Why the Manhattan beats the Old Fashioned



50ml Knob Creek Rye
20ml sweet vermouth
2 – 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a twist or a cherry

Stir down over ice for around 45 seconds (Dave Wondrich recommends 50 revolutions or so). Strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with a lemon twist or a cherry.

By Sam Bygrave
Photography by Steve Brown
In association with Knob Creek Rye

In a street fight between the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan, there will be only one winner: the Manhattan. Sure, the Old Fashioned has a storied pedigree and hews closely to the 1806 definition of cocktail in that it’s spirit, sugar, and bitters. And sure, the Old Fashioned, with its fewer ingredients is a leaner beast. But pound for flavourful pound, the Manhattan will always win.


So I don’t know why I’ve been drinking Old Fashioneds more than Manhattans of late. The first Manhattan I’ve had for a while was for this story. It might be heretical to say, but I feel the Old Fashioned is just tricked up whiskey. The Manhattan, on the other hand, is a far less forgiving mix. You’ve got to match the vermouth with the whiskey. You’ve got to decide between bourbon or rye. You’ve got to get the dilution spot on, because it’s served up (that’s why the Negroni is always a safe go-to option: if it’s out of whack to begin with, as the ice melts, you’ll at least get a serviceable drink).

That’s why this drink is a real test of a bartender’s ability.

The Manhattan was the first proper cocktail I learned to make, and as Dave Wondrich has written, it’s also the “only cocktail that can slug it out toe-to-toe with the Martini.”

I knew how to make a Martini, of course, and back then the way to do that was to ice up a mixing glass, drizzle a miserly amount of dry vermouth in and discard it, before chilling down some vodka. No one ever ordered a gin Martini, and vermouth was a bottle of Cinzano Dry that had sat, open, somewhere on the back bar since the last millennium.

But in Toby Cecchini’s book, Cosmopolitan, I first found the spec for a Manhattan. In a time when the suffix “–ini” was applied to any drink served in a cocktail glass, and all drinks held lots of fruit and lots of vodka, this was a revelation.

Cecchini’s recipe included a plea to never shake this drink, and also advised — and I’m working from memory on this — to stir the drink for nearly two minutes. I found that hard to keep up with during service, but found around 50 to 60 seconds worked well. Dave Wondrich recommends stirring it for 50 revolutions, and this is roughly about the same. And with a high-proof rye (the Knob Creek here weighs in at 50%), you’re going to want this dilution, too. Find the right vermouth, and get stirring — especially if you haven’t revisited this drink for a while. It kicks the crap outta an Old Fashioned.

Whisky Banter


Knob Creek Rye is a 50% ABV straight rye whiskey, with characters of rye spiciness, vanilla and oak on the palate leading to a warm, smooth and spicy finish.

Says The Exchange ambassador Dan Woolley: “Knob Creek Rye is the smoothest rye whiskey on the market, with very sweet and complex spices of cinnamon and tobacco flavours on the back palate and a nose of new leather and toasted caramel. The fact that it’s 50% ABV shocks most people because of how smooth this whiskey drinks.”

Knob Creek Rye has picked up some big awards: a double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2014, and being named Whiskey of the Year at the International Whisky Competition this year.

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