July 16, 2023

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: A Quick Differences Cheat Sheet

Two really old classic whiskey cocktails with only a few subtle differences setting them apart, here's what you need to know...

Old Fashioned vs Manhattan

Manhattan's and Old Fashineds are absolute classics.

They're in bars everywhere, can easily be made at home, and are great to experiment with as an introduction to making homemade drinks.

It's not hard to see why they've become legendary, but what makes them different?

measuring bourbon for a cocktail

The different ingredients for a Manhattan and Old Fashioned

Both the Manhattan and Old Fashioned are made with a base of whiskey and a few dashes of cocktail bitters, the difference is that a Manhattan is sweetened with vermouth and an Old Fashioned is sweetened with sugar (or simple syrup).

  • Manhattan: whiskey, bitters, and sweet vermouth
  • Old Fashioned: whiskey, bitters, and simple syrup

Both cocktails can be made with either bourbon or rye whiskey, but more often a Manhattan is made with rye, and an Old Fashioned is made with bourbon.

Are Manhattans or Old Fashioneds stronger?

In terms of alcohol content there is the same amount (2 ounces) of whiskey in both a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned.

However, an Old Fashioned may taste stronger because of its more whiskey forward recipe.

Straining an Old Fashioned in a mixing glass

How they are served: Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned

Most of the time an Old Fashioned is served over a cube of ice in a rocks glass (aka Old Fashioned glass), and a Manhattan is served "up" in a cocktail glass.

But just like some people might prefer whiskey "up" instead of "on the rocks", it wouldn't be too unusual to have your Manhattan over ice for a little extra dilution.

THe garnish

The Manhattan and Old Fashioned are both usually garnished with some orange zest and a cocktail cherry.

An Old Fashioned can sometimes be garnished with a piece of lemon zest (or both orange and lemon), but you probably won't see any lemon in a Manhattan.

squeezing an orange peel over an old fashioned

Comparing the taste of an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan

Both cocktails are bold and whiskey forward with a mellow sweetness, hints of orange, and subtle background of cocktail bitters. The difference is that the Manhattan has slight notes of dried fruits and spices from vermouth, while the Old Fashioned has a more simple and straightforward whiskey flavor.

The pure sweetness of simple syrup doesn't add much flavor making an Old Fashioned a great introduction to sipping whiskey on the rocks.

measuring a jigger of sweet vermouth

is a manhattan or old fashioned sweeter?

A Manhattan and Old Fashioned are quite similar in terms of sweetness with just a little bit to round off the whiskey.

The sweetness can easily be adjusted in either drink by the amount (or type) of vermouth in your Manhattan, or the amount of sugar in the case of the Old Fashioned.

which cocktail is older?

The Old Fashioned is older than the Manhattan and is often noted as the first ever cocktail with forms of it appearing as early as 1806, even though it wasn't named an Old Fashioned for sometime after that.

The Manhattan cocktail didn't appear until sometime around the early 1880's when vermouth became a popular cocktail ingredient.

measuring bourbon for an old fashioned

Is an Old Fashioned or Manhattan better?

There's no way to say if one cocktail is better than the other. They are both delicious in their own way and which one is better is only a matter of preference.

They are both delicious and here to stay.

Try these too!

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned

Two classic whiskey cocktails with plenty of similarities, but what makes them different?



  • 2 oz Rye Whiskey
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 piece Orange Peel
  • 1 Cocktail Cherry - optional

Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1/4 oz Simple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 piece Orange Peel
  • 1 Cocktail Cherry - Optional


For the Manhattan

  • Add the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters to a mixing glass.
  • Add ice and stir for about 30 seconds.
  • Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  • Squeeze the oils from the orange peel over the finished drink, drop in a cocktail cherry and serve.

For the Old Fashioned

  • Add the whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters to a mixing glass.
  • Add ice and stir for about 30 seconds.
  • Strain into a rocks glass with ice.
  • Squeeze the oils from the orange peel over the drink, drop the peel in for garnish and add a cocktail cherry


Both drinks can be made with either bourbon or rye whiskey.
You can also experiment with the type of cocktail bitters.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Course: Drinks
Servings: 2 drinks
Tag me at @mydrinkinghobby when you make this!


Pinterest Manhattan and old Fashioned

More Delicious Things!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. Wait a minute, a "classic" old fashion should also include egg whites, with that and be gently shaken to froth it up a bit

    1. Hi Robert, thanks for reading! You might be thinking of a classic Whiskey Sour, they get shaken with the egg white to get a nice silky foam on top. Cheers!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}