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Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: Which Reigns in 2024

By: Aman Babal
Updated On: June 3, 2024

Choosing the perfect cocktail can be a delightful yet challenging task, especially when two timeless classics like the Manhattan drink and the Old Fashioned are vying for your attention. Both of these iconic beverages have graced the menus of upscale bars and cozy lounges for decades, each bringing its distinct charm and rich history to the table. 

The Manhattan drink, with its smooth blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, offers a sophisticated flavor profile that has won the hearts of many. On the other hand, the Old Fashioned, often hailed as the grandfather of cocktails, combines whiskey or bourbon with a hint of sugar, a splash of water, and a few dashes of bitters, delivering a robust and straightforward sipping experience. 

In the eternal debate of “Manhattan drink vs. Old Fashioned,” it becomes essential to dive deeper into what makes each cocktail unique. From their ingredients and preparation methods to their flavor profiles and cultural significance, I’ll take you on a journey through the nuances of these two beloved drinks. Let’s explore their histories, discover their perfect settings, and perhaps, by the end of this exploration, help you decide which of these storied cocktails resonates more with your palate and style.

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned

Manhattan Drink vs. Old Fashioned: What Sets Them Apart?

When it comes to iconic cocktails, the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned each hold a special place in the world of spirits. To truly appreciate what sets these two drinks apart, it’s essential to explore their origins, ingredients, and unique preparation methods.

The Origins and History

Both cocktails boast rich histories that date back to the 19th century:

  • Manhattan: The Manhattan drink is said to have originated in New York City during the 1870s. Legend has it that the cocktail was created at the Manhattan Club, thereby giving the drink its name. With its elegant mix of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, the Manhattan quickly became synonymous with sophistication and urban charm.
  • Old Fashioned: The Old Fashioned dates back even further, often cited as one of the earliest known cocktails. Its origins can be traced to the early 1800s. The Old Fashioned epitomizes simplicity and tradition, typically consisting of whiskey (or bourbon), a sugar cube, bitters, and a splash of water.

Ingredients and Preparation

Here’s a detailed look at what goes into each of these classic cocktails:

Manhattan Ingredients:

  • Whiskey (usually Rye)
  • Sweet Vermouth
  • Bitters

Also Read: Easy and Delicious Manhattan Cocktail Recipe to Try at Home

  1. Combine 2 oz of whiskey, 1 oz sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes of bitters into a mixing glass filled with ice.
  2. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  3. Garnish with a cherry.

Old Fashioned Ingredients:

  • Whiskey or Bourbon
  • Sugar Cube
  • Bitters
  • Water

Also Read: Classic Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

  1. Place a sugar cube in a glass and saturate it with 2-3 dashes of bitters.
  2. Add a dash of water and muddle until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Fill the glass with ice cubes and add 2 oz of whiskey or bourbon.
  4. Stir and garnish with an orange twist or cherry.

Flavor Profiles

Both cocktails offer unique tasting experiences due to their distinct ingredients and preparation methods:

  • Manhattan: The Manhattan’s use of sweet vermouth gives it a complex and slightly sweet flavor profile, balanced by the bitterness of the bitters and the robustness of the rye whiskey. It’s smooth, with a velvety finish that lingers on the palate.
  • Old Fashioned: The Old Fashioned is a more straightforward cocktail that highlights the base spirit—whiskey or bourbon. The sugar and bitters add a subtle sweetness and complexity, while the dash of water opens up the flavors, providing a robust and full-bodied experience.

Garnishes and Presentation

A key aspect that differentiates the two is the garnishes and presentation:

  • Manhattan: Typically garnished with a brandied cherry, the Manhattan is often served in a chilled martini or coupe glass, enhancing its sophisticated appeal.
  • Old Fashioned: Garnishes can include an orange twist or a cherry, adding a touch of color and freshness. It is usually served in a short, sturdy glass, known as an Old Fashioned glass, that suits its simple and sturdy character.

Summary Table of Differences

AspectManhattanOld Fashioned
Origin1870s, New York CityEarly 1800s
Base SpiritRye WhiskeyWhiskey or Bourbon
MixersSweet Vermouth, BittersSugar Cube, Bitters, Water
GarnishCherryOrange Twist or Cherry
GlasswareMartini/Coupe GlassOld Fashioned Glass
Flavor ProfileSmooth, Slightly SweetRobust, Full-Bodied

Understanding these distinctions can guide you in choosing the right cocktail for the right occasion. Whether you prefer the sophisticated charm of a Manhattan or the robust simplicity of an Old Fashioned, both drinks offer a timeless appeal that’s hard to resist.

Best Occasions to Enjoy Each Cocktail

When it comes to savoring the Manhattan drink and the Old Fashioned, the choice of occasion can enhance the experience even further. Each cocktail exudes a unique charm that’s well-suited to different settings and moods.


For me, the Manhattan is the sophisticated choice for more formal gatherings. Think black-tie events, elegant dinner parties, or a swanky night at a jazz club. The complex flavors and elegant appearance of a Manhattan drink make it a perfect match for occasions where you want to impress and indulge.

Old Fashioned

On the flip side, the Old Fashioned feels like home—literally and figuratively. It’s ideal for cozy nights in, casual get-togethers, or outdoor barbecues. The robust and straightforward nature of this drink often evokes a sense of nostalgia and comfort, which fits perfectly with more laid-back settings.

Garnishes and Presentation: Making Your Drink Look Perfect

The right garnish can elevate your cocktail, adding a visual flair and enhancing the overall drinking experience. Let’s get into how to make each drink look as good as it tastes.


For a classic Manhattan, a maraschino cherry is the go-to garnish. You can drop it right into the glass or secure it on a fancy cocktail pick. Another option is a lemon twist, which not only adds a burst of zesty aroma but also brightens up the drink visually.

Old Fashioned

When it comes to the Old Fashioned, an orange slice or a twist of orange peel is essential. Not only does it add a splash of color, but as you express the oils from the peel over the drink, it imparts a delightful aroma that complements the whiskey. A maraschino cherry is also a delightful addition, often found resting at the bottom of the glass.

Pro Tips for Presentation

  1. Glassware Matters: Use a martini glass for Manhattans and a lowball or rocks glass for Old Fashioneds.
  2. Ice: Large ice cubes or spheres are ideal for Old Fashioneds to slow the dilution. Manhattans, typically served up, should be well-chilled using a cocktail shaker.
  3. Finishing Touch: Always give your garnishes a gentle press or twist to release essential oils and flavors.

Variations and Modern Twists

Both the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned have stood the test of time, but that hasn’t stopped mixologists from adding their creative spins. Here’s how these classics are being reinvented today.

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned


  • Perfect Manhattan: A slight modification of the classic recipe, using equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth. The result is a balanced, less sweet cocktail.
  • Black Manhattan: Substitute Amaro for vermouth. It’s richer, with a hint of bitterness that adds complexity.
  • Manhattan Eastside: Add a splash of ginger liqueur for a spicy kick.

Old Fashioned

  • Rum Old Fashioned: Swap out the whiskey for aged rum. The result is a smoother, slightly sweeter drink that retains its classic appeal.
  • Maple Old Fashioned: Replace the sugar cube with maple syrup. It’s a delightful twist, especially suitable for fall evenings.
  • Tequila Old Fashioned: Use reposado tequila instead of whiskey. This version is lighter and has a zesty, vibrant character that’s perfect for summer.

Experiment and Enjoy

The fantastic thing about these cocktails is their flexibility. With a few tweaks and substitutions, you can create a new favorite that’s uniquely yours. So go ahead, experiment with these variations, and enjoy these timeless classics in both their traditional and modern forms.

By exploring and appreciating the nuances of the Manhattan and Old Fashioned, you’re not just enjoying a drink but partaking in cocktail history. Whether you prefer the refined elegance of a Manhattan or the comforting familiarity of an Old Fashioned, both offer unparalleled experiences that can suit any occasion and mood.

Also Read: Perfect Greyhound Cocktail Recipe

Pairing Manhattans and Old Fashioneds with Food

When it comes to pairing cocktails with food, both the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned have their own set of ideal matches that can elevate your dining experience. A well-paired cocktail can enhance the flavors of your meal, turning a simple dinner into a memorable event.

Food Pairings for the Manhattan

The Manhattan is known for its rich and slightly sweet profile, thanks to the sweet vermouth. This makes it an excellent companion for savory and robust dishes. Here are some of my favorite pairings:

  • Steak and Red Meat: The smoky and slightly sweet notes of a Manhattan complement the deep flavors of a well-cooked steak or roast beef.
  • Cheese Platters: Aged cheeses like Gouda or Blue Cheese pair wonderfully with a Manhattan, creating a perfect balance of flavors.
  • Charcuterie: The combination of cured meats and a Manhattan is a match made in heaven, offering a harmonious mix of smoky, salty, and sweet tastes.

Food Pairings for the Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is a bit more versatile due to its bold, yet straightforward flavor profile. It pairs well with a variety of foods, from comfort classics to sophisticated dishes.

  • Barbecue: The sweetness of the sugar and the kick from the bitters in an Old Fashioned make it an excellent companion for smoky BBQ ribs or pulled pork.
  • Spicy Foods: The robust nature of an Old Fashioned can stand up to the heat in spicy dishes, like Buffalo wings or spicy tacos.
  • Desserts: Believe it or not, an Old Fashioned can pair beautifully with desserts like chocolate cake or pecan pie, where the cocktail’s bitters balance out the dessert’s sweetness.

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: My Personal Preference

Now that we’ve delved into the depths of these two classic cocktails, you might be wondering which one I lean toward more often. Honestly, this isn’t an easy decision, as both have their moments and merits.

Why I Love the Manhattan

The Manhattan has always felt like a drink for special occasions. Its sophisticated blend of whiskey and sweet vermouth, topped off with a cherry, makes it feel like you’re celebrating something, even if it’s just the end of a long week. I love drinking a Manhattan when I’m out with friends at a classy bar or hosting a dinner party. It’s a conversation starter and always makes me feel a bit more refined.

Why I Can’t Resist the Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned, on the other hand, is my go-to for its simplicity and reliability. There’s something incredibly satisfying about the straightforward mix of whiskey, bitters, and a touch of sugar. It’s the kind of drink I can enjoy whether I’m at a bustling bar or merely relaxing at home. The Old Fashioned is versatile and timeless, making it hard to resist whenever I’m in the mood for a good, solid cocktail.

The Verdict

If I had to choose one over the other, my preference would slightly tilt towards the Old Fashioned. Its simplicity and robust flavor make it a drink that’s perfect for many occasions. That said, the Manhattan holds a special place in my heart for those moments when I want to feel a touch of elegance.

In the end, whether you’re more captivated by the elegance of a Manhattan or the timeless nature of an Old Fashioned, both cocktails have their unique place in the world of mixology. Your choice might come down to the setting, your mood, or even the food you’re enjoying. And that’s the beauty of it – you really can’t go wrong with either.

Beverage Explorer and Tastemaker ???????????? Aman's quest for liquid delights knows no limits. From hoppy brews to aged spirits, he uncovers the tales behind each sip. His eloquent descriptions and accessible insights make every drink an adventure worth raising a glass to.
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