What's the difference between a Manhattan and a perfect Manhattan?

The Manhattan is one of the most iconic and beloved classic cocktails that you can order.

Nothing makes you feel like more of a boss than sitting down alone at a dimly lit bar and asking for this boozy beverage, like you just walked out of a meeting with Don Draper and the cast of Mad Men. A classic Manhattan is made with only three simple ingredients: whiskey, vermouth, and bitters (and sometimes garnished with cherries or a lemon peel). You’re likely to already have these common ingredients on hand, but if you’re looking to mix it up, there are also many different iterations you can play around with, especially with liquor choice and the flavor of the bitters. Some people prefer to stir their Manhattans, but they are often prepared in a cocktail shaker and strained into a chilled glass—you can serve a Manhattan in a classic martini glass, coupe, or short rocks glass.

But what’s the difference between a Manhattan and a Perfect Manhattan? It turns out it’s not just the absolute best, most carefully measured, gold standard of Manhattans that makes for a Perfect Manhattan…it’s actually a distinction based on the vermouth. When talking about cocktails, the differences between dry, sweet, and perfect are all about what type of vermouth you’re using, and how much of it. Vermouth is classified as a fortified wine, which means it contains a fairly low alcohol content and is infused with a variety of botanicals and herbs. Manhattans are typically made with sweet vermouth, so the “sweet” distinction isn’t necessary in the name. “Perfect” implies a 50/50 blend of sweet and dry vermouth—so when you order a Perfect Manhattan, you’ll taste the addition of the dry vermouth.

But does anybody actually order a Perfect Manhattan? Celebrity mixologist Matt Seigel, a former bartender at New York’s Eleven Madison Park and owner of the In the Spirit Of Hospitality Group, has found that the requests for Perfect Manhattans are few and far between: “I think I’ve made one, maybe two, in my life. There are definitely Manhattan variations that incorporate Dry Vermouth (i.e. the Brooklyn, which is incredibly delicious), but for the most part people want their Manhattans the traditional way.”

The decision to use rye whiskey or bourbon is up to you—for a cocktail with only three main ingredients, there sure are a lot of delicious combinations that you can experiment with.

Check out these six recipes for Manhattans and try to make it until cocktail hour before you start pouring.

1. Perfect Manhattan


If you think a traditional Manhattan is a little bit too sweet, then try our recipe for a Perfect Manhattan made with half sweet vermouth and half dry vermouth. The angostura bitters, rye whiskey, and cherry are, in fact, perfect together. Get our Perfect Manhattan recipe.

2. Classic Manhattan


Our recipe for the classic Manhattan dates back to 1874. Two parts rye whiskey to one part sweet vermouth, two dashes of angostura bitters, and a cherry—it’s hard to beat. Get our Manhattan Cocktail recipe.

3. Cuban Manhattan

A tropical Manhattan perfect for a summer happy hour, this cocktail is made with rum instead of whiskey. Get our Cuban Manhattan recipe.

4. The Southern Slope (Bourbon Manhattan)

The New York Times

This bourbon Manhattan makes for quite a stiff drink…the addition of apricot liqueur adds a hint of sweetness that pairs well with the sweet vermouth. Get the recipe.

5. The Clint Eastwood


A spicier take on the traditional Manhattan, the Clint Eastwood has bourbon, orange bitters, and the most decadent of cocktail cherries—the Amarena cherry imported from Italy. Get the recipe.

6. The Metropolitan (Brandy Manhattan)

The Spruce

The Metropolitan is also known as the Brandy Manhattan—this rendition follows the classic Manhattan recipe except you’re using brandy and some simple syrup as a substitute for the whiskey. Get the recipe.

*Special thanks to bourbon aficionado and conscientious Manhattan recipe tester Anthony Marciano for additional research.

Header image by Chowhound, using images from Chowhound and PUNCH.

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