11 Best Bourbon Whiskeys
for a manhattan

Said to have been created in 1880 in New York City (hence its name), the Manhattan was traditionally crafted with Rye whiskey. Over the years, however, variables have been played with and new variations of the classic have been developed. One variation that has stuck around is the Bourbon Manhattan.

Eager to learn about the best bourbons to use when crafting your own spin on a Manhattan? Then you’ve come to the right place! Upon trying on several bourbons for size, below is my very own list of the best bourbons for a Manhattan.

Whether based on price, quality, taste, compatibility, or all of the above, you can rest assured that choosing any of the following will result in a fantastically crafted bourbon Manhattan. 

Related: Best Bourbons under $100

First, however, how DO you make a Manhattan? While there are several ways and creative spins that you can put on this infamous cocktail, it’s important to start with the basics. 

How to Make a Manhattan Cocktail

Going in and out of popularity over the years, the original recipe for a Manhattan has persisted to be following strictly; unusual but a testament to its quality of creation.

Traditionally calling for two parts rye whiskey, 1 part sweet vermouth, and a combination of bitters, a standard Manhattan is an easy but sophisticated cocktail. For those of a more willful and adventurous heart, there are several variations to the classic Manhattan that you may want to try.

As you’ll learn, even by changing one variable, drastic differences can occur, often for the better.

The following are the standard Manhattan and Bourbon Manhattan recipes that I follow; nothing crazy, everything tasty!

With that said, don’t be afraid to get creative.

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: Best Whiskey Cocktails

Once you’ve become accustomed to the original, you’re likely going to want to branch out and try variations of this old classic. Below is a popular spin I’ve grown to love! 

A Bourbon Spin on the Classic Manhattan Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces of bourbon 
  • 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.

One simple adjustment creates a whole new world of flavor. Try it for yourself!

Best Bourbons for a Manhattan

Investing in a good quality bourbon is imperative if you want to deliver on expectations. After all, a Manhattan tends to behold high expectations amongst its consumers. Luckily, the following list will help you with that! 

Although there are several options for good bourbon, hopefully, this narrowed-down list will allow you to save time on shopping and instead put that time into crafting your very own sophisticated Manhattan. 

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon

Legendary in its own right, Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon has made its name by way of taste and sophistication. As a decadent, smooth, yet complex bourbon, Woodford Reserve exudes the sweetness of caramel with the subtleness of cinnamon, acting as an ideal compliment to the Manhattan’s sweet vermouth and bitters. 

With a high enough ABV (45.2%) to balance out the flavour and stiffness, this rare and irresistible Kentucky bourbon is a must for any bourbon and/or Manhattan lover. If not, you’re missing out! 

Buffalo Trace

Coming in at 45% ABV with tasting notes of fruit, vanilla, and oak, Buffalo Trace Kentucky bourbon is exactly the type of bourbon you should be looking for when crafting the perfect bourbon Manhattan or Black Manhattan when substituting vermouth with amaro.

In any case, Buffalo Trace is a welcomed addition for any variation of the Manhattan for it has everything you’d want in a bourbon; it’s smooth and decadent, herbal and sweet, with a finish familiar to what you’d expect from a stiff and spicy Manhattan.  

Buffalo Trace Bourbon is also extremely affordable! Definitely give this option a try…

Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark is a popular choice for bourbon lovers, whether for a cocktail or straight. With notes of caramel and vanilla, its palate is balanced but sweet; perfect for a soft and savory bourbon Manhattan. It’s also the most obvious choice for a bourbon Manhattan for those unappeased to use any other type of whiskey. 

In my opinion, while I personally love Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark is the standard bourbon id recommend for the general public when crafting a bourbon Manhattan. Its safe, effective, smooth, and citrusy; all great characteristics that blend well with sweet vermouth and bitters. 

If you have any type of FOMO when it comes to trying new things, don’t avoid Maker’s Mark, for you’ll never forgive yourself.  

Bulleit Bourbon

Produced at their very own Bulleit Distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky, Bulleit Bourbon is a 6-10 year aged bourbon with its fair share of rye influence. Ideal for Old Fashions though similarly suitable for a Manhattan, this finely crafted bourbon is a great addition to any finely crafted cocktail. 

Because of its apparent dryness, it does bold well for a Manhattan, I must say. I do, however, tend to lean towards a sweeter, smoother bourbon when making a bourbon Manhattan for the simple fact that I prefer to dull down the dryness that’s expected from a classic Manhattan.

Nevertheless, a great choice, and at the very least a safe trial option.

Heck, if you don’t like it, there are 10 more options to choose from here on this list!

Angel’s Envy

Angel’s Envy is the go-to for many who opt to craft the perfect Bourbon Manhattan or Black Manhattan. Aged in port barrels, this bourbon elicits flavors of dark berries with a hint of spice, ending with a depth of woody oak; a great balance of whiskey flavors ideal for a Manhattan cocktail. 

Thanks to its extremely well-balanced palate, Angel’s Envy pairs great with the rest of the ingredients required for a Manhattan, resulting in a full and complete cocktail rather than a simple mash of ingredients tossed in the same glass. 

Coming in at a moderately affordable price range, there’s no reason NOT to toss Angel’s Envy Kentucky bourbon into your next bourbon concoction.

Van Winkle Special Reserve

Noted by their own to be the perfect blend between age and proof, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-year is an idyllic, sophisticated choice of bourbon to use during your next curation of Manhattan’s, though it’s a great addition for any cocktail of your choice, even being preferred by many to enjoy neat or on the rocks. 

The general notes you can expect from this Kentucky straight bourbon include a complexity of toffee, dry and full-bodied, as well as hints and splashes of caramel, oak, and vanilla; flavors you’d come to expect from a fine bourbon. 

Decadent and smooth, you can’t go wrong with two parts Van Winkle in your next Manhattan!

Four Roses Small Batch

If you’re not into the intensity that typically accompanies a Manhattan, eager to find a way to dull down and mellow out the flavour profile, Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a whiskey you need to use. 

Because of their unique distillation process, Four Roses comes in at a lower than usual ABV% than most bourbons (40%). Additionally, its notes and aromas depict floral, herbs, and honey, different from the usual caramel and vanilla notes of standard bourbons. 

So, if you’re searching for ways to enhance the flavor profile, dim the intensity, and extend the smoothness of your Manhattan, give Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon a try, it may just change the way you think about a Manhattan forever! 

Elijah Craig

This elegantly rich and sophisticated bourbon is the perfect addition to your Manhattan or any other cocktail for that matter. Because of its stiff and spicy flavour, it specifically bolds well for a dry cocktail such as a Manhattan, adding enough welcoming notes to counterbalance the toughness that a typical Manhattan provides.

If you enjoy a stiff Manhattan with an added hint of smoke and spice, opt for Elijah Craig’s bourbon, it won’t disappoint. 

W. L. Weller 12-Year

 As you’d expect, this bourbon, as most bourbons do, share generic notes of vanilla, caramel, and subtle spice. In addition, it also elicits decadent notes of pecan and apple pie, along with citrus and other familiar flavors. 

As such, it makes for a great addition to a bourbon Manhattan by way of dimming the dryness with a little sweetness. At 45% ABV and coming in at a reasonable average retail price of $35 USD, W.L. Weller makes for a great pick-up for your next Manhattan curation. 

King’s Country Bourbon

Ready to take your Manhattan to new heights? Well then prepare your palate for King’s Country Bourbon; an unusually surprising yet welcomed bourbon that provides sharp but savory flavour comprising vanilla, caramel, cinnamon and spice.

The end result? A counterbalance between the vermouth and bitters, making for the perfect bourbon Manhattan; not too sweet, not too stiff. 

Not to mention that this particular brand was and still is distilled in the same state that the Manhattan itself was created! That’s got to stand for something, right?! Coming in with a 45% ABV and a reasonable price to boot, you may or may not be ready for what King’s Country is about to bring to your cocktail! 

Knob Creek Bourbon

As a rich, sophisticated, yet subtle bourbon, Knob Creek is my personal favorite whiskey to use in a Manhattan or any cocktail, notably an Old Fashioned.

In any case, thanks to its full body, the experience gives both a smooth burn and a savory sip, acting as the perfect counterbalance for the sweet vermouth and bitters. 

Choosing the Best Bourbon for Your Manhattan

While bourbon isn’t part of the original Manhattan recipe, it certainly makes for a good cocktail; if you choose the best bourbon for your manhattan that is.

As all cocktail recipes go, the quality of spirit and the pairing with other ingredients can make or break the cocktail. 

Thankfully, you don’t need to fret about finding the best bourbon for your next Manhattan concoction, as we did the groundwork for you! After tasting these bourbons and trying them both straight and in the cocktail itself, the list above turned out to be quite the accurate list if I do say so myself. 

Related: 11 Underrated Cocktails You’ve Never Heard Of

Just as you might predict, my personal favorite is Knob Creek. It also happens to be a great addition to an Old Fashioned! In any case, if you’re not a fan of bourbon, id recommend sticking to the original recipe that requests Rye.

If you’re a bourbon love like myself, however, a bourbon Manhattan might just turn out to be your new favorite cocktail.

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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