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18 Best Bourbons For Manhattan: Full Review (2022 Updated)

Bourbons recently became a top choice for creating Manhattan instead of rye whiskeys. It imparts an incredible complexity to our favorite cocktail, demanding its presence in every respectable bar. 

The countless bourbon products in the market led our team to experiment and choose the best bourbon for Manhattan.

Top 18 Bourbons Perfect for Manhattan Cocktails

1. Angel’s Envy

Angel's Envy

Angel’s Envy is one of the best whiskey brands many enthusiasts favor as a go-to base liquor to craft Black Manhattan or Bourbon Manhattan. It is an innovative idea from Lincoln Henderson, who came out of retirement to create Angel’s Envy with his son [1].

This bourbon uses a secondary barrel finishing with port barrels, most commonly used in the Scotch making. Its well-balanced palate of dark cherries, hints of spice, and deep woody flavors provide a smooth base for a perfect Manhattan.

From the Master Distiller behind Woodford Reserve and Gentleman Jack, this bourbon enhances every recipe in Manhattan instead of making mixed-up ingredients in the same glass.

2. Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon

Basil Hayden's Small Batch Bourbon

Basil Hayden’s is the lightest bodied among the four small batch collections of Jim Beam. It creates an incredible balanced taste in the chilled coupe glass when mixed with Angostura bitters and dry vermouth.

Basil Hayden’s is a top choice among beginners to create a smoother and lighter Manhattan with a current recipe of 63% corn, 27% rye, and 10% malted barley. The high rye percentage on its mash bill is evident in its spicy flavor, along with peach, cherry, and red berries.

Its palate opened with a dry touch of rye spice and followed by hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and seasoned oak.

3. Belle Meade Reserve

Belle Meade Reserve

With its high rye content, Belle Meade is singularly pleasing to enthusiasts who prefer a classic spicy and bold recipe to the delicious Manhattan. The perfect balance of texture, boldness, and spiciness brings another complex layer to cherry bitters, vermouth, or mixers.

This American whiskey is a product from Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery. This pre-Prohibition distillery was recently relaunched in 2014 by the descendants of the original operator, Charles Nelson. 

Despite being new to the industry, Belle Meade already received a double gold from San Francisco World Spirits Competition. This medal recognizes its powerful mash bills that bring rich flavors of caramel, vanilla, and stone fruits.

4. Booker’s Reserve Bourbon

Booker's Reserve Bourbon

Booker’s is one of the small-batches collections of Jim Beam Distillery. It has the highest alcohol content of 60% to 65% ABV compared to its other siblings, Knob Creek, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden’s. 

Many mixologists choose a whiskey with a strong backbone and heat as a base for Manhattan to achieve its full potential. Booker’s Reserve Bourbon tames vermouth with its heavy peppery heat and holds bitters to craft an enjoyable cocktail with a kick. 

5. Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace, infused with rich vanilla and oaky flavors, has a stiff and powerful kick. It is a cheap sipping whiskey or base liquor for crafting a spicy Manhattan. Produced from a distillery constructed in 1792, Buffalo Trace is a perfect companion to creating Black Manhattan. 

A Black Manhattan is a version that replaces vermouth for a sweeter Averna Amaro. It is a simpler version of bourbon Manhattan, but it contains complex herbal and sweet notes with added depths caused by Buffalo Trace Bourbon.

6. Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit bourbon is famous for its high-quality rye content of 28% on its mash bill, crafting a spicy and bold texture that many enthusiasts could easily recognize. It is suitable for any whiskey base, but beginners who are still experimenting with a mixer for Manhattan will find this a little dry for the cocktail. 

Aged in charred American Oak barrels, it has a medium amber appearance, with a fine but complex blend of nutmeg, maple, oak, and caramel.

7. Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

This bourbon contains a high percentage of corn mash at 78%, like Buffalo Trace bourbon. This mash bill requires the whiskey to age from eight to twelve years, leaving it elegantly smooth despite being barrel-proof. 

The brand took its name from a real Baptist reverend, Elijah Craig, one of the leading pioneers behind the use of charred barrels for bourbon aging [2]. The right flavor balance of vanilla, caramel, oak, and baking spices provides a stiff addition to traditional Manhattan or any dry cocktail. 

8. Four Roses Small Batch

Four Roses Small Batch

Four Roses offer a new way to enjoy the perfect Manhattan cocktail minus the intense flavors that many beginners find unpleasant. It has ten unique recipes from five different yeast strains and two different mash bills, making Four Roses stand out among other bourbon brands.

Living up to its name, Four Roses elicits floral, honey, and herbs flavor profiles instead of the usual caramel, toffee, and vanilla of standard Kentucky bourbon. It mellows down sweet vermouth and bitters while enhancing the underlying spiciness of Manhattan without sacrificing the original taste.

9. Kings County Craft Bourbon

Kings County Craft Bourbon

A bourbon whiskey from a New York distillery is probably the least expected spirit brand on this list. But Kings County Craft Bourbon, coming from the same state that birthed the Manhattan cocktail, has a surprising and savory texture. 

It takes a fine Manhattan to a whole new level with its good structure of caramel, cinnamon, cherry, and spice. The best whiskey to create a well-blended mix of vermouth and Angostura bitters, Kings County adds a wild but deep flavor to classic Manhattan at a very reasonable price.

10. Knob Creek Bourbon

Knob Creek Bourbon

Knob Creek Bourbon is a product from the same distillery as Jim Beam Black, one of the best-selling bourbons worldwide. It is a bold and full-bodied bourbon whiskey that counterbalances other Manhattan mixers such as sweet vermouth and bitters.

It is a bit spicier than some of the products on this list, but that only makes Knob Creek a perfect bourbon for mixing summer cocktails. The liquor starts with a flavor-forward of oaky and toasted nuts, and then it lingers in a spicy and sweet finish.

Knob Creek is one of the most affordable and best whiskey brands that spiced up cocktails like Black Manhattan and Old Fashioned in an unforgettable twist.

11. Maker’s Mark

Maker's Mark

Like the original Jim Beam Rye whiskey and Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark is another product of Beam Suntory, Inc. This wheated bourbon has a unique recipe of 70% corn, 16% winter wheat, and 14% malted barley. 

Notice that Maker’s Mark uses a unique recipe using wheat instead of the usual rye. It creates a perfect base for an easy-drinking bourbon Manhattan that blends well with the flavors of sweet vermouth and orange bitters.

Maker’s Mark has caramel and toasty smell with a balanced flavor of cinnamon, oak, and vanilla on the palate. It is one of the best bourbons that is not only popular for Manhattan but also a classic cocktail like Old Fashioned.

12. Old Forester 86 Proof

Old Forester 86 Proof

Old Forester has been the oldest continuous bourbon whiskey brand in the market since its introduction in 1870. It was a product of Brown-Forman Corporation, one of the six licensed distilleries during the Prohibition Era (1920-1933), to produce medical whiskey [3]

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. It is the same recipe as Woodford Reserve of the same company but a more affordable base for the perfect Manhattan cocktail, available for around $20.

After getting past the initial biting taste, the sweet flavors of brown sugar and caramel follow. It ends in a long and warm sweet finish with slight orange undertones.

13. Old Grand-Dad Bonded

Old Grand-Dad Bonded

A bottled-in-bond bourbon, Old Grand-Dad is under a government designation specifying that the whiskey is at least four years old and 100 proof. It also ensures that it came from one distillery in a single distilling season. 

Despite sharing the same mash bill as Basil Hayden’s, it is the cheaper choice among the two. This bourbon has a strong flavor of spicy black pepper due to its high rye concentration. It is a great alternative to creating the perfect Manhattan for those who prefer rye whiskey over bourbon. 

Aside from its high-proof alcohol, flavorful profile, and affordable price, it has a rich history that survives even the Prohibition Era. But what’s the best bourbon for Kentucky Mule?

14. Van Winkle Special Reserve

Van Winkle Special Reserve

Van Winkle is one of the world’s finest bourbons that can rival a cognac for an after-dinner drink. It has a strong alcohol smell at first, followed by secondary fruity notes like grapes, oranges, and apples.

Unlike the smell, the alcohol on the palate is more of a background taste and does not come strongly. Many fans describe its palate as nectar with a smoothing characteristic of wheat. It opens with spiced peach, dried mango, and cocoa notes. 

Van Winkle Special Reserve is a sophisticated whiskey choice for an old classic cocktail like Manhattan with a perfect blend of proof and age. 

15. W. L. Weller 12-Year

W. L. Weller 12-Year

The Weller bourbon is another sought-after and hardest-to-find brand in local liquor stores. Currently produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery, many fans believed that W. L. Weller is underpriced for its great flavor profile. 

Swirling it in a martini glass exudes a rich smell of vanilla, caramel, and other fruity sweetness, while the palate is rich in warm oaky flavor. The use of low distillation induced W. L. Weller with round and creamy characteristics, exactly what a good cocktail mixer a great Manhattan should have.

16. Wilderness Trail Bourbon

Wilderness Trail Bourbon

Wilderness Trail Bourbon has unique founders who have a background in microbiology and plant pathology, Shane Baker and Patrick Heist [4]. Their professions led them to start FermSolutions in 2006, a company that distributes yeast strains to over six hundred distilleries.

Through this experience, the makers chose a scientific approach to their whiskey-making process. Instead of the usual sour mash, this whiskey uses sweet mash that leaves more complex flavors to the liquor. 

It offers an unforgettable Manhattan treat with its rounded smell of butterscotch and red apple and a balanced palate of citrus fruits, black pepper, and cinnamon. 

17. Woodford Double Oaked Bourbon

Woodford Double Oaked Bourbon

This bourbon product from Brown-Forman Corporation uses the same process as Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon up until the aging process. It draws an extra deep flavor from its secondary finishing using toasted and charred barrels for another six to twelve months.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon is perfect for dessert cocktail enthusiasts as it has a delectable sweetness of chocolate, vanilla, cherries, and brown sugar. But its gentle bitterness and long oaky finish are delicious blends in bourbon Manhattan, further enriching sweet vermouth and bitters.

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18. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

The Woodford Reserve bagged a total of thirteen gold medals. These recognitions came from the world’s most respected spirits competitions, including International Wine & Spirits Competition and San Francisco World Spirits Competition. 

These awards proved that Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is among the best bourbons to create the smoothest Manhattan cocktail. It is a high-rye bourbon whiskey triple distilled and matured for six years. 

With 200 well-rounded flavors, Woodford Reserve complements sweet vermouth, another Manhattan drink recipe. It smells of toasty oak with light traces of cocoa, while the taste is a blend of cereal sweetness, spicy cinnamon, and buttery toffee notes. 

FAQs

What kind of bourbon is used in Manhattan?

Manhattan uses any bourbon type. However, it depends on the person’s personal preference which one to use. Most beginners choose to have a sweet Manhattan, while some seasoned drinkers prefer a cocktail with a strong kick.

Can you use any bourbon for Manhattan?

Yes, you can use any bourbon for Manhattan. High-rye bourbons craft a spicy layer to the drink, while high-wheat leaves a smooth blend to Manhattan. The traditional bourbon is a sweet mixer, taming the dry and stiff Manhattan into a delightful drink.

Which is better to use in Manhattan, bourbon or rye?

It is better to use bourbon than rye whiskey in Manhattan. It introduced different layers of complex flavors to the cocktail. But American rye whiskey is among the original cocktail recipes of classic Manhattan that some fans are more comfortable using than bourbon.

Final Thoughts

Many enthusiasts believe that bourbon adds a balance of sweetness and spiciness to Manhattan, unlike the strong flavors of rye whiskey. This cocktail has unclear origins, though some believe it first appeared at a party in Manhattan Club, New York, in the 1880s.

Finding the right bourbon is only the first step to creating the best Manhattan for your taste. After deciding which bourbon to have, you can add vermouth and bitters into a mixing glass and stir. Strain the drink into a cocktail glass, garnish it with a maraschino cherry, then add simple syrup to balance the flavors. 

Enjoy your next Manhattan! 

References:

  1. https://www.winemag.com/2013/09/11/lincoln-henderson-kentucky-bourbon-legend-dies-at-75/
  2. https://vinepair.com/articles/elijah-craig-small-batch-bourbon-guide/ 
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/1983/06/13/business/brown-forman-strays-afield.html
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/fredminnick/2019/01/24/bourbon-business-the-sweet-mash-disrupters-of-american-whiskey/?sh=1790c4d61fc1

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