Manhattan vs Old Fashioned

It’s likely that if you enjoy whiskey, you’ve heard of the Manhattan and Old Fashioned drinks. These two timeless beverages have been around for more than a century and continue to be popular today. Although whiskey and bitters are the main ingredients in both drinks, their preparation and flavor are very different.

Boozy Manhattan Cocktail on the Rocks with a Cherry Garnish

A cherry is used as a garnish for the Manhattan cocktail, which is normally mixed with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters.

On the other hand, the Old Fashioned drink contains bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a citrus twist.

The sweetener used in the two cocktails is the primary distinction. The Old Fashioned employs sugar whereas the Manhattan uses sweet vermouth.

Which one ought you to pick then? The choice ultimately comes down to taste.

The Manhattan might be for you if you want a sweeter beverage with a more nuanced flavor profile.

The Old Fashioned may be your go-to cocktail if you enjoy a straightforward, straightforward drink with a dash of sweetness.

Historical Background

The Manhattan and Old Fashioned are two of the most well-liked whiskey-based classic drinks.

Old fashioned rum drink on ice with orange zest garnish.

Both of these beverages have histories that are distinctive and have been around for more than a century.

The history of the Manhattan and Old Fashioned will be discussed in this section.

Origins of Manhattan

It is thought that the Manhattan cocktail first appeared at the Manhattan Club in New York City in the late 19th century.

Manhattan cocktail

According to legend, the cocktail was made for a supper that Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s mother, held.

Samuel J. Tilden, who was then campaigning for governor of New York, was honored at the event.

Rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters were the primary ingredients in the original Manhattan cocktail recipe.

The formula has undergone changes over time, including the substitution of bourbon for rye whiskey.

Origins of Old Fashioned

One of the oldest whiskey drinks is the Old Fashioned, which is thought to have been created in the early 1800s.

Glass of delicious Old Fashioned Cocktail on black background

The original recipe called for whiskey, bitters, water, sugar, and some water. An “old-fashioned” glass, which is a short tumbler, was used to serve the beverage.

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With the addition of fruit, including orange and cherry, and the use of other whiskeys, including bourbon and rye, the Old Fashioned recipe has changed over time.

Despite these modifications, the Old Fashioned continues to be a popular drink among lovers of whisky.

In conclusion, the 19th century forms the foundation for the histories of both Manhattan and Old Fashioned.

Although the recipes for these drinks have changed over time, they continue to be popular classic whiskey drinks.

Main Ingredients

The primary components of the Manhattan and Old Fashioned drinks are comparable, although they differ in a few key ways.

Homemade Rye Bourbon Manhattan with a Cherry Garnish

Whiskey and bitters are used in both drinks, but a different sweetener and additional ingredients are used in each.


Rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters are the classic ingredients used to make the Manhattan cocktail.

The rye whiskey’s spicy flavor is countered by the rich, sweet flavor of the sweet vermouth. A rich, bitter flavor and scent are added by the bitters.

The Manhattan cocktail’s primary ingredients are listed below:

Rye whiskey2 oz
Sweet vermouth1 oz

Old Fashioned

Traditional ingredients for the Old Fashioned cocktail are bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a citrus peel.

The bitters, citrus peel, and sugar are combined in a muddle to make a sweet syrup that counteracts the spice in the whiskey. Citrus peel imparts a crisp, flavorful scent.

The principal components of an Old Fashioned cocktail are listed below:

Bourbon or rye whiskey2 oz
Sugar1 tsp
Citrus peel1

Although the primary components of both cocktails are essentially the same, the sweetening agent and other additions have a significant impact on the flavor.

The Manhattan might be more your style if you like cocktails that are sweeter and more complicated.

The Old Fashioned might be more your style if you want drinks that are easier to make and more basic.

Preparation Methods

There are a few differences to keep in mind while mixing an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. What you need to know is as follows:

cocktails in the foreground on the counter of a pub


To prepare a Manhattan, you will need:

  • Whiskey (usually rye, but bourbon or other types of whiskey can be used)
  • Sweet vermouth
  • Angostura bitters
  • Maraschino cherry (for garnish)
  • Orange peel (for garnish)

To make a Manhattan, follow these steps:

  1. Fill a mixing glass with ice.
  2. Add 2 oz of whiskey, 1 oz of sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
  3. Stir for about 30 seconds.
  4. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  5. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and an orange peel.
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Old Fashioned

To prepare an Old Fashioned, you will need:

  • Whiskey (usually bourbon or rye)
  • Sugar cube or simple syrup
  • Angostura bitters
  • Club soda (optional)
  • Orange slice (for garnish)
  • Maraschino cherry (for garnish)

To make an Old Fashioned, follow these steps:

  1. In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle a sugar cube or add 1/4 oz of simple syrup.
  2. Add 2 dashes of Angostura bitters and a splash of club soda (optional).
  3. Fill the glass with ice.
  4. Add 2 oz of whiskey.
  5. Stir for about 20 seconds.
  6. Garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.

Overall, the ingredients for both cocktails are comparable, but their preparation techniques are different.

The Old Fashioned is created in the glass and mixed with ice, while the Manhattan is stirred and poured into a chilled glass.

Taste Profiles

Both the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned are whiskey-based drinks, although they have different flavor profiles.

Classic Manhattan Cocktail with Whiskey,

In contrast to the Old Fashioned, which is a sweet cocktail, the Manhattan is a dry drink with savory undertones.


Whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters come together to make the traditional drink known as the Manhattan.

An orange peel twist and a cherry are the customary garnishes. The beverage has a flavor that is smooth and elegant and is ideal for drinking.

The bitters temper the flavors, while the sweet vermouth subtly sweetens the beverage.

For those who favor a dry, classy drink, the Manhattan is a fantastic option.

The beverage pairs perfectly with hearty, meaty foods thanks to its salty undertones.

Old Fashioned

The ingredients for the traditional drink known as the Old Fashioned include whiskey, sugar, bitters, and an orange peel twist.

An orange slice and a cherry are usually added as garnish. The beverage has a flavor that is ideal for sipping; it is sweet with a hint of fruit.

The bitters balance out the flavors while the sugar gives the beverage a sweetness.

If you want a sweet, fruity cocktail, the Old Fashioned is a fantastic option.

The beverage is ideal for enjoying as a dessert cocktail or while relaxing on a warm summer evening.

It all boils down to preference when deciding between Manhattan and the Old Fashioned.

Manhattan is the drink of choice if you like dry, upscale cocktails. The Old Fashioned is the drink of choice if you like sweet, fruity concoctions.

Frequently Asked Questions

old fashioned cocktail garnished with cherry, orange and lemon peel

Which one is stronger?

Both cocktails are typically made with a similar amount of whiskey, so they have a similar alcohol content. However, the sweet vermouth in a Manhattan can make it taste less strong than an Old Fashioned, which is typically less sweet.

Can I use bourbon in both drinks?

Yes, you can use bourbon in both a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. However, rye whiskey is traditionally used in a Manhattan, while bourbon is more commonly used in an Old Fashioned.

What’s the history behind these cocktails?

The Old Fashioned is one of the oldest cocktails in existence, dating back to the early 1800s. Manhattan was created later, in the late 1800s. Both drinks have a long history and have been enjoyed by whiskey drinkers for generations.

Can I make these drinks at home?

Absolutely! Both cocktails are easy to make at home with just a few ingredients. You can find recipes online or in cocktail books, and experiment with different types of whiskey and garnishes to find your perfect drink.

Manhattan cocktail garnished with brandied cherry.


In conclusion, two whiskey drinks that have endured the test of time are the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned.

They differ significantly in terms of their components and production, although having some commonalities, such as the usage of whiskey and bitters.

The Manhattan employs sweet vermouth and frequently has a cherry garnish. It is a more sophisticated cocktail.

Its flavor profile is deeper and fuller, with a sweet undertone that is more understated.

The Old Fashioned, on the other hand, is a simpler drink that typically has an orange twist as a garnish and employs sugar or simple syrup as a sweetener. It has a simpler, more traditional flavor.

Personal preference will eventually determine which of the two you choose. The Manhattan may be the best option if you desire a more sophisticated, nuanced drink.

The Old Fashioned might be more to your taste if you have a simpler, more traditional palate.

Whichever you decide, the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned are both ageless classics that will dazzle any whiskey enthusiast.

The following time you’re in the mood for a whiskey drink, try one of these traditional recipes to see which one you like most.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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