Manhattan vs Old Fashioned: A Whiskey Connoisseur’s Guide

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned

The Manhattan and the Old Fashioned are two classic cocktails with distinct characteristics and flavors, each appreciated for different reasons. Here’s a comparison of the two:


  • Ingredients:

      • 2 oz rye or bourbon whiskey
      • 1 oz sweet vermouth
      • 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
      • Maraschino cherry or orange twist, for garnish
  • Flavor Profile:

      • The Manhattan is a slightly sweeter and more complex cocktail due to the inclusion of sweet vermouth. It has a well-balanced taste with the spicy kick of whiskey and the herbal sweetness of vermouth.
  • Preparation:

      • The Manhattan is typically stirred with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass. It’s often garnished with a maraschino cherry or an orange twist.
  • Variations:

    • There are variations of the Manhattan, such as the Perfect Manhattan (uses both sweet and dry vermouth) and the Rob Roy (uses Scotch whisky instead of rye or bourbon).

Old Fashioned:

  • Ingredients:

      • 2 oz rye or bourbon whiskey
      • 1 sugar cube or 1/2 oz simple syrup
      • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
      • Orange twist and/or cherry, for garnish
  • Flavor Profile:

      • The Old Fashioned is a simpler and more straightforward cocktail. It highlights the flavor of the whiskey with subtle sweetness from the sugar and a hint of bitterness from the bitters. It’s a stronger and more spirit-forward drink.
Manhattan vs Old Fashioned
Manhattan vs Old Fashioned
  • Preparation:

  • The Old Fashioned is traditionally built directly in the glass. You muddle the sugar cube with bitters, add whiskey, and stir with ice. It’s typically garnished with an orange twist and/or a cherry.
  • Variations:

    • The Old Fashioned is often served with different types of whiskey, including rye, bourbon, or even Scotch, allowing you to tailor the flavor to your preference. Some variations also use different types of sugar, such as demerara or maple syrup.


  • The key difference lies in the ingredients and flavor profiles. The Manhattan is slightly sweeter and more complex due to the addition of vermouth, while the Old Fashioned is a simpler, spirit-focused cocktail.
  • The Manhattan is typically served in a cocktail glass, whereas the Old Fashioned is usually served in an old-fashioned glass (rocks glass) with ice.
  • Your choice between the two may depend on your preference for a sweeter, more aromatic cocktail (Manhattan) or a stronger, more straightforward whiskey experience (Old Fashioned).

Ultimately, both cocktails have their place in the world of mixology, and your preference will depend on your taste for the moment. Some enjoy Manhattan’s balance of flavors, while others appreciate the Old Fashioned’s timeless simplicity.

The Origins of the Manhattan

The Manhattan cocktail is said to have originated in the late 19th century, making it one of the oldest classic cocktails in the United States. Its birthplace is often attributed to the Manhattan Club in New York City, where it was first concocted for a banquet hosted by Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill. The drink’s popularity quickly spread across the nation, becoming a staple in bars and households alike.

The Old Fashioned: A Return to Simplicity

On the other hand, the Old Fashioned predates Manhattan, tracing its roots back to the early 19th century. It is believed to have been one of the first cocktails ever created, emerging during a time when the term “cocktail” referred to a simple combination of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. The Old Fashioned embodies this original definition, harkening back to the basics of cocktail craftsmanship.

Ingredients and Preparation

The Manhattan

  • Whiskey: The heart of Manhattan is the whiskey. Rye whiskey was the original choice, but bourbon has become a popular alternative. Its rich, bold flavor serves as the cocktail’s foundation.
  • Sweet Vermouth: This fortified wine lends a touch of sweetness and complexity to the Manhattan. It balances the whiskey’s potency and adds depth to the overall flavor.
  • Bitters: Angostura bitters are the classic choice, providing a subtle hint of spice and herbal notes. A few dashes are all that’s needed to complete the cocktail.
  • Cherries or Orange Twist: Garnishing with a maraschino cherry or a twist of orange peel adds a visually appealing and aromatic finish.

To prepare a Manhattan, combine whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well-chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish and enjoy.

The Old Fashioned

  • Whiskey: Much like the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned relies heavily on the choice of whiskey. It typically features bourbon or rye whiskey, allowing the spirit’s character to shine through.
  • Sugar Cube: The Old Fashioned stays true to its name by using a sugar cube as the sweetening agent. The cube is muddled with bitters to create a simple syrup.
  • Bitters: Angostura or other aromatic bitters are used to enhance the drink’s complexity and aroma. They are muddled with the sugar cube.
  • Orange and Cherry: An orange slice and maraschino cherry serve as garnishes, adding a burst of color and a hint of citrus to the mix.

To craft an Old Fashioned, muddle the sugar cube and bitters in a glass. Add a splash of water and the whiskey, then stir gently. Add ice and garnish with an orange slice and cherry.

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: Flavor Profiles

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned
Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned

The Manhattan’s Flavor Profile

The Manhattan is known for its bold and robust flavor profile. It exudes the richness of the whiskey, complemented by the sweetness of vermouth and the subtle spice of bitters. This cocktail is a harmonious blend of sweet, bitter, and strong, making it a favorite among those who prefer a more complex and assertive drink. For More Interesting Information Visit Our Website: Classy Glo

The Old Fashioned’s Flavor Profile

In contrast, the Old Fashioned embraces simplicity. It showcases the pure essence of the chosen whiskey, with the sugar and bitters serving as enhancers rather than dominant flavors. This cocktail offers a smoother, mellower experience, allowing whiskey aficionados to savor the spirit’s nuances.

The Debate: Manhattan or Old Fashioned

The age-old debate of Manhattan versus Old Fashioned continues to divide cocktail enthusiasts. Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preference. Do you prefer the bold and complex character of Manhattan, or are you drawn to the timeless simplicity of the Old Fashioned?

Some argue that Manhattan’s diverse flavor profile makes it the superior choice for those seeking a more adventurous drinking experience. Others argue that the Old Fashioned’s commitment to showcasing the whiskey’s true character is the hallmark of a classic cocktail.


In the world of classic cocktail, the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned stand as timeless icons. Both have their unique attributes and offer a glimpse into the rich history of mixology. Whether you opt for Manhattan’s complexity or the Old Fashioned’s simplicity, one thing is certain: a well-crafted cocktail is a work of art that deserves to be savored.


Which whiskey is best for a Manhattan?

While rye whiskey was the original choice, bourbon is commonly used today. The choice ultimately depends on your personal taste.

Can I use different bitters in my Old Fashioned?

Yes, you can experiment with different types of bitters to customize the flavor to your liking. Aromatic bitters are traditional, but there are many options available.

Should I use a sugar cube or simple syrup for the Old Fashioned?

Traditionalists prefer a sugar cube as it adds a tactile element to the drink, but simple syrup can be used for convenience.

Are there any variations of the Manhattan and Old Fashioned worth trying?

Absolutely! There are countless variations and twists on these classic cocktails. Exploring different recipes can be a delightful journey for any whiskey enthusiast.

Can I substitute vermouth in a Manhattan?

Yes, you can experiment with different types of vermouth, such as sweet or dry, to tailor the Manhattan to your taste preferences.

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