About the Manhattan Cocktail

 In Uncategorized, Vya

October is Manhattan Month! That’s right, all month long we’re enjoying, exploring and celebrating one of the world’s most beloved cocktails, the Manhattan, all while giving back to charity. Kick off your month by sipping on the original recipe while learning about its origin here.

Like any good classic, the most popular account of the Manhattan’s creation is a bit of a myth. As the story goes, the first Manhattan was made at the Manhattan Club during a posh political event. Dr. Ian Marshall stirred it up on the spot to impress Winston Churchill’s Mother. It is said that as the popularity of this cocktail grew, people began to associate it with the place it was made, hence calling it, “The Manhattan.” However, it seems this story is far from likely, as historical documents confirm that Lady Randolph Churchill was in France at the time and pregnant with Winston himself.

The more likely genesis of the libation can be found in the 1923 publication, Valentine’s Manual of New York , where it states, “The Manhattan cocktail was invented by a man named Black who kept a place 10 doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the 1860’s—probably the most famous drink in the world in its time.” Amazing to think that it’s still one of the most famous drinks even to this day.

celebrate manhattan month october vermouth whiskey bourbon rye

The original recipe calls for equal parts Rye Whiskey and Sweet Vermouth.

The Manhattan Club’s Manhattan (1870s)

1.5 oz straight rye whiskey

1.5 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

Stir well with cracked ice

Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and zest a thin-cut lemon peel over the top


Wait, the original 1870’s Manhattan recipe calls for rye whiskey?  Yup! 

The answer is relatively straightforward. Rye was America’s whiskey of choice for decades, maintaining its popularity from 1790 until prohibition in 1920. During pre-prohibition, millions of gallons of rye were produced every year, making rye the most available spirit of the time. Its availability is attributed to the fact that American grain farmers found rye to be more resilient and easier to grow than other grains. Rye was also the original base for other classic cocktails such as the Old Fashioned.  In a Manhattan, rye is lean, yet spicy and assertive on the pallet, which makes it the perfect partner for the herbal flavors of vermouth and bitters.

During the mid-1930’s, Manhattans began to include bourbon instead of rye, because bourbon was more readily available after prohibition. Post-prohibition, Bourbon distilleries were able to increase production quite quickly because many remained open for “medical purposes” during prohibition. In fact, over a million gallons of whiskey were prescribed for consumption per year. Bourbon also takes significantly less time to age then Rye, giving bourbon the edge it needed to out-produce rye whiskey after 1933.

celebrate manhattan month october vermouth whiskey bourbon rye

The 1930’s  Manhattan

2.5 oz bourbon 

1 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

Stir well with cracked ice

Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and garnish with an orange zest


Amongst cocktail enthusiasts, there is much debate over which makes a better Manhattan, a bourbon or rye?  Each spirit brings different qualities to this classic drink.


Must contain 51% rye
49% can be corn, wheat, or barley
Must be distilled at 80% or lower
The aging barrel must be made of brand new, charred, new American oak
Must be aged for a minimum of two years.
So basically, the mash bill (the ratio of grains it includes) and the aging process are the factors that distinguish bourbon from the rye. These two simple facts make all the difference when it comes to the taste of your Manhattan.


High levels of corn give bourbon a strong alcohol backbone. Many cocktail aficionados argue that because bourbon’s mash bill includes so much corn and wheat, they don’t marry well with other ingredients. Sweet and smoky bourbon Manhattans tend to feel rounder on your pallet. They often have notes of vanilla, honey, and toffee, which create richness in the cocktail.

So which one is better in a Manhattan? Well, that’s up to you!  

Now, are you excited to celebrate the Manhattan all month long?  We are! Keep up to date on Manhattan Month by visiting www.manhattanmonth.com, where you can find participating establishments, write up’s on trending bartenders, fresh new Manhattan recipes, and more information about this year’s official charity; Mercy Corps. Don’t forget to follow it all on social media using #manhattanmonth.

Showing 2 comments
  • Douglas Dennis

    212 – the area code for Manhattan
    2 – shots of a good rye whiskey
    1 – shot premium vermouth Vya Sweet
    2 – dashes of a great orange bitters

  • David Toll

    It’s all a matter of taste of course, but after years of making them with rye. I’ve ‘graduated’ to using Jameson’s without regret.

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