Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned Cocktail: What’s The Difference?

Becoming an alcohol connoisseur isn’t an easy task. It takes years of tasting before you can immediately distinguish the drinks and the liquor added. For people trying out whiskey for the first time, being confused between Manhattan and Old-Fashioned cocktails is quite common for people trying out whiskey for the first time.

There are influences of the 19th century, and there are new additions and upgrade to the taste of the cocktail. However, which one of the two is a superior choice? And what are the differences that make differentiate them from the other?

If you are a beginner and have no idea about the battle between Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned cocktails, this article should answer all your questions in detail.

About Manhattan Cocktail

Manhattan Cocktail

If you are looking for a higher-end or premium cocktail of the two, that’s where the Manhattan cocktail fits in. It is generally served in a martini-style glass and is garnished with a preserved cherry to add a mix of sweetness and tartness to the drink.

When it comes to the flavor profile of a Manhattan cocktail, be assured that it’s strong. The flavors and taste are pretty sharp and have a hint of sweetness to it. You also have a slightly spicy undertone to the taste.

The best thing about this cocktail is how well it holds the integrity of each added component. You have the sharp taste of rye whiskey paired with the sweet vermouth and bitter aftertaste of other ingredients. The drink is quite balanced but strong at the same time.


Here’s a breakdown of the ingredients and recipe:


Rye whiskey – 60 ml

Sweet vermouth – 30 ml

Angostura bitters – 2 dashes

Maraschino cherries – for garnish

How to make it?

  • Pour all the ingredients (except cherries) into a tall mixing glass with some ice.
  • Stir in the ingredients with a tall mixing spoon
  • Strain the drink directly into a martini glass
  • Garnish with a preserved cherry

About Old Fashioned Cocktail

Old Fashioned Cocktail

Now that you have a clear idea about the Manhattan cocktail let us move to the Old Fashioned cocktail. What is it, and what differentiates it from the Manhattan cocktail?

Unlike Manhattan, the Old-Fashioned cocktail is making a return in the current world of mixology and bartending. Given the drink’s versatility, bartenders are trying their hands on the drink to elude and perfect the recipe.


Here’s a breakdown of the ingredients and recipe:


Bourbon – 60 ml

Angostura bitters – 3 dashes

Sugar cube – 1

Orange peel – for garnish

How to make it?

  • Take an Old Fashioned cocktail glass and place the sugar cube at the bottom.
  • Add the Angostura bitters and muddle everything together until the sugar dissolves.
  • Add a large ice cube and pour down the bourbon into the glass
  • Strain the drink into the serving glass and serve with an orange peel

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned Cocktail: What’s The Difference?

With the basic description and details out of the way, the next thing to focus on is the differences between the cocktails.

If you read the ingredients, style of making, garnishes, etc., you should already be able to tell the differences between the two. They are pretty evident and come up well when you taste the drink.

However, the differences aren’t just limited to the ingredients. Let us walk you through all the differences in detail:

1. Ingredients

We can’t start the differences between Manhattan and Old-Fashioned cocktails without looking into the ingredients. There are a few similar baseline ingredients, especially with the Angostura bitter. However, the primary liquor is different in both.

Manhattan uses rye whiskey, while Old-fashioned uses bourbon as the base. The Manhattan also has sweet vermouth added to enhance the flavor profile. On the other hand, an old-fashioned cocktail has straight-up sugar for added sweetness.

2. Serving Method

Another point of difference worth highlighting is the serving method. A Manhattan cocktail, as we said before, is a premium cocktail. So, it’s no wonder it’s served in a martini glass.

Old Fashioned cocktail is served in a standard tumbler-style glass with a big chunk of ice. The amount of ice you want in the drink will vary from one bar to the other or your preference.

If you don’t want the drink to get immensely diluted in a shorter period, you have smaller ice cubes to compensate for that.

3. Stir or Shake

Both Manhattan and Old Fashioned cocktails are stirred. So, technically, it’s not a difference but a similarity.

However, the Manhattan is made in a separate glass and is then strained into a chilled martini glass. An Old Fashioned cocktail is generally made in the tumbler it serves.

4. History

The history behind the Manhattan and Old-Fashioned cocktail is quite rich. If the name wasn’t a giveaway, Old Fashioned is the one that came first. Its incidence dates back to 1806, when it was first made. However, in 1881, it got popularized when a bartender at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, mixed the standard ingredients of the Old-Fashioned cocktail and made a breakthrough with the drink.

The drink was created as a tribute to Colonel James E. Pepper, originated in New York, and became popular across the country.

Manhattan also came into being during the mid-1800s. The drink was created by someone named Black at Houston Street on Broadway. So, when we look into history, Old-Fashioned came before Manhattan did.

5. Taste / Flavor

Although some undertones of the taste and flavor in Manhattan and Old-Fashioned vary, they are also similar in multiple ways.

They are both spirit-forward drinks. This means that the primary flavor and taste are of the liquor added to the drink. Both of them have a sweet element in them. Manhattan has sweet vermouth, while Old-Fashioned has sugar.

The similarity between the two lies with the Angostura bitter that’s added to it. Old-Fashioned has a slightly higher concentration of the bitter.  The dilution is the one factor that heavily influences the taste of both these cocktails.

Old-Fashioned is served with a chunk of ice, diluting the drink gradually. Manhattan, on the other hand, has a high concentration.

6. Calories

Manhattan takes the crown in this case. With 187 calories, it has a slightly higher level than Old-Fashioned, which has 151 calories.

Despite the chunk of sugar in Old-Fashioned cocktails, Manhattan does have a higher calorie level due to the vermouth and the preserved cherry you get as a garnish.

Similarities between the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan

The similarities between Old-Fashioned and Manhattan cocktails are pretty cutthroat. The main similarity is with the ingredients.

Both of these drinks use whiskey as the base. Also, you have the same Angostura bitter added to both. The choice of whiskey indeed varies, but then again, it is whiskey at the end of the day.

Another similarity worth discussing is the garnish. Although Old-Fashioned comes with an orange peel, you will find a few bartenders serving it to a preserved cherry too. Some bars also serve these drinks with a combination of orange peel and cherries.

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned Cocktail: Which One is Better?

When it comes to any whiskey cocktail, Manhattan and Old-Fashioned take place in the top 5, and rightfully so. These drinks are popular and have gained immense popularity. However, when pitting them against each other, making a choice can be challenging.

Both of them have very distinct flavor profiles. However, we’d recommend Manhattan if we had to pick a “better” choice. It has a more distinct, concentrated, and refined taste. Also, it isn’t diluted with ice, so you enjoy the liquor’s sharp taste and flavor. 

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