Some of the best stories I’ve ever heard are part myth and part truth with neither part being clearly distinguishable from the other. The origins of the Manhattan are one of those stories.

There are apparently 2 acceptable versions of the story with neither of them really checking out. New York’s Manhattan club lays claim to the origins of the drink having been created for a banquet hosted by Winston Churchill’s mother in 1870. As it turns out, she was in England at the time so…’cool story Bro’. The second is of a bartender named ‘Black’ claiming he not only created the drink, but made it world famous in 1860. Unfortunately, with the first publishing of the Manhattan being 2 decades later, I would hardly say ‘Black’ was banging out these world famous drinks as claimed.

Whatever the myth, one truth remains. This epic drink is perhaps the father of all cocktails, or at the very least the really cool stepfather – you know the kind who always treated you like his own child and never made a big deal about it! This simple recipe of Rye Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth and bitters would become the base of cocktails for years to come.


Now, with so many variations of the Manhattan to be made, I’ve decided on a slight twist of the classic by substituting Rye whiskey for Bourbon – mostly because Rye Whiskey is not readily available in SA and I don’t have any lying around. The Manhattan should be garnished with a maraschino cherry and an optional twist of lemon. Simple right?

The ratio is also incredibly simple, with 2 parts Whiskey to 1 part Sweet Vermouth and a couple dashes of bitters to taste. Simple drinks are however everything but simple. Get the ratio wrong and you’ll end up with a mouthful of gross (technical term). As always, the devils in the details so let me help you get it right.

You want to start by chilling your glasses by filling them with crushed ice. The Manhattan is classically served in a Martini glass but an old fashioned glass is equally acceptable. If you find yourself drinking it out of a beer glass, you may have gone too far and are probably not wearing pants. So best to stop at a tumbler.

The drink can be shaken but is classically stirred. I’m not James Bond so I’m gonna stick with the stirring cause it’s just that little bit fancier : ) It also maintains the clarity of the liquor where as shaking will aerate it, making your drink foamy and cloudy. Personal preference I guess. Grab your stirring glass and fill with ice. Now again, there are two schools of thought on this – Some prefer adding all the ingredients, stirring and then adding ice where as I prefer building the drink over ice to chill it as I go – this technique requires you to work a little faster though as dilution starts happening immediately and no one likes a watery drink. Seriously, no one. You can ask anyone.


Having just picked up a bottle of Orange Bitters, I decided to start with that – adding a few dashes for good measure – but regular bitters does the trick. The rest is simple. 2 parts bourbon to one part sweet vermouth, stir and serve.

We did pick up a neat little trick in our Esquire – Drink like a man cocktail book though which suggests ‘rinsing’ your glasses with a little scotch before pouring your drink. We did. We didn’t regret it. Now, drop in a Maraschino cherry (clean up the resulting spillage) add a twist of lemon and Boom. Enjoy this bold satisfying piece of history.


As mentioned at the start of this post there are many ways to mix a Manhattan, so here’s a couple variations to keep you going. A Dry Manhattan, uses Dry Vermouth over sweet, where as a Perfect Manhattan uses equal parts of both. A Rob Roy, substitutes Rye with scotch and a Metropolitan uses Brandy over Rye. You can also take your Manhattan south of the border by substituting your whiskey with rum for a Cuban Manhattan or Tequila for a Tijuana Manhattan, the list is long but so is the week ahead. Might as well get started.

Lastly, let’s address the elephant in the room. This burgundy blazer was possibly a bad call here. I look like a parking valet handing you a drink as you get out your car. Bad call Serg, bad call.

Okay. Stay fancy.




5 thoughts on “WMBW Drinks – The Manhattan

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