Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: What's the Difference?

Posted by Helena Hambrecht on

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: the battle of mixed drink titans. Both are considered classic, top-of-the-line drinks to order.


But which one is better? 


The Manhattan’s History

The Manhattan got its name because it was (supposedly) made in New York City’s Manhattan Club in the 19th century. The date of its creation is unknown, though it’s thought to have happened anywhere between 1870 to 1890. 


Different records of the recipe appear at different times. Two particularly well-known options appeared in O.H. Byron’s The Modern Bartenders’ Guide in 1884. It had two different versions of the Manhattan drink. 


Another written record of the Manhattan cocktail recipe was published in 1891 by William Schmidts.


How To Make a Modern Manhattan

Ingredients: 


  • Two ounces bourbon or rye whiskey 
  • One ounce of sweet vermouth
  • Two dashes of Angostura bitters
  • One dash of orange bitters
  • Brandied cherry, orange peel, or regular cherry as a garnish 
  • Ice (optional)

Some people may alter the recipe and do things differently, but this is the general guideline.  


Step One

Decide whether or not you want to mix the liquid in ice. If you choose to do the ice route, you will have to strain it after mixing all the liquid. 


If you go without ice, ignore that step. 


Step Two

Add your whiskey to your glass, whether you choose bourbon or rye.


Step Three

Add your sweet vermouth.


Step Four

Add your Angostura bitters.


Step Five

Add the orange bitters.


Step Six

Stir gently for thirty seconds. Strain out any ice you may have added and pour the mixture into your serving glass.


Step Seven

Add your garnish.


Step Eight

Drink!


The Old Fashioned’s History

The Old Fashioned is actually older than the Manhattan. The first written reference of the drink was in 1806 in a newspaper called the Balance and Columbian Repository


The newspaper talked about a cocktail (which was also the first published use of the word) made of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar. Back then, it was just called a Whiskey Cocktail.


Funnily enough, at the time, it was considered a morning cocktail, kind of like a mimosa is now. This whiskey cocktail’s popularity rose during the 1940s. 


The current name, Old Fashioned, came to be in the 1880s when bartenders started playing with the original recipe, adding fruit, different types of alcohol, and other ingredients. 


This made the people who liked the original version a bit upset, so they started ordering “Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktails.” Thus the name was born and later shortened to Old Fashioned


Many people prefer the story that in 1880, the name came to be because of a bartender at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. He supposedly made the drink to honor Colonel James E. Pepper and called it the Old Fashioned.


Pepper was a famous bourbon distiller and would eventually own the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City. Sadly, this story has been debunked, but the myth lives on. 


The Evolution of the Old Fashioned

So what exactly were those bartenders doing in the 1880s that changed this drink so much?


Well, they introduced muddling to the cocktail world.


Muddling is when you gently mash up herbs or fruit to release their juices. It’s used in cocktails because it unleashes a whole other level of flavor.


Bartenders sometimes muddled lumps of sugar with a little water instead of the typical gum syrup. They would muddle sugar, fruit, and bitters and then add whiskey and ice. 


How To Make an Old Fashioned

As of today, the Old Fashioned recipe has only changed slightly. Now, there is no water added to the mix, and it’s considered taboo to do so.


The ingredients are


  • One large ice cube
  • Two ounces of whiskey (rye or bourbon)
  • Half an ounce of simple syrup or a teaspoon of sugar
  • Two dashes of Angostura bitters
  • One orange twist or one maraschino brandied cherry 

It’s not an Old Fashioned without ice. A big ice cube is preferred because it takes longer to melt and won’t dilute the drink. 


Like the Manhattan, an Old Fashioned is relatively easy to make. The trick is to make sure you have the right measurements for each ingredient. 


Step One

Gather your ingredients.


Step Two

Add simple syrup or sugar to a glass.


Step Three

Add your bitters to the glass.


Step Four

Stir gently until everything is mixed together.


Step Five

Put the ice cube into the mixture.


Step Six

Add whiskey.


Step Seven

Top it off with the garnish.


Step Eight

Enjoy!


The Differences Between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned 

The Manhattan and the Old Fashioned are very similar, but there are some differences. 

First of all, the ingredients are slightly different, which leads to a fairly distinct flavor profile. 


They are also served differently. A Manhattan is served in a cocktail glass or a martini glass. An Old Fashioned is served in a low tumbler, often known as an Old Fashioned glass. Of course, if you’re at home and don’t have those glasses, it’s not a big deal — you can enjoy these drinks either way.  


Another distinction in serving is that a Manhattan is served neat, with just the liquid and no ice. An Old Fashioned recipe always includes the ice.


They also have distinct tastes. A Manhattan tastes slightly of wine, thanks to the presence of the vermouth, and it’s relatively bitter. On the other hand, an Old Fashioned is slightly sweeter, although bitterness still plays a major role. 


Apéritifs Are Changing the Game

What is an apéritif? It’s a style of alcohol that originates from Europe and is especially popular in places like Italy. It’s designed to be drunk before a meal to make it taste that much more delicious.


How does an apéritif do that?


They include a combination of herbs and spices that open and expand your taste buds, making food seem even tastier than usual. 


Apéritifs have a smooth, slightly bitter taste. They are also nearly always a bit lighter on the alcohol than spirits generally are. While many people sip on apéritifs alone, they also work well as ingredients in mixed drinks!


New Fashioned

If you want to skip mixing up an Old Fashioned, you should check out this apéritif. It tastes surprisingly similar to the classic cocktail without the effort of putting one together.


New Fashioned is filled with warm spices and feels smooth to drink. It has flavors like ginger, cinnamon, a bit of citrus, and clove.


You can also make cocktails with New Fashioned!


New Fashioned Cocktail

This drink is two parts New Fashioned and one part of tonic or soda water. You should serve this delicious mix on the rocks.


Haus Spritz

This cocktail is made of three ounces of New Fashioned, two ounces of Prosecco, a splash of sparkling water, and a lemon. You should serve it on the rocks in a wine glass. 


Midnight Special

The Midnight Special is made of three ounces of New Fashioned, two ounces of sparkling wine, and one ounce of ginger beer or tonic. You should serve it on the rocks in a wine glass.


Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned

So which cocktail is better? Honestly, we can’t say. It’s up to your personal preference. Some people like the taste of a Manhattan; some people like the simple flavors of an Old Fashioned. 


As long as you enjoy drinking it, either is great. 


Of course, we’re biased towards cocktails using our New Fashioned, but we still won’t say they’re the best — at least out loud. 


If reading about all these drinks has you interested in mixing your own drinks, our cocktail kit is for you! You can try a few different flavors: Citrus Flower, New Fashioned, Grapefruit Jalapeño, and Lemon Lavender. 


It also comes with a book with more than 20 different cocktail recipes. You can use it to show off your bartending skills to all your friends. 


Sources:


How to Muddle Cocktails & Select a Muddler | The Spruce 


Why the Old Fashioned Is Such an Enduring Classic | Eater 


Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: A Breakdown! | A Couple Cooks