June 5, 2020

What’s the Difference Between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned

Two classic whiskey cocktails that are surprisingly similar, but deliciously different.

measuring bourbon for a manhattan

Manhattan's and Old Fashineds are absolute classics.

They're in bars everywhere, can easily be made and home, and are great to experiment with as an introduction to making homemade drinks. It's not hard to see why they've become legends. 

But what makes them different?

measuring vermouth

Old Fashioned vs. the Manhattan

Both the Manhattan and Old Fashioned are made with a base of bourbon or rye whiskey with a few dashes of bitters. The difference is that a Manhattan is made with Sweet Vermouth, and an Old Fashioned is made with simple syrup (or sugar) to sweeten the drink.

Whiskey + sweet vermouth = Manhattan

Whiskey + simple syrup or sugar = an Old Fashioned

Straining an Old Fashioned in a mixing glass

How are the recipes different?

Despite having similar ingredients the ratios are quite different.

Sweet Vermouth is (as the name suggests) sweet, however, it doesn't have the same sweetening power that pure sugar or simple syrup does. This means you need more vermouth to get a pleasant subtle sweetness in a Manhattan cocktail. 

Each recipe starts with around 2 ounces of bourbon or rye whiskey and a few dashes of bitters. An Old fashioned is then sweetened by a 1/4 ounce or less of simple syrup (or 1/2 tsp of sugar), whereas a Manhattan calls for an ounce of Sweet Vermouth.

Squeezing lemon peel

What do they taste like?

You might actually be surprised by the difference.

They have similar mellow sweetness but a Manhattan has more complexity that comes from the Sweet Vermouth. Dark red fruit, subtle herbal hints and sometimes even vanilla or cola like flavors can be contributed by the vermouth depending on which one you choose.

In an Old Fashioned you taste the whiskey more.

The pure sugar sweetness of simple syrup does not add much flavor so the main spirit can really shine making it an awesome introduction if you want to start sipping whiskey on the rocks.

Old Fashioned vs Manhattan

Adjusting the recipes

Experimenting with different whiskeys, bitters, sweeteners, and citrus are great ways really mix up these cocktails.

Both drinks are typically garnished with a citrus twist that is squeezed over the drink before serving to give a delicious smell with every sip you take.

Manhattans often get an orange twist while Old Fashioneds get lemon, orange, or sometimes both.

As for the whiskey, choosing a rye for cocktails tends to yield something with a refreshingly spicy bite, and bourbon will make a smoother slightly sweeter drink.

To add other unique flavors try using different flavored bitters or a homemade simple syrup (like oleo, raspberry, or banana) in your Old Fashioned!

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