kind of. Yes, often vermouth is that gross shit in a martini…but the reason it’s gross more often than not is simply because people and bars aren’t storing it properly. So lesson number one to ensure you always have the best vermouth for Manhattan and other cocktails? Once vermouth is open it must be stored in the refrigerator! Otherwise it starts to go rancid and ruin your drinks instead of making them delicious as it is intended to do.

The second important thing to know about vermouth when embarking on making the best Manhattan recipe is there is more than one type of vermouth.

Again, if you think vermouth is gross, you’re likely using the wrong kind for that cocktail.

The best vermouth for Manhattan cocktails specifically is a sweet, red vermouth. There are some variations to this, see a “perfect Manhattan” that uses 2 kinds, but we are concentrating on your classic best Manhattan recipe…which casually may be referred to as a perfect Manhattan, but in reality that’s a different cocktail recipe entirely.

Sweet, red vermouth is an addition that can add a fuller body, a velvety mouthfeel, and is the perfect addition to round out whatever whiskey you choose.

The three main vermouth brands you’ll commonly see are:
  • Carpano Antica: in our opinion, this is the best option for a Bourbon Manhattan. It isn’t overpowering, so the sweeter spirit can shine through while also adding a full body and creamy mouthfeel.
  • Martini and Rossi: While certainly not craft this is the most commonly found of the slightly  spicier and slightly thinner bodied sweet red vermouth. Ask your local bottle shop what a good craft alternative is for this that they carry locally. This style pairs well with Ryes or Bourbons that may be a little sweet and need a kick for complexity.
  • Dolin: Orange forward and doesn’t add body, but does adds some sweetness for whiskey that may burn a little on the way down.

But, what if the bar I go to has a vermouth that I don’t recognize? Ask to taste it. A sample is the best way to test run your drink and is so much better than sending the whole thing back because you don’t enjoy it. In fact, in all of our virtual mixology classes that we teach we insist that everyone try a little taste of every ingredient before making their cocktail. You’d never cook with an ingredient you’ve never tasted before, so why would you make cocktails that way?!

The Best Whiskey For Manhattan Cocktails Is…

…whatever kind of higher-quality, craft whiskey you want. A bourbon would be fitting for its Bourgon Heritage month at the moment, – but it totally depends on your palate. In fact, the origins of the best Manhattan recipe used rye since that was the prevalent whiskey during the foundings of our country. Check out our video on whiskey tasting techniques so you can better understand your palate to find new craft favorites as well as a whole playlist of some of our favorite distilleries and whiskeys we’ve tried.

Fun Fact: a Manhattan made with scotch is called a Rob Roy.

Your whiskey is obviously the backbone of your cocktail, so choose wisely. This is not the cocktail to go cheap or mainstream on the spirit. Bourbon will generally be a sweeter option because of the corn content, rye whiskey will be spicier, American whiskey tends to have bit more burn going down, Irish whiskey is lighter bodied and has some nutty flavors, while Canadian and Scotch whisky are all over the map flavor-wise.

Can I Shake This Best Manhattan Recipe Instead of Stirring? 

Yes, technically you can. You know we are big believers in drinking how you enjoy your drinks the most, but in this case we wouldn’t recommend it. In fact, Evan recently created a short, fun video on shaking vs. stirring and then another short video on the stirring technique specifically. That’s how important we think this is! 

Video cover about should I shake or stir the best manhattan recipe?
Video showing stirring techniques for the best manhattan recipe

The technique of stirring is meant to chill your cocktail without over-diluting it. Since there are only three main ingredients, we want to have each one highlighted since they all add complexity to the drink. If we add too much water, it can become the fourth ingredient and who wants a watered-down cocktail? Nobody. Stirring is used in spirit forward drinks like this one while shaking breaks up ice cubes into shards that are more easily melted, and is advantageous in drinks with citrus because it adds aeration.

If we’re this careful about dilution in making the best Manhattan recipe, we also need to pay attention to how we serve it.

  • Serving it up (like a martini) adds no further ice and therefore no further dilution.
  • A large rock or sphere will keep it cold while keeping the ice melting to a minimum.
  • Small ice cubes melt faster and will add more water to your drink.

One way to get around choosing, because we know choices are hard sometimes, is to ask for your drink chilled, in a rocks glass, with ice on the side. That way you can add small ice cubes as you wish to dilute as much as you need. A drink like this is strong and adding ice little by little is a perfect way to control that.

What is your best Manhattan recipe?

Comment below and let us know your thoughts as you start making this lovely, classic cocktail at home. And don’t forget to tag us in photos of your cocktails too! What bitters, vermouth, and whiskey are you using? Where are you drinking it? At home? In Manhattan?

Wait…BRB, adding drinking a Manhattan in Manhattan to my bucket list. Cheers!

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