Upgrade Your Vermouth Game For An Elevated Manhattan, According To A Whiskey Expert

Just because a classic cocktail is simple doesn't mean it has to be boring. In fact, uncomplicated libations provide an incredible foundation for experimentation. Just ask whiskey expert Chris Blatner, Executive Bourbon Steward and the man behind @‌urbanbourbonist on Instagram. Blatner spoke with Food Republic about upgrading a basic Manhattan, which traditionally combines whiskey, sweet vermouth, a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters, and a brandied cherry garnish. "The best way to vary the flavor profile of a Manhattan is to play around with the vermouth," he says.

Vermouth is a wine fortified with grape or grain spirit that incorporates aromatics, botanicals, fruits, spices, flowers, and barks. Dry vermouths — like those used in a martini — and white vermouths, such as Dolin Blanc, tend to be lighter and more herbal. Sweet red vermouths, such as Carpano Antica and Cocchi, have more residual sugar and complex bitterness. Stick to the sweet stuff to both complement and balance the whiskey. Within that category, though, there is a ton of variation that comes from the ingredients, style, and country of origin. Every bottle will "offer [its] own unique aromas and flavors from more bitter-citrus to woody and herbaceous," Blatner explains.

More simple ways to elevate your Manhattan

By keeping the other variables constant and swapping out only a single ingredient, you can truly appreciate the subtle differences in the new flavor profile. The type of whiskey you choose is a fantastic way to mix up your Manhattan. Experiment with different brands, and notice how the ratios of grains in the mash influence the taste. Rye whiskey is often valued for its spicy complexity, while bourbon brings a sweeter nuance to the drink. Try both and see which you prefer, though in Chris Blatner's opinion, bourbon doesn't make the best Manhattan. Even opting for something like orange or chocolate bitters instead of the traditional Angostura offers a subtle yet fascinating twist on the direction of this cocktail.

If you're a fan of single-grain or single-malt Scotch whisky, use it to craft a Manhattan-adjacent Rob Roy. Just steer clear of bottles with an overly bold peat flavor. For a slightly less sweet variant, consider making a Perfect Manhattan — it uses equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. Playing with proportions is another method to keep things classic, yet still introduce a significant change.