The Manhattan: It's a deliciously simple, classic cocktail that’s typically made using Angostura bitters, sweet red Vermouth, and rye or Canadian whisky. When the Manhattan first came onto the scene in the 1800s, this three-ingredient cocktail was less specific on the type of whiskey used. A Manhattan recipe during those early years would call for Italian Vermouth, Angostura bitters and American whiskey. As with many classic cocktails, the ingredients for the Manhattan evolved as certain elements became more available than others, which is how Canadian whiskey came to be an acceptable alternative to its American counterpart. The more you know!
But if you happen to be fresh out of rye or Canadian whisky, can bourbon be used instead in a Manhattan? Sure thing. Due to its sweetness and touch of smokiness, bourbon boasts all the flavors needed to create an impressive and satisfying Manhattan. With the perfect balance of sweet Vermouth and Angostura bitters, and of course, the right full-flavored bourbon, this American-made spirit might leave you rethinking how you make your next Manhattan. Scroll on to figure out which bourbons passed our Manhattan taste test.
Isaac Bowman Port Barrel Finished Straight Bourbon
While most bourbon is aged in new, charred oak barrels, Isaac Bowman Port Barrel Finished Straight Bourbon takes things a bit further by finishing its bourbon in port barrels. The end result is a complex spirit that is somewhat sweet, but not overpoweringly so. When making a Manhattan using this bourbon, be sure to limit the amount of sweet Vermouth used to avoid an overly sweet concoction.
Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon
Shortly after the Manhattan was created, a number of variations on this classic cocktail were birthed. For a remixed Manhattan that doesn’t stray too far from the original, opt for Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon. The addition of natural smoked flavors creates a savory sweetness ideal for making a Manhattan.
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Although Woodford Reserve's line of spirits does include Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, the brand’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a worthwhile option for a classic Manhattan. Consisting of well over 200 flavor notes, which vary from spicy to floral, Woodford Reserve's bourbon still manages to capture some of the characteristics prevalent in rye whiskey.
Redemption High Rye Bourbon
A boozy combination of both rye and bourbon, Redemption High Rye Bourbon is for those who absolutely need a touch of rye in their Manhattan. To create this unique spirit, a mash bill of 60% corn, 36% rye and 4% barley malt is necessary. Additionally, the spirit is aged at least one year in new charred American oak.
As one of the best-selling bourbons on the market, Bulleit Bourbon is a wonder when it comes to mixing up cocktails, but how does this bourbon stack up when it’s used to create a Manhattan? Quite well, actually. It’s a go-to for many when crafting a bourbon-centric Manhattan thanks to quality ingredients and a high rye content.
Iron Smoke Applewood Smoked Straight Bourbon Whiskey
This spirit serves as yet another bourbon with added “oomf” due to an unexpected addition to the distillation process. As its name suggests, Iron Smoke Applewood Smoked Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made using grains that are exposed to applewood smoke. The end result is a bourbon with a sweeter smokiness to it, a perfect addition to any Manhattan base.
Blade & Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon
The elegance of the Manhattan is one that should be replicated with whatever spirit you’re using, whether it’s a bourbon or rye. For a premium (but affordable) option for your Manhattan, consider Blade & Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon. A blend of orphan casks, this bourbon is made using premium spirits and only costs around $50 per bottle.
Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Basil Hayden’s features a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that’s light-bodied yet still spicy, or as they put it, “artfully aged to taste.” With a finish that’s dry, clean and brief, it’s a bourbon capable of working wonders when used in a Manhattan.
Old Fourth Distillery Straight Bourbon
If you’re in the market for a lesser known (though still delicious) bourbon for your Manhattan, consider a straight bourbon from Atlanta's Old Fourth Distillery. The newly-released spirit was aged in new, white American oak barrels for four years and was made available to the public this year, making it a fresh and welcome addition to the bourbon market.
Four Roses Bourbon
For a Manhattan made with Four Roses, opt for the Kentucky-based brand’s single barrel bourbon. With tasting notes that include dried spice, pear, cocoa, vanilla, maple syrup, and ripe plum and cherries, Four Roses Single Barrel features a medley of flavors perfect for mixing up a worthy take on the Manhattan.