Manhattan vs Old Fashioned: Cocktail Comparison


Welcome to the world of classic cocktails! Today, we dive deep into the world of two timeless spirits: the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. Both known for their sophistication and classic taste, these drinks have graced the hands of cocktail lovers for centuries. But what distinguishes one from the other? buckle up as we embark on a journey of history, taste, and culture, comparing these two iconic cocktails.

manhattan vs old fashioned

What is the Manhattan Cocktail?

Let’s begin by exploring the Manhattan cocktail. Named after the bustling New York borough, the Manhattan is a delightful mix of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters. A cherry garnish typically completes the cocktail, adding a touch of sweetness to the otherwise robust flavors.

The history of the Manhattan dates back to the late 19th century and is often linked to New York’s Manhattan Club. It’s a simple yet sophisticated drink that has remained popular over the years. To make a classic Manhattan at home, you’ll need 2 oz of rye whiskey, 1 oz of sweet vermouth, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, and a cherry for garnish. Simply stir the ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

The flavor profile of the Manhattan is dominated by the spicy notes of rye whiskey, balanced by the sweet and herbal tones of vermouth. It’s a strong yet smooth cocktail that can be customized according to preference. You can adjust the ratio of whiskey to vermouth or experiment with different kinds of bitters and garnishes. Variations of the Manhattan include drinks like the Dry Manhattan, Perfect Manhattan, and Black Manhattan.

What is the Old Fashioned Cocktail?

Moving on to the Old Fashioned, this cocktail is a revered classic in its own right. The basic formula involves bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar or simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and a twist of citrus peel for garnish.

The Old Fashioned traces its origins back to the early 19th century when it was simply known as ‘a whiskey cocktail’. The classic recipe involves muddling a sugar cube with a few dashes of bitters and a splash of water in an old-fashioned glass. Then add ice (preferably large cubes or a sphere), pour in 2 oz of bourbon or rye whiskey, and stir until chilled. Garnish with a twist of orange peel for an added splash of citrus.

The Old Fashioned has a more pronounced sweetness compared to the Manhattan, mainly due to the use of sugar or simple syrup. The bourbon adds rich caramel and vanilla notes while the bitters add complexity to the cocktail.

Comparison: Manhattan vs Old Fashioned

AspectManhattan CocktailOld Fashioned Cocktail
Base LiquorRye Whiskey (traditionally)Bourbon
Flavor ProfileSpicy from Rye, Subtle Sweetness from VermouthSweeter and Smoother, Balanced with Sugar
Sweetening AgentSweet VermouthSugar Cube or Simple Syrup
Ice and GarnishGarnished with Brandied Cherry, No IceServed with Ice and Orange Peel Garnish
GlassMartini-Style Glass or Chilled CoupeShort with Wide Rim and Heavy Base (Tumbler)
Popular VariationsPerfect Manhattan, The Revolver, The Rob RoyBrandy Old Fashioned, Blood Orange Old Fashioned
Best Cocktail RecipesClassic Manhattan Recipe from Food & WineClassic Old Fashioned Recipe from
SimilaritiesWhiskey and Bitters Used for BalanceIconic Cocktails with Long History in New York
Customization OptionsSubstituting Bourbon, Orange Bitters, Glass TypeExtra Sugar, Honey, Orange Bitters, Smoking Gun
Flavor ComplexityWhiskey-forward, Boozier FlavorLess Complex, Slight Bitterness from Bitters

History of the Cocktails

The Manhattan, believed to have been created in the mid-1870s, is named after the Manhattan Club in New York City. The cocktail was reportedly first mixed at a banquet hosted by Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill. However, this story is often disputed due to timelines inconsistencies.

On the other hand, the Old Fashioned has its roots traced back to Louisville, Kentucky, circa 1880. The drink was first served at a private social club called The Pendennis Club, where a bartender created it in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller.

See Also: Old Fashioned Pancakes Recipe

How do you make a Manhattan?

The Manhattan is another classic cocktail that showcases the rich complexity of whiskey, this time complemented by sweet vermouth and bitters. It’s a sophisticated, well-balanced drink that’s simple to make at home. Here’s how:


  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 cherry for garnish


  1. Start by filling a mixing glass with ice.
  2. Pour the rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters over the ice.
  3. Stir the mixture for about 30 seconds until well-chilled.
  4. Strain the cocktail into a chilled cocktail glass or a coupe.
  5. Garnish with a cherry.

