Manhattan Vs Old Fashioned: What Sets These Drinks Apart?

Manhattan with a cherry garnish
Manhattan with a cherry garnish - 5PH/Shutterstock

When it comes to cocktails, two truly embody the spirit of whiskey tradition: The Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. It may be a tough call between these delicious drinks, but there are a few differences that may help you reach a decision. Although both feature a type of whiskey along with balancing bitters and a sweetener of sorts, there are a few main distinctions.

Chief among those distinguishing factors is the sweet element in the drink. In the standard old fashioned cocktail recipe, it shows up as actual sugar -- either as a simple syrup or a sugar cube soaked with aromatic bitters and muddled. The classic rye Manhattan cocktail recipe, on the other hand, introduces sweet vermouth.

Additional differences have to do with the type of whiskey (usually it's bourbon in your Old Fashioned and rye in your Manhattan), as well as how these drinks are served. An Old Fashioned is true to the original blueprint for a cocktail, meaning water is an integral element, too. In this case that water takes the form of ice (usually served over a single cube). A Manhattan, on the other hand, is classically served straight up (without ice) although both drinks are stirred. The garnishes and glassware are distinctive, too, with an Old Fashioned arriving in a short rocks glass, and a Manhattan in a coupe or similar stemware. On the garnish front, the former boasts a twist of orange, and the latter a cocktail cherry.

Read more: 26 Popular Vodka Brands, Ranked By Their Versatility

How Do These Differences Impact The Drink?

Old fashioned cocktail with orange
Old fashioned cocktail with orange - Serhei Nesterenko/Getty Images

In an Old Fashioned, the sugar isn't bringing much to the table beyond sweetness, which softens the alcoholic blow and makes it more palatable than straight whiskey. The water also contributes to this end; as the ice melts, the drink is slightly diluted, which helps the whiskey "open," while also taking the alcohol's edge off. The twist of orange expressed over the glass adds citrus oils and aromas that complement both bitters and bourbon -- a spirit more inherently sweet than the rye utilized in a Manhattan.

By contrast, sweet vermouth brings layers of flavor beyond sweetness in a Manhattan. While this ingredient's characteristics will vary, some of the most classic examples are described as having dark fruit and vanilla notes, and without ice, there's no chance of diluting the drink or muting those nuances. A brandied cherry may not contribute aromatics like a citrus peel, but when enjoyed in the context of the cocktail it's another burst of sweetness -- and a welcome contrast, as the customary rye whiskey is more dry and has a more pronounced spice character than bourbon.

In an Old Fashioned the whiskey doesn't have to compete with the complexities of vermouth, so it's a great way to highlight a particular spirit, while the Manhattan is an ideal stage for trying complementary fortified wines. But both are fun formulas with which to experiment.

Existing Variations And Inspiration

Bartender straining whiskey cocktail
Bartender straining whiskey cocktail - siamionau pavel/Shutterstock

These drinks, like so many classic cocktails, are ideal starting points for delicious riffs. A bartender can get creative within this simple framework, and over the years, many have. One of the most iconic series of cocktail variations are the spins on the Manhattan named for different areas of New York; the Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, and Bensonhurst all reflect neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The Old Fashioned, on the other hand, has been called upon as a showcase for alternate spirits like mezcal and tequila, rum, and even gin.

At home, create your own signature drink by swapping elements. In an Old Fashioned, change the sweetener to maple syrup, honey, agave, or an infused syrup. Try sweet vermouth from different producers in your Manhattan. Changing up the base spirit -- using rye in an Old Fashioned, or bourbon in a Manhattan will yield different ends, while going a step further by introducing a peated Scotch whisky instead will also change the flavor.

A guide to bitters and how to use them, according to a bartender can provide inspiration too, as exchanging classic aromatic bitters -- the single shared ingredient between the two drinks -- will also make for a subtle twist. Try orange, chocolate, cranberry, or even celery bitters to give your cocktail a bold new personality. No matter how to you mix them up, these two traditional whiskey cocktails are sure to satisfy a brown spirit enthusiast.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.