The Absolute Best Whiskey To Use In A Manhattan

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A classic Manhattan cocktail recipe only has three ingredients: whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Because it contains twice as much whiskey as vermouth, the spirit very much takes center stage in the boozy beverage — so choosing the right kind is key. To get some expert advice, Food Republic asked Katie Stryjewski (@‌garnish_girl), a cocktail blogger and the author of "Cocktails, Mocktails, and Garnishes from the Garden," to share some professional tips.

Stryjewski has a clear favorite: "I like to use rye whiskey in a Manhattan," she says. Rye is the traditional choice, used in the original version of the cocktail dating back to the 1880s. The precise history of the Manhattan is much-debated, though rye is generally considered to be an essential component. Its unique taste certainly suits the beverage, as the spirit's "drier profile of spice and fruit balances well with the vermouth," Stryjewski explains. 

The peppery, richly spiced flavor of rye pairs perfectly with the natural sweetness of aromatic vermouth (which contains around a teaspoon of sugar per ounce), creating a balanced drink. If you're a fan of rye, but would like your Manhattan to be even stronger and spicier, try playing around with the ratios of the ingredients. While a single serving usually contains two ounces of rye and one of vermouth, increasing the rye by an extra half-ounce will deliver a much more robust result.

Rye and bourbon add different flavors to a Manhattan

While rye whiskey (which must be distilled from at least 51% rye) is traditional, bourbon (which must contain at least 51% corn) became a popular addition to a Manhattan in the later 20th century. Whether you go for a rye such as Rittenhouse or Wild Turkey or a bourbon such as Old Forester or Maker's Mark, it all comes down to personal preference. The interplay between the punchy whiskey, the rich vermouth, and the bracingly strong bitters mostly remains the same; the type of whiskey influences how dry, sweet, spicy, or fruity you like your Manhattan. 

For cocktail expert Katie Stryjewski, rye works better because "bourbon can skew the cocktail a little too sweet." But bourbon, with its notes of caramel and vanilla, can be a good choice for a Manhattan if you prefer sweeter drinks. Or for the best of both worlds, try a high-rye bourbon, which will add a touch of sweetness along with subtle spice.

Feel like playing around? You can upgrade your vermouth game for an elevated Manhattan. A dry vermouth will give a crisper, drier drink, while sweet vermouth will, predictably, make it sweeter. Or, combine equal amounts of each to create what's known as a "perfect" Manhattan. If you're curious to try Scotch whisky (as opposed to whiskey), then you've got a different cocktail altogether: the Rob Roy.