The Manhattan cocktail, with its elegant blend of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, offers a delightful balance of sweetness and bitterness. It’s a refined drink that’s perfect for any occasion. Enjoy it responsibly!

How do you make an Old Fashioned?


  • 2 oz of bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 sugar cube or 1/2 tsp of simple syrup
  • 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Splash of water
  • Ice cubes or a sphere
  • Orange peel for garnish


  1. Begin by muddling the sugar cube with the Angostura bitters and a splash of water in an old-fashioned glass. If you are using simple syrup, you can skip the muddling step.
  2. Add ice to the glass, preferably large cubes or a sphere for slow melting.
  3. Pour in the bourbon or rye whiskey.
  4. Stir the mixture until it’s chilled.
  5. Garnish with a twist of orange peel for a splash of citrus.

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

See Also: Old Fashioned Mocktail

Taste Profiles

A Manhattan carries a strong, robust flavor thanks to its rye whiskey base. This cocktail is slightly sweet due to the sweet vermouth but is balanced out by the bitters’ spiciness.

The Old Fashioned, in contrast, is smoother and sweeter. The use of sugar alongside bourbon or rye whiskey creates a balance that is both rich and complex. The citrus note from the orange peel garnish adds an extra layer of depth to this classic cocktail.

Variations of the Cocktails

The Manhattan has various iterations based on the type of whiskey used or the vermouth’s ratio. A “Perfect Manhattan” uses equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth, while a “Dry Manhattan” uses dry vermouth only.

The Old Fashioned also has its variations. Some bartenders might replace sugar with simple syrup for a smoother texture, while others might use different types of bitters or even muddled fruit for added flavor.

Pairing the Cocktails with Food

A Manhattan pairs well with red meat dishes like steak or lamb due to its bold flavor profile. It can also complement rich desserts like chocolate cake or tiramisu.

On the other side, an Old Fashioned goes perfectly with comfort foods like fried chicken or macaroni and cheese. Its sweetness also makes it an excellent match for desserts like pecan pie or crème brûlée.

Popularity and Cultural Impact

The Manhattan has been featured in many films and TV shows, enhancing its status as an iconic cocktail. It’s particularly popular in New York City, often associated with the city’s glamour and sophistication.

The Old Fashioned, meanwhile, has gained recent popularity thanks to its feature in the series “Mad Men.” It now considered a symbol of classic American cocktails, embodying tradition and elegance.


Can I use bourbon instead of rye in my Manhattan?

Yes! This variant is often known as Bourbon Manhattan.

Is there an ideal ratio for making an Old Fashioned?

Typically it’s 2:1:2 (whiskey:sugar:bitters), but feel free to adjust to your liking.

Is there any significance to using large ice cubes/spheres in an Old Fashioned?

Yes! Larger ice cubes or spheres melt slower than regular ice cubes which keeps your drink chilled without diluting it too quickly.

Does an Old Fashioned taste like a Manhattan?

The Old Fashioned and the Manhattan are both classic whiskey-based cocktails, but they have distinct taste profiles due to their different ingredients and preparation methods.

Which is sweeter between manhattan vs old fashioned?

When comparing the sweetness of a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned cocktail, the Old Fashioned typically comes out on top. This is because an Old Fashioned contains sugar or a sugar cube directly, along with whiskey, Angostura bitters, and a twist of citrus. A Manhattan, while it does contain sweet vermouth, is generally subtler in its sweetness. Therefore, if you prefer a sweeter cocktail, the Old Fashioned is likely the better choice.


Manhattan or Old Fashioned? The choice largely depends on individual preferences – whether you lean towards spicy complexities or sweet simplicity.

Comparing these legendary cocktails is no easy task as they both have unique histories, taste profiles, and cultural impacts. In my opinion, while I appreciate the boldness of a Manhattan, I find myself gravitating more towards the smooth complexity of an Old Fashioned.

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned: Cocktail Comparison

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned: Cocktail Comparison

5 from 12 votes
Recipe by Laura Ritterman


  • Manhattan cocktail

  • Old Fashioned cocktail


  • Gather your ingredients for your favorite drink
  • Gather the right equipment
  • Serve and enjoy

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