Whether you’re a whiskey fan or just looking for a cocktail recommendation, both the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned are excellent choices.
Both are classic, whiskey-based cocktails with long histories and highly debated origins. They’re popular all over the world, and for good reason.
But which one is better? With so many similar ingredients, it’s hard to tell just by looking at them. This is why we’ve provided you with an in-depth comparison of the classic cocktails, Manhattan vs Old Fashioned.
Manhattan versus Old Fashioned (Compared)
Despite having very similar ingredients, the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned vary quite a lot in flavor. This is due to their levels of sweetness, as well as how they are prepared.
Although a seasoned palate might be able to pick up the sweetness of the sweet vermouth in Manhattan, most people find it more strong and bitter. That being said, the bitters add a surprising amount of depth to such a simple drink. Even without the sweetness, it’s still delicious.
The Old Fashioned, on the other hand, is a far sweeter drink. The syrup or the sugar brings out a saccharine flavor in the drink. Depending on your choice of whiskey, either the rye will balance it out with a hint of spice or the bourbon will make it even sweeter.
If you have a seasoned palate, you might be able to pick up some of the more bitter undertones from the Angostura, but sweetness reigns in the Old Fashioned.
Both are very easy-to-prepare drinks with simple ingredients. Although there are variations in how you might prepare them (such as shaking the Old Fashioned instead of stirring it), no method is any more complicated than the most basic variation.
The most complex part of the whole process is deciding on the variation you prefer or deciding whether you want rye or bourbon in your Old Fashioned. If one mix doesn’t feel quite right, you might need to experiment a little bit.
The recipes we used are the most basic and traditional ones, but there are tons of options out there to fit your tastes.
Other than that, they’re both simple drinks that are perfect for even the most novice mixologist.
Both drinks have similar methods of preparation. Both are, as we have discussed, pretty simple.
Both the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned must be stirred, not shaken. Shaking might chill the drinks faster, but will leave them frothy and too light. These drinks are meant to be dense and silky, which you can only achieve through stirring.
Of course, the main difference in their preparation is their ingredients and method of pouring.
The Manhattan largely uses more bitter ingredients and is poured from a mixing glass into a drinking glass.
The Old Fashioned uses sweeter ingredients and is poured and stirred over ice in your drinking glass.
While it may not seem like much, these slight differences have an impact on how the cocktails end up tasting.
The Manhattan ends up being slightly less chilled and icy, which brings out its more bitter flavoring. The Old Fashioned ends up being more chilled and mixes more with the ice, which brings out its sweeter flavoring.
The Garnish is one of the most notable differences between the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. The Manhattan is usually garnished with a brandied cocktail cherry, while the Old Fashioned is garnished with an orange peel.
Some recipes call for different garnishings, but these two are the most traditional and add the most uniqueness to their respective drinks.
The cherry adds an extra hint of sweetness and depth to the Manhattan. It helps bring out the complexity of the flavor.
The orange peel gives the Old Fashioned a lovely hint of citrus flavoring near the end of the drink. It’s a great finish to a great drink garnish of and adds a little complexity to an otherwise simple experience.
While many people often use interchangeable serving styles, it’s traditional to serve them differently. Though you might find them both in either a coupe or a tumbler, this is incorrect according to what the traditional recipe calls for.
A Manhattan is traditionally served in a coupe, a cocktail glass, or a martini glass. In short, it’s usually served “up”.
An Old Fashioned, on the other hand, is served in an “Old Fashioned” glass. This is a stout glass, similar to a tumbler or a rocks glass.
Though the serve styles don’t add anything to flavor reception, if you want the traditional Manhattan or Old Fashioned experience, then these respective glasses are the way to go.
While we are discussing the traditional versions of the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned, both drinks have several different variations. There’s something for almost anyone here.
You can make a Bourbon or a Brandy Manhattan, for example. There’s also a Black Manhattan that uses Italian amaro instead of the sweet vermouth, and a Rob Roy that uses scotch.
The Old Fashioned also has a couple of variations. A Wisconsin Old Fashioned uses brandy and soda, for example.
The most popular version of the Old Fashioned is a Smokey Old Fashioned. This one is a little more complicated to make than the others, though, as it requires a smoking gun to cold smoke the ingredients.
That said, if you can get your hands on one (or if you can find a bar that has one), the Smokey Old Fashioned is well worth a try.
Both the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned have long histories steeped in tradition.
The Manhattan, the younger drink, is shrouded in mystery and dates back to the late 1800s. No one really knows who created it. Though there are several different origin stories, these are all debatable at best.
The best we can gather is that the Manhattan was created in, well, Manhattan.
The Old Fashioned, on the other hand, is even older than the Manhattan. It dates back to the early 1800s and is often hailed as the original cocktail. Its original recipe differs slightly from the one we know today, but this one came to be the traditional Old Fashioned recipe somewhere around the 1860s.
So if you’re wanting to drink a piece of history, then both drinks are a good bet. The Old Fashioned is older and arguably even more historical, whereas the Manhattan has mystery and intrigue attached to it.
Manhattan or Old Fashioned?
So we’ve delved into a little bit about the products and how they’re traditionally prepared and served. Both seem quite similar at a glance, but they have differences that make them stand out as unique drinks.
So which one is better? Let’s take a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of each, and find out which one you should be drinking.
The Manhattan is a classic drink with a long history and hotly-debated origins. But despite tall tales of banquets at the New York Manhattan Club, we probably won’t ever truly know its origins.
That being said, we don’t need to know its origins to know that it’s a good drink.
It’s simple, but its simplicity is what makes it so good. You can taste and appreciate each flavor. Every flavor mixes together perfectly, complementing one another to create a strong but delicious cocktail.
Now, because of the strong and bitter flavor, Manhattan won’t be for everyone. But if you love the rich bitterness of whiskey, then you’ll love this. It brings out all of the best parts of the whiskey experience.
It’s rich and full-bodied, a great choice for an experienced palate.
But, if you have a more novice palate, or if you’re just not that much of a fan of the bitterness of whiskey, then the Manhattan most likely isn’t for you.
- A rich and full-bodied flavor profile
- The drink has a long, interesting history
- Simple to make
- Great if you like something more bitter with only a hint of sweetness
- Brings out the flavor of the whiskey
- An experienced palate is necessary for tasting all of the flavors
- Not great if you aren’t a fan of a bitter drink
- 2 ounces bourbon or rye (e.g. Old Elk Bourbon)
- 1-ounce sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
- Garnish: brandied cherry
- Add ingredients to mixing glass with ice
- Stir until chilled (about 20-30 seconds)
- Strain into a coupe or glass
- Add cherry for garnish
- Note: You can leave out the ice for a stronger flavor
Unsurprisingly, the Old Fashioned is one of the oldest cocktails around. Dating back to the early 1800s, the original Old Fashioned didn’t even contain whiskey. But, as mixologists perfected the recipe, whiskey became the most popular and most traditional spirit to use.
Like the Manhattan, it’s very simple to make, meaning you can easily make it for yourself at home with the right ingredients.
Despite its simplicity, though, it’s delicious. Its sweetness either counterbalances the taste of the whiskey or compliments the bourbon, depending on your preference. This makes it an excellent choice for whiskey fans and people with a sweet tooth alike.
It’s also easy to enjoy even with a novice palate. The flavor profile is a lot less complex than the Manhattan, so almost anyone can appreciate it. Instead of having a depth of flavor, Old Fashion’s selling point is its sweetness.
That being said, its high levels of sugariness mean that if you aren’t a fan of sweet drinks, then this isn’t the drink for you.
- Sweet and delicious taste
- Easy to make
- Easy to enjoy even with a novice palate
- A drink with a very long history
- You can experiment with rye whiskey or bourbon depending on your preference
- Might be too sweet for some
Old Fashioned Recipe
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 teaspoon water
- 2 ounces bourbon (e.g. Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon)
- Garnish: orange peel
- Add syrup/sugar to a glass
- Add bitters, muddling it through
- Pour in whiskey or bourbon
- Add an ice cube and stir until chilled
- Add orange peel for garnish
*Note: You can leave out the ice for a stronger flavor
Manhattan and Old Fashioned (FAQ)
Is Manhattan better than the Old Fashioned?
Both drinks have a great mix of ingredients, and both give a unique and delicious experience.
The Manhattan is better for whiskey lovers with an experienced palate who want something bitter and complex.
The Old Fashioned is better for those who prefer something a little sweeter and more simple.
Is the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned sweeter?
The Old Fashioned is by far the sweeter drink, especially when mixed with bourbon. It has a higher sugar content and uses sweeter ingredients.
That being said, a more experienced palate will be able to pick up the hints of sweetness found within Manhattan.
Can you drink the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned on the rocks?
Traditionally, you’re not supposed to drink a Manhattan on the rocks. It’s supposed to be served straight up without rocks. But, with so many variations in how the drink is prepared, no one’s going to bat an eye at you if you do.
The Old Fashioned is traditionally drunk on the rocks, poured over ice. As with the Manhattan, no one’s going to look at you funny if you do something different, but if you want to keep in line with the standard recipe, then ice is the way to go.
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