August 22, 2022

The Man O’ War Cocktail: Manhattan Meets Whiskey Sour

A shaken whiskey cocktail that captures the complexity of a Manhattan and packages it with bright lemon and orange.

garnishing the man o war

Shaken whiskey cocktails might not be quite as popular as their stirred counterparts, but drinks like that Man O' War give you a good reason to grab your cocktail shaker.

Bright vibrant flavors aren't always what comes to mind when you think bourbon, but it really does work great with fresh citrus flavors.

Herbal notes of vermouth help remind you that it is, in fact, a really unique tasting whiskey cocktail.

measuring bourbon

The Man O' War cocktail history

The Man O' War cocktail is named after one of the most famous race horses of all time who won all but one of his 21 races including the 1920 Preakness and Belmont.

Despite never actually racing in the famous Kentucky Derby, Man O' War would go on to sire the Triple Crown winner War Admiral, further solidifying his place as an all time great.

The recipe was likely created in the mid 20th century, but the exact origin is unknown. Maybe it was meant to be a Kentucky Derby cocktail as an alternative to the classic Mint Julip, but who knows.

opening Cointreau

Man O' War Recipe

The Man O' War cocktail is made using bourbon and Cointreau as a flavorful citrusy base with fresh lemon juice and sweet vermouth to round things out.

Ratios of the bourbon and Cointreau vary, but I think the recipe included below gives the best balance between boozy, sweet, and tart. To make it you will need:

A good orange liqueur

Orange liqueur is the over-arching category of sweet orange spirits that includes curacao, triple sec, and well known brands like Grand Marnier and Cointreau.

Without getting too deep in the specifics, you will want to use either dry curacao, triple sec, or Cointreau (which is a brand of triple sec). Cointreau and bourbon go so well together that I recommend finding yourself a bottle which you can also use for other recipes like a Mezcalita or Sidecar.

bottle of sweet vermouth

nice sweet vermouth

Choosing a quality vermouth adds an extra layer to your cocktails that shouldn't be missed.

A solid bottle like Punt e Mes, Cocchi de Torino, or Dolin Rouge will go a long way in stepping up your home bar, and won't break the bank. Store vermouth in your refrigerator once opened and use it in your Americanos and Manhattans for the next few months.

What does the Man o' war taste like?

The Man O' War tastes citrusy and boozy, almost like a cross between a Manhattan and a Whiskey Sour. A bold Cointreau and bourbon backbone gets a bright kick of fresh lemon juice while the vermouth adds a subtle complex sweetness.

double straining the Man O War

How to make a Man O War cocktail

  1. Add the bourbon, lemon juice, sweet vermouth and orange liqueur to your cocktail shaker
  2. Add ice and shake hard for about 10 seconds
  3. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  4. Garnish with a lemon twist and maraschino cherry

Just like so many other "sour style" cocktails the Man O' War is as easy as throwing all the ingredients in your shaker, shaking hard, and straining.

As a fun garnish try making a little lemon cherry sword by sliding a lemon peel folded around a cherry down a cocktail pick.

garnishing the man o war

Make it a Luxardo cherry cocktail

Garnishing with a good cocktail cherry is great, but if you want a little extra richness in your Man O' War try adding a bar spoon of the cherry syrup to your shaker.

Cocktails like Old Fashioned and Manhattans that are garnished with cherries are great candidates to become cherry juice cocktails by adding a drop of the syrup from the jar.

Be careful not to sweeten it up too much and maybe even add a touch of extra lemon juice or take away a bit of orange liqueur to keep things in check.

serving the Man O' War cocktail

choosing cocktail cherries

Using good quality cherries for cocktails really does make all the difference. Most everyone is familiar with the neon red stem-on maraschino cherries packed in liquid....

Those are not what you want.

Instead, make your Man O' War with cherries that come in a thick flavorful syrup. The gold standard is the Luxardo brand, but you can also try Fabbri Amarena, or bourbon options from Traverse City or Woodford.

They cost more than the big store brand choices but taste so much better and will last a long time.

Man O' War Cocktail

Bourbon and Cointreau create a strong citrusy base that is brightened with fresh lemon juice and balanced with sweet vermouth.


  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau - or any triple sec or dry curacao
  • 1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth


  • Add all the ingredients to your cocktail shaker
  • Add ice and shake hard for about 10 seconds
  • Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • Garnish with a lemon twist and cocktail cherry


If you'd like more cherry flavor than just the garnish you can add a barspoon of luxardo cherry syrup (or whatever brand you are using) to your shaker. Keep in mind that you may want to reduce the Cointreau just a touch to keep things balanced.
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 3 minutes
Course: Drinks
Servings: 1 drink
Tag me at @mydrinkinghobby when you make this!

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man o war pin

Try making this in place of your Mint Julep for your Derby watch party this year.

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