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13 Astonishing Facts About Manhattan Cocktail

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The Manhattan is one of the most iconic cocktails in the world. This classic whiskey drink has a rich history and complex flavor profile that has captivated drinkers for over 100 years.

Here are 13 astonishing facts about the origins, ingredients, and evolution of the famous Manhattan cocktail:

1. Its exact origins are unknown, but there are two main origin stories

The Manhattan likely originated in New York City in the 1870s, but there are competing theories about its precise beginnings:

  • Lady Randolph’s Banquet Theory: As the legend goes, Jennie Jerome (Winston Churchill’s mother) hosted a banquet at the Manhattan Club where Dr. Iain Marshall invented the cocktail. This is unlikely, however, as records show Lady Randolph was pregnant in England at the time.
  • The Hoffman House Theory: More credible accounts suggest a bartender named “Black” at the Hoffman House saloon invented it in the 1860s and named it after the street.

2. It was likely the first cocktail to use vermouth as a main ingredient

The Manhattan is credited with being one of the first cocktails to use vermouth as a main ingredient alongside whiskey and bitters. This innovative combination made it the first “modern” cocktail.

3. Rye whiskey is traditional, but bourbon is common today

Traditionally made with rye whiskey, today many bartenders substitute bourbon for a sweeter and smoother flavor. Both are classic choices.

4. There’s an “official” spec from the International Bartenders Association

Manhattan Cocktail with Maraschino Cherries

The IBA specifies:

  • 2 oz rye or bourbon whiskey
  • 1 oz sweet red vermouth
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Garnish with a maraschino cherry

5. It’s one of 6 essential cocktails, according to one expert

Cocktail authority David A. Embury listed the Manhattan among the 6 basic drinks every bartender should know in his 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

6. It has inspired countless variations over the years

Bartenders have riffed on the Manhattan template for over a century, substituting everything from Scotch (Rob Roy) to tequila (Oaxaca) and more.

Popular variations include:

  • Perfect Manhattan (equal parts sweet and dry vermouth)
  • Black Manhattan (amaro instead of vermouth)
  • Brooklyn (dry vermouth and maraschino liqueur)

7. The Manhattan Club still claims to have invented it

Over 140 years later, the legendary Manhattan Club in NYC still proudly claims ownership as the site where the first Manhattan cocktail was mixed.

8. It survived Prohibition relatively unscathed

While Prohibition in the 1920s killed off many cocktails, the Manhattan persevered thanks to Canadian whiskey imports and speakeasies.

9. It fell out of favor mid-century, but made a comeback

The Manhattan cocktail experienced a slump in popularity during the post-war era as tiki drinks and vodka concoctions took over American bars. But a revival of classic cocktails brought the Manhattan roaring back in the late 20th century.

10. Quality ingredients are essential

A Manhattan recipe is simple, but the drink stands or falls on the quality of the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters used. Top-shelf spirits make all the difference.

11. It should always be stirred, not shaken

To avoid clouding the drink, experts insist a Manhattan must always be stirred with ice and strained into a glass. Shaking would make it hazy.

12. The cherry garnish matters more than you think!

Don’t use a generic maraschino! Luxardo cherries add an authentic sweet and bitter depth. The cherry liquid can even be added to the cocktail.

During the 2020 pandemic, bottled and canned Manhattans surged in popularity for at-home happy hours when bars were closed.

The Manhattan has evolved across over 140 years, but its core identity as a smooth, spirit-forward whiskey cocktail remains as iconic as ever. This list of facts helps explain both its timeless appeal and fascinating backstory.

So next time you sip a Manhattan, appreciate all the history in your glass! Learning its rich story can help you master this quintessential cocktail.

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