Manhattan Drink vs Old Fashioned Cocktail: What is the Difference?

July 11, 2023 by

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In the realm of classic cocktails, two distinguished whiskey-based drinks reign supreme: the Manhattan vs Old Fashioned. With each sip, these two iconic cocktails are guaranteed to transport you to an era of sophistication and timeless charm. But what’s the difference exactly, and which one is right for you? Let’s dive right in, besties! 

What’s an Old Fashioned?

Top view of rich Old Fashioned Cocktails with Orange peel garnish

As far as classic cocktails go, the Old Fashioned is probably one of the most famous ones out there. It is a cocktail for whiskey lovers, made with your choice of bourbon or rye, simple syrup, a few dashes of aromatic bitters, and orange peel or Maraschino cherries to garnish.  

As is often the case, there are many claims as to where the Old Fashioned cocktail originated. One of the more famous stories is that it was created at a gentleman’s club in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1860s. But what’s with the name? Interesting story, that… 

When America’s cocktail scene really took off in the latter 1800s, bar menus started to evolve as bartenders began mixing up new and exciting cocktails to impress the masses. Legend has it that there were some sentimental drinkers who missed how things used to be back in the good old days, and so they used to order a drink made the old-fashioned way, and it was here that the Old Fashioned Cocktail was born.  

Over the years, it has inspired spinoffs, like:  

What’s a Manhattan?

Two Italian Manahattans in tumblers

Then we have the Manhattan. The exact origins of the Manhattan are not definitively known, but its creation is attributed to the mid-19th century. It is believed to have been first crafted in New York City, specifically at the Manhattan Club, hence the name.  

The original recipe called for a mix of American whiskey, sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters, and a Maraschino cherry to garnish. The result was a drink with captivating herbal nuances and a delicious touch of complexity.  

Socialites started sipping this tasty three-ingredient cocktail in the 1800s, and its popularity has seldom waned over the years. In fact, there have been countless riffs on the classic Manhattan, including:  

How are they similar?

Two hands clinking together Winter Manhattan cocktails

When considering the Old Fashioned vs Manhattan, it soon becomes clear that there are actually a whole lot of similarities between the two drinks. Let’s take a look at the tasty spaces where the Venn diagrams of these two cocktails overlap:  


These timeless drinks are traditionally crafted using high-quality whiskey as their base spirit. Both the Old Fashioned and Manhattan cocktails share a common foundation of classic spirits, bitters, and sweeteners.  

The Old Fashioned typically calls for bourbon or rye whiskey, while the Manhattan specifically employs rye whiskey or sometimes bourbon. Both cocktails also incorporate aromatic bitters to add depth and complexity. Additionally, a touch of sweetness is introduced using sugar, simple syrup, or a sugar cube. 


When it comes to flavor, both cocktails offer a rich and nuanced taste profile. The Old Fashioned is known for its balanced combination of whiskey, bitters, and simple syrup, resulting in a smooth and slightly sweet drink.  

Meanwhile, the Manhattan cocktail takes the flavor experience to the next level by incorporating vermouth—a fortified wine infused with various botanicals. The vermouth in the Manhattan adds a distinctive herbal, sometimes slightly bitter note that complements the whiskey beautifully. 

Read next: Everything You Need to Know About Vermouth 

Serving Styles

Both the Old Fashioned and Manhattan are typically served in short, sturdy glasses, such as a rocks glass or an old-fashioned glass. These classic cocktails are commonly prepared over ice, allowing the flavors to mellow and develop slowly as the ice gradually melts. Garnishing options often include citrus peels, maraschino cherries, or a combination of the two. While the serving styles are similar, some variations may exist based on personal preferences and regional customs. 

Who drinks it?

Both the Old Fashioned and Manhattan have stood the test of time and are loved by cocktail enthusiasts worldwide. These iconic drinks are enjoyed by a wide range of individuals, from seasoned whiskey connoisseurs to casual drinkers seeking a taste of timeless elegance. Bartenders, cocktail aficionados, and those who appreciate the craftsmanship and heritage of classic cocktails often gravitate toward these refined drinks. 

What is the Difference?

Bar tools for a BYOB party

On the other hand, there are distinct differences between the Old Fashioned vs Manhattan drinks as well. These include: 


The main point of distinction between the Old Fashioned and Manhattan lies in their choice of sweeteners. The Old Fashioned typically utilizes simple syrup or a sugar cube to provide sweetness. On the other hand, the Manhattan features sweet vermouth, which serves as both a flavor component and a sweetener. Vermouth, a fortified wine, brings its unique herbal and botanical qualities to the mix, setting the Manhattan apart from its counterpart. 


While both cocktails boast enticing flavors, the Manhattan presents a more complex taste profile due to the addition of vermouth. The vermouth contributes