10 Best Rye Whiskeys
for a manhattan

With the Manhattan being around since the 1800s, and considering the recipe persists to follow its original ingredient list including rye whiskey itself, you’d think identifying the right rye to use would be easy. To the contrary!

While leisurely consumers may not be able to distinguish the difference between a high-quality Manhattan and a generic Manhattan, I for one can! In any case, even if you do happen to be a leisurely consumer, id like to think you’d prefer the former over the latter, even if you wouldn’t necessarily know the difference…

Bottom line, the importance of choosing the best Rye whiskey for a Manhattan is undeniable. 

Related: Guide to Rye Whiskey

So, what makes a Rye whiskey a “good” Rye whiskey for a Manhattan? While experts would suggest tasting notes, aromas, suitability and the relationship between ingredients, regular consumers would presume price and personal preference; all would be correct.

With all of that being said, you’re probably eager to learn about the best Rye Whiskeys to use when concocting a Manhattan cocktail, however, before we do, it’s important to learn how to make it. 

How to Make a Manhattan Cocktail

A Manhattan is a very popular cocktail and has been sporadically popular since the 1800s at its introduction. Its original recipe called for a straight rye whiskey and today’s recipe remains much the same.

With that said, there’s certainly some more flexibility in today’s modern and creative bartending industry with some connoisseurs opting for bourbon, brandy, scotch, or even cognac as the primary alcoholic base. 

Related: Best Whiskey Cocktails

The following is the standard Manhattan recipe that I use. While it may be simple, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t pack a punch! It’s important to note that starting with a standardized recipe will not only help you determine whether or not you enjoy the cocktail but it will also help identify variables you’d like to preferentially change.

The Standard Manhattan Recipe 

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces of rye whiskey 
  • 1 ounce of sweet vermouth 
  • 2 dashes of angostura bitters
  • 1 dash of orange bitters
  • 1 cherry topping 

Directions

Combine the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters to a mixing glass with ice and stir vigorously. Strain and pour into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a cherry top. Sip and enjoy. 

Related: 5 Spins on the Classic Manhattan Recipe

Best Rye Whiskeys for a Manhattan

Because a Manhattan cocktail is heavily reliant on the 2 parts rye whiskey, it’s imperative that you invest in quality rye for obvious reasons. Luckily, there are several top-notch rye whiskeys available for you to choose from. 

To help you narrow down your options, I’ve curated a list of some of the best (in my opinion) rye whiskeys for your next Manhattan concoction. So, if you’re ready to take your classic Manhattan to new heights, or even if you plan on putting a spin on the original recipe, you’ve come to the right place! 

Bulleit Rye

If you know anything about whiskey, you know that Bulleit Rye is a popular choice, often referred to as a “cult-whiskey”. While this tends to deter people from choosing it, I’ve never understood why; after all, it’s popular for a reason, right?!

Providing you with notes of fruit and cinnamon, aromas of sweet, spice, and everything nice, and a smokey finish smooth enough to enjoy yet stiff enough to be the perfect addition to a Manhattan, Bulleit Rye is a premium choice.

Withstanding its incredible characteristics, it’s particularly suitable for a Manhattan because of its fruity notes, likely to pair well with the necessary cherry garnish or lemon twist. 

Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bond

While some prefer a “straight to the point” Manhattan (my own words, don’t quote me on that please…), others prefer a complex, multidimensional Manhattan. If you’re the latter, the Rittenhouse 100 Proof is the choice for you. 

With chocolate and citrus notes in conjunction with unusual hints of oak, earth,  spice, and sugar, this complex Rye makes for a perfectly balanced Manhattan. Because of its citrus notes, Rittenhouse 100 Proof will also pair well if you opt for a lemon twist garnish. 

Old Forester Rye

At a highly affordable price, Old Forester Rye makes for a great addition to a cocktail, Manhattan’s included (if you know me well, you know that I don’t like to waste an expensive spirit on a cocktail). Not to mention, it’s an award-winning Rye and for good reason. 

With that said, Old Forester Rye is admittedly an unusual addition to the list. Why? With its high percentage of malted barley creating a baked bread flavour, it’s likely not to attract many first options. Nevertheless, contrary to its price point and my contradictory review, Old Forester Rye makes for a reasonable addition to any mixed cocktail, Manhattan’s included. 

Coming in at $25 a bottle, you won’t regret trying it…

George Dickel Rye

Another cost-efficient option is George Dickel Rye, coming in too at about $25 per bottle. Again, don’t let the price deter you! If you can take anything away from this article and my whiskey articles in general for that matter, it’s that price doesn’t always dictate quality.

Offering a familiar taste of vanilla, maple, and marshmallow, the sweet tooth of the group will enjoy its addition thoroughly. As for those who await the kick of spice and the stiffness often customary in a traditional Manhattan, It too offers that. 

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Rye 

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing rye whiskey, Woodford Reserve is it. Delivering complexity in its flavors yet familiarity in its aromas, the pairing is perfect for a standard Manhattan.

Expect blended notes of tobacco, spice, fruit, and floral, finishing as a complete and balanced Rye for any desire; whether neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail of choice. 

Knob Creek Straight Rye

Knob Creek is one of my personal favorite Ryes, not only in general but for the use of it in Manhattan’s. Why? Because it’s flavorful, full-body gives the cocktail a smooth burn; a characteristic you hope for when sipping a Manhattan.

While it may be 100 proof, don’t let that fool you as it exudes a delicious caramel-like flavour profile. In addition, it’s also much smoother than you’d expect for a straight 100 proof Rye.

The perfect mix for a Manhattan but you’ll have to try it for yourself to believe me.

Whistlepig Straight Rye

For those familiar with the Rye whiskey industry, you know that Whistlepig is a premium choice, leading the category for several reasons, smooth and savory notes being one of them. 

While I’d typically recommend Whistlepig for those searching for rye to drink straight, neat, and/or on the rocks, there’s no denying its suitability for a Manhattan or any other cocktail for that matter. 

It is important to note, however, that it is on the higher end of the price range for what id typically opt for in a cocktail, coming in at $80-100 USD. In any case, if you’re one for a premium cocktail, willing to spend top dollar for a savory sip, Whistlepig is a fantastic option.

Angel’s Envy Finished Rye

The result of Angel’s Envy is something otherworldly; a taste and aroma you may not expect from a Rye whiskey. Why? Largely because of its barreling process. In a typical straight whiskey, the rye will rest in a 100% rye barrel. For a finished Rye, however, a product may be aged in a whole host of unique barrels, from cognac and rum to scotch, bourbon, and wine. 

In the case of Angel’s Envy, its barrelled in both rum and cognac barrels. As you can imagine, its origin of taste is quite unique because of this.

Offering a welcoming kick of caramel, sugar, and tropical fruits paired with the oh-so-familiar spice of a typical straight Rye, Angel’s Envy is an unusual yet appropriate addition to any Manhattan variation.

Elijah Craig Straight Rye

While the brand is largely known for its renowned bourbon, it has since released a high-quality rye whiskey to boot. Thanks to its distillation and bottling process, Elijah Craig’s rye whiskey also makes for an incredible addition to cocktails, Manhattan’s included. 

Having made its reputation for being a perfectly balanced and blended whiskey, both in taste and price, Elijah Craig is a popular choice for many and it might just turn into the popular choice for you. If you’re looking for a safe rye whiskey that isn’t too stiff nor too sweet, and one that won’t break the bank more e

Old Overholt Straight Rye

For true Rye connoisseurs, Old Overholt is likely to be your whiskey of choice when it comes to making a Manhattan. This is largely due to the fact that it happens to be the only Rye still available that was also available prior to prohibition…Fun fact, huh?! 

In addition, its price comes in at a more than affordable number, taking away any guilt you might have when purchasing a quality whiskey. Delivering perfectly balanced rye, giving both a sweet and spicy compliment to your Manhattan, Old Overholt Straight is a great option, both for its taste and affordability. 

Choosing the Best Rye for Your Manhattan

While the options are abundant when it comes to choosing the right Rye whiskey for your Manhattan, it still remains true that it’s important to make the right choice as it can make or break the quality of the cocktail.

Sure, the options available can be looked at as overwhelming but it can also be looked at as an opportunity to explore new flavors and learn what works! 

Related: Best Rye Whiskey Under $50

Lucky for you, however, I’ve done the homework for you, tasting each one both on their own and in the cocktail itself. If you’re curious as to which one is my personal favorite, id have to go with the Knob Creek (if you know me well, you know I’m a fan of Knob Creek’s Bourbon too).

Stay Gold. Cheers!

About Todd Smidt

Todd is a man of simple tastes: traveling, words, whiskey, & dad jokes. He enjoys first-rate banter, long walks along the coast, High West, and Vonnegut. He spends his free time traveling the world, drinking whiskey, and writing about it.

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