Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned

Some whiskey is perfect for drinking neat or on the rocks. But sometimes it’s fun to bartend for yourself and make a good classic cocktail. Two of the most popular whiskey cocktails are Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. What’s the difference between the two, and what type of whiskey is best for each? Let’s take a look at both and get to the bottom of the Manhattan vs Old Fashioned debate.

Manhattan Cocktail

The Manhattan is one of the most classic of boozy cocktails. The general belief is that it was made popular in the Manhattan Club in the 1870s by bartender Dr. Iain Marshall. The history around this is fuzzy, but it wouldn’t be the only time a cocktail was named after a popular club.

Manhattans are made with two parts bourbon or rye whiskey and sweetened with one part sweet vermouth. Add in a few dashes of bitters and (if you’re feeling fancy) a cherry garnish. The International Bartender’s Association (IBA) insists on the use of rye whiskey in their bartender competitions. The IBA also recommends specific ratios of whiskey to vermouth, but I believe these ratios should be experimented by the bartender to best meet their palate. The exact ratios would surely vary depending on the type, brand, and proof of the whiskey you’re using.

A final distinction that sets the Manhattan apart from the Old Fashioned is the glass in which it is served. Traditionally, Manhattans are served in Coupe Glasses.

Old Fashioned Cocktail

Old Fashioned cocktails are actually very similar to Manhattans. The only major difference in the two is the sweetening agent. Instead of vermouth, an Old Fashioned is sweetened with sugar. Typically Old Fashioned recipes will call for simple syrup or muddled sugar in the bottom of the glass. Otherwise, the same bourbon/rye debates swell. The ratios are generally the same.

Unlike the coupe glass that the Manhattan is served in, serve an Old Fashioned in a rocks or old fashioned glass.

Old Fashioned vs Manhattan

Ultimately, the single ingredient swap between a Manhattan vs Old Fashioned makes a world of difference. The vermouth makes the Manhattan a much more “boozy” cocktail. Old Fashioneds get watered down a bit and can be easier to swallow. You can also add orange bitters for some extra complexity.

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned Recipe

Recipe by ncwhiskey

For the head-to-head, we’ll use the same common ratios of ingredients, and make both cocktails with the same delicious and affordable rye whiskey.


  • Manhattan
  • 2oz Sazerac 6Y Rye Whiskey

  • 1oz Sweet Vermouth

  • 3 dashes Angosutra Bitters

  • Old Fashioned
  • 2oz Sazerac 6Y Rye Whiskey

  • 1oz Simple Syrup

  • 3 dashes Angosutra Bitters


  • Combine ingredients into stirring glass
  • Stir for 10-15 seconds
  • Strain into chilled cocktail glass
  • Garnish with maraschino cherry

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