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How The Manhattan Changed Forever The Way Cocktails Were Made

classic manhattan cocktail

Manhattan, one of the most popular cocktails, shares its name with New York's populous boroughs. There are few drinks which have earned as much fame as this one. It is rightly called the world's first modern cocktail for its inclusion of aromatised and fortified wine, the vermouth. The addition of this liquor changed the face of cocktails. Thus, it is necessary to understand how vermouth came to be in these cocktails to create a drink that drinkers and bartenders alike would hail.

How 19th-century New York influenced Manhattan's creation

New York City (NYC) became an epicentre, especially for European migrants from Germany, Italy, England etc, following the creation of the Erie Canal in 1825. It became a hub for the transport of goods and people via the New York City ports. The city became a symbol for prosperity where the American Dream could truly be realised. Owing to this, the city saw over 12 million immigrants between 1870 and 1900.

NYC became a multicultural hub with populations from Italy, Germany, and England. The new residents of the city also brought with them their culinary traditions. Europeans were already well acquainted with vermouth. The first modern vermouth was created in Turin, Italy in 1786 by Italian distiller Antonio Benedetto Carparno and it found widespread acceptance in the continent. So, Italians brought with them the process of manufacturing vermouth. The drink was now available for purchase.

As the city grew, so did its thirst for a modern drink. Trade, and cultural diversity led to the growth of grand hotels, social clubs and concert saloons in New York. The golden age of bartending dawned and New York's bars and saloons were at its forefront. Thus at one such club, the iconic Manhattan was invented using the hot, new ingredient, the vermouth. The use of vermouth had a big effect on how cocktails were made. Thus, the Manhattan cocktail paved the way for modern mixology with newer ingredients and hence rightly deserves the title of 'The World's First Modern Cocktail'.

manhattan classic 1

Origin Story Of Manhattan Cocktail

As with most drinks, Manhattan, too, has various theories about its origin. The most plausible theory comes from the 1923 edition of Valentine’s Manual Of Old New York. Hoffman House's bartender William F. Mulhall noted that Manhattan was created in the 1860s by “a man named Black who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway”. 

Cocktail historian David Wondrich’s original research supports this theory. He found historical records of a George Black who owned a bar called the Manhattan Inn whose proximity to Houston Street makes the bartender's story credible. However, as per Wondrich, the Manhattan was invented in the 1870s and not in the 1860s.

Earliest Mentions Of Manhattan Cocktail

The first known written mention of the world's first modern cocktail appears in an Olean Democrat's New York Letter column on September 5, 1882. It reads: It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters came into vogue. It went under various names: Manhattan cocktail, Turf Club cocktail and Jockey Club cocktail.

The first ever mention of the recipe was published in OH Byron's book The Modern Bartender's Guide in 1884. Below is how the recipe is described in the book.

Manhattan Cocktail, No 1
(A small wine-glass)
1 pony French vermouth
1/2 pony whisky
3 or 4 dashes Angostura bitters
3 dashes gum syrup

Manhattan Cocktail, No 2
2 dashes Curacoa
2" Angostura bitters
1/2 wine glass whisky
1/2" Italian vermouth
Fine ice

Recipe For Classic Manhattan

manhattan classic 2


60 ml Rye whiskey
30 ml Sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Brandied cherry or lemon twist, for garnish


Add the rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters with ice into a mixing glass. Stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish using the cherry of lemon twist.

While it is normal to learn about spirits and cocktails and enjoy them, it is key to consume alcohol moderately. It is absolutely necessary that one serves and drinks responsibly to maintain health and to stay out of any harm's way. If you know anyone who finds it difficult to control their alcohol consumption, please refer them to a professional.

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