Kick off Bourbon Heritage Month with a Classic: the Manhattan–Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters

When people tell me they want to start a home bar to make quality cocktails, they often want advice on what to buy. I always tell everyone that the first thing they need is a good mixing whiskey, either a bourbon or rye, and a decent vermouth. And a bottle of Angostura bitters, of course. From there, you can branch out into Benedictine, Campari, or whatever. But those three things first.

And with those three, you can make my all-time favorite drink, the Manhattan.

Just stir with ice:

  • 2 oz bourbon or rye
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 10 dashes Angostura bitters

and strain into a chilled coupe.

This is the quintessential classic cocktail. Right up there with the dry Martini. It’s all booze, and there’s no ice, so don’t try to make a huge one. As Lowell Edmunds says in Martini Straight Up, a small martini is better than a warm one. So use the proportions above and it will fit into a small coupe. Just make sure the glass is already chilled.

As for the proportions, adjust as you wish. I like quite a bit of vermouth. Sometimes I lower the whiskey and up the vermouth. I also like a lot of bitters. Some people put three dashes. I like ten. 

As for the type of whiskey and vermouth, the rule is always that better ingredients make better drinks. And I’m all about good drinks. But there’s a limit. If I make a Manhattan a day and I use a really expensive vermouth and whiskey, I will be broke going through three bottles of each a month. That ain’t cheap.

So I try to be wise. If I’m serving friends, I bring out the good stuff. But if it’s just me, any decent mixing bottle will do. A great whiskey will make a great Manhattan, but a decent whiskey will make a good one, too. For this one, I used Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon. It’s cheap, and it’s good. Normally, I use Old Overholt rye. If I’m making one for friends, I will use a special rye or bourbon like Basil Hayden’s or Yellow Rose. But I think you can go cheap for yourself, as long as it still tastes good. If it doesn’t taste good, it isn’t worth drinking, so find your own happy place, the median between cost and taste.

The same goes for the vermouth. Carpano Antica or any of the other great vermouths make a good Manhattan even better. But Martini and Rossi Vermouth still makes a good one, too.

So if you’re just starting out with a home bar, grab a decent bottle of whiskey, a good vermouth, and a bottle of bitters. And make Manhattans for all of your friends.

One thought on “Kick off Bourbon Heritage Month with a Classic: the Manhattan–Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *