Here's What Makes A Black Manhattan Different From The Classic Drink

The classic rye Manhattan cocktail is a drink that exudes class and sophistication. Featuring a combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters (an herbal concoction that introduces a bit of spice), Manhattans are surprisingly drinkable for such a potent cocktail. And while the original recipe is much loved by connoisseurs of fine alcoholic beverages, there's always room for alteration.

Take the Black Manhattan, for instance. In this variation, sweet vermouth is replaced with amaro, a type of digestif hailing from Italy. The switch deprives the drink of its sweetness and introduces a pleasing bitter quality with herbal notes stemming from the multifaceted amaro. Black Manhattans are a relatively recent invention, and many attribute their creation to a bartender at San Francisco-based Bourbon & Branch, who was said to have developed the cocktail in 2005. While not quite as famous as the drink that inspired it, Black Manhattans are ideal for drinkers who enjoy more complex flavor profiles.

Averna amaro is the key to a Black Manhattan

To truly understand what makes a Black Manhattan unique, you must first understand how sweet vermouth and amaro differ. Sweet vermouth is in the category of fortified wine. As for what it means when a wine is fortified, these beverages feature a mix of wine and liquor. With vermouth, the majority of the drink consists of white wine, which is combined with a distilled botanical concoction and an additional spirit or liquor. The flavor profile typically depends on the botanicals used, which can include a variety of herbs, spices, fruit peels, and roots.

Conversely, amaro is a type of liqueur. With Black Manhattans, Averna amaro is the most common selection, and it's created by seeping herbs and other ingredients in liquor until it takes on the flavor of the different components. As for the flavor, Averna is known for having a bittersweet flavor punctuated by mild hints of caramel. It also has a signature dark color that's responsible for the moniker Black Manhattan, along with a thicker mouthfeel.

Bourbon vs. rye whiskey

While Manhattans are traditionally made with rye whiskey, bourbon Manhattan recipes are also acceptable. You can make a similar swap when whipping up a batch of Black Manhattans, but you should understand the impact that each liquor will have on the completed cocktail. Bourbon is a type of whiskey subject to some strict manufacturing rules. For instance, it must be American-made and the finished product can't be below 80 proof. Similarly, rye whiskey is subject to its own rules, mainly that it must consist of a minimum of 51% rye grain. 

As for flavor, bourbon is associated with a slight sweetness, while some types of rye whiskey veer more towards the spicy, herbaceous side. This is an important consideration when it comes to Black Manhattans, as the absence of sweet vermouth gives the cocktail a more bitter flavor profile. If you'd like a touch of sweetness, use bourbon. If you enjoy more complex flavor notes, rye whiskey might be the way to go. Either way, next time you want to try a riff on the classic, remember to break out the amaro.