If you’re a lover of dark spirits, you’re probably familiar with the Manhattan cocktail. The booze-forward drink is made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters and has long been a standard in the cocktail canon. But nearly 20 years ago, bartenders began experimenting with variations, and the Black Manhattan was born. This darker, more intense variation packs more depth and complexity, which is why we think it deserves a place in your cocktail arsenal.
What Is a Black Manhattan?
Similar but different from a traditional Manhattan, a Black Manhattan swaps out sweet vermouth for Italian amaro. It also specifically calls for rye whiskey, explains Nicholas Perdue, beverage and entertainment director at Tzeva in Sarasota, Florida.
The use of amaro is key. “As a result, the Black Manhattan has a more complex and bitter flavor profile compared to the sweeter classic Manhattan,” Perdue says.
Compared to a standard-issue Manhattan, “it’s a darker, boozy, herbal and easier-to-make cocktail,” adds Jorge Centeno, chief spirits officer at Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest, Illinois. Visually, the drink has an almost black color, thanks to the type of amaro typically used, called Averna. It also has notes of mint, lemon, orange, herbs and caramel, making it a little bit spicier and heavier. “The Black Manhattan is also more robust or [has a] fuller mouthfeel. It has more bite.”
What’s In a Black Manhattan?
Although bourbon is sometimes used, rye whiskey is more common, Perdue says. “[It] adds a robust and complex base to the drink, providing a rich depth of flavor,” he notes.
Amaro, an Italian digestif meaning “bittersweet,” delivers orange, lemon and herbal notes, explains Aom Lee, director of food and beverage at the Four Seasons San Francisco at Embarcadero. “Amaro has a depth of flavor. It’s more layered [compared to sweet vermouth],” she says, adding that most mixologists reach for Averna amaro. “Each amaro is different. When it comes to Averna, it’s a lot of roots. There’s a lot of bitterness for more layer and depth.”
Finally, the Angostura and/or orange bitters add citrus and aromatic elements that complement the other ingredients, Perdue says.
Where Did the Black Manhattan Come From?
According to Perdue, the Black Manhattan emerged from the classic cocktail revival of the early 21st century. “Its exact inception and the story behind its name might vary depending on the source or the mixologist who first crafted it,” he says. “However, it is believed to be inspired by the traditional Manhattan cocktail, with the addition of Averna, giving it the ‘Black’ moniker, possibly referring to the dark color of the amaro.”
Lee adds that the Black Manhattan is best associated with bartender Todd Smith from San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch. The story goes that in 2005, Smith swapped Averna for sweet vermouth in his Manhattan recipe, and the rest is history.
“It’s from bartender creativity. When you’re behind a bar, you’re just experimenting here and there,” she says.
Black Manhattan Recipe
Recipe by Jacy Topps
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 1 ounce amaro (preferably Averna)
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
- Cocktail cherry, for garnish
Add the rye whiskey, amaro, Angostura bitters and orange bitters into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.
How Do You Serve a Black Manhattan?
A traditional Black Manhattan is served up in a glass, Lee says, but some people prefer it served on the rocks. “Garnishing with a maraschino cherry or an orange twist is a common practice,” Perdue adds.
How Does a Black Manhattan Differ from a Classic Manhattan?
A classic Manhattan is made with bourbon or rye, depending on your preference, as well as sweet vermouth. A Black Manhattan, however, is usually made with rye whiskey with amaro. Both tend to include bitters.
What Does a Black Manhattan Taste Like?
“A Black Manhattan is a well-balanced cocktail with a bittersweet profile,” Perdue says. “It typically exhibits the spiciness of rye or the smoothness of bourbon, combined with the herbal and bitter notes of Averna. The orange bitters add a subtle citrus twist, resulting in a sophisticated and flavorful drink.”
Last Updated: September 19, 2023