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Manhattan Drink vs Old Fashioned Cocktail Comparison (2022)

Last Updated on September 14, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Manhattan Cocktail and Old Fashioned are two of the most well-known classic whiskey cocktails that are often mixed up. They have a fair share of similarities in the ingredients and procedure, but they are two completely different cocktail drinks.

Here’s a head-to-head battle of the best whiskey cocktails – Manhattan drink vs Old Fashioned.

Old Fashioned & Manhattan In-Depth Comparison

Manhattan Drink and Old Fashioned cocktail

Manhattan cocktail and Old Fashioned were both invented in the 1800s, and the two cocktails are the most iconic whiskey cocktails until today. Both recipes are traditional and straightforward and use whiskey and bitters.

However, they have big differences that set them apart. The Old Fashioned recipe is quite older than the Manhattan cocktail, and they are served differently. Also, Old Fashioned is sweeter than Manhattan.

How Do They Compare?

History & Origin

Old Fashioned and Manhattan are classic mixed drinks, but Old Fashioned is older than Manhattan.

Old Fashioned classic recipe dates back to 1806, and it was previously known for its unremarkable name “cocktail” from the newspaper Balance and Columbian Repository.

On the other hand, Manhattan was presumably invented in the mid-1800s; however, it was in 1882 when it was first mentioned in Sunday Morning Herald.

Based on bartender William F. Mulhall, the original recipe was invented by a man named Black from a bar on Houston Street.

Ingredients

The cocktails may have similarities because they are both whiskey drinks; however, Old Fashioned usually uses bourbon or rye whiskey, while Manhattan uses rye whiskey.

A classic Old Fashioned uses bourbon whiskey, sugar cube, water, angostura bitters, and orange peel for garnish.

On the other hand, Manhattan uses rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, angostura bitters, and brandied cherry for garnish.

How It’s Made

old fashioned cocktail making

In the Manhattan vs Old Fashioned procedure, both cocktails are straightforward to make. However, Old Fashioned is slightly laborious because you must muddle the sugar in the mixing glass before combining other Old Fashioned ingredients.

On the contrary, the classic version of Manhattan is easy to make because you only need a mixing glass to stir all the Manhattan ingredients.

How It’s Served

Another big difference between Manhattan vs Old Fashioned is how the cocktails are served. Old Fashioned is typically served in an Old Fashioned glass, while Manhattan is served using a stemmed cocktail glass or martini glass.

In addition, Old Fashioned is served with an ice cube and cocktail cherry, while Martini is usually served straight up or without an ice cube.

Alcohol Content

Both whiskeys are spirit-forward, but Old Fashioned contains higher alcohol content than Manhattan. We used the estimated alcohol content formula for mixed drinks (Alcohol Content*Liquor Volume/ Total Volume) x 100 [1].

Based on the formula, Old Fashioned contains roughly 36% ABV per rocks glass, while a coupe glass of Manhattan contains 27% ABV.

Glass Used In Serving It

Cocktail Glasses

Old Fashioned is served in an Old Fashioned glass with one large ice cube and an orange peel. On the other hand, Manhattan cocktails are served in a martini-style glass with a maraschino cherry on top.

Flavors

Old Fashioned is one cocktail you can never go wrong with because it is easy to make and has a classic taste. The famous drink contains muddled sugar, which makes the classic cocktail sweeter.

Also, the angostura bitters or orange bitters in Old Fashioned variations (Old Fashioned riffs) enhance the taste of the whiskey.

On the other hand, Manhattan has a subtle sweetness and depth of flavor from the sweet vermouth.

There are notes of herbs and dark red fruit from the infused botanicals that enhance the taste of the cocktail. Also, you can give your perfect Manhattan a little twist by creating Manhattan riffs.

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Their Similarities 

cocktail recipe

Alcohol Used

Manhattan and Old Fashioned use whiskey as the base liquor of the cocktail. The two cocktails usually use bourbon or rye whiskey as the cocktail base, which gives the cocktail kick.

The whiskey can hold up to the flavors of bitters, sweet vermouth, and sweetness of sugar or simple syrup. But is rye or bourbon better for Old-Fashioned cocktails?

Requires Bitters

Both drinks must use bitters because it helps bind the flavor.

Based on BBC, Angostura bitters have been produced since the 19th century, and it is important to bartenders as salt is to the cook [2]. There will be no Manhattan or Old Fashioned without dashes of bitters.

Sweet Element

As we tried both cocktails, we noticed the sweet element of each drink. Old Fashioned uses a sugar cube drenched in bitters with a splash of club soda or soda water in some recipes.

On the other hand, Manhattan uses sweet vermouth for the sweet element of the cocktail. Sweet vermouth or dry vermouth with maraschino juice gives the drink sweetness and complexity to the cocktail.

Stirred

Both cocktail recipes are stirred until all the ingredients are incorporated. It can be different from other cocktails that need to be shaken for the ingredients to be fully combined. With this, it would be easier for everyone to prepare the cocktail.

Garnish

The garnish of the two drinks is versatile because they can use either orange peel or cherries to finish the cocktail.

While Old Fashioned is known to use an orange peel, you are free to replace it with cherries. It works similarly to Manhattan.

Classic Manhattan Cocktail Recipe 

Prep Time: 5 mins

Total Time: 5 mins

Ingredients:

2.5 oz whiskey (rye)

2 dashes of Angostura bitters

0.75 oz sweet vermouth

brandied cherry

Instructions

Add whiskey, bitters, and sweet vermouth in a mixing glass with a big ice cube, then stir well. Strain into the glass and top it off with a cherry.

Serving: 1

Classic Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe 

Prep Time: 8 mins

Total Time: 8 mins

Ingredients

2 oz whiskey (bourbon or rye)

2 dashes of bitters

1 sugar cube

orange peel (garnish)

Instructions:

Muddle the sugar cube with bitters in a glass, then add the ice and whiskey. Stir it well, then garnish with orange peel, then serve.

Serving: 1

FAQs

Which is sweeter, Old Fashioned or Manhattan?

Old Fashioned is sweeter than Manhattan. The cocktail uses a sugar cube as a sweetener, enhancing the base liquor taste.

Is Manhattan easier to mix than Old Fashioned?

Yes, Manhattan is easier to mix than Old Fashioned. Unlike the traditional Old Fashioned, you don’t need to muddle sugar; all you have to do is mix all the ingredients then it’s ready to enjoy.

In Conclusion

In reality, Old Fashioned and Manhattan confuse many because they share most ingredients, alcohol, and how it is made. However, with our head-to-head battle, it would be much easier to identify which is which.

Old Fashioned is sweeter, and they don’t have similar tastes. Moreso, they are served differently and contain different alcohol content.

References:

  1. https://www.thespruceeats.com/determining-cocktail-alcohol-proof-760307
  2. https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20210512-the-secret-history-of-angostura-bitters

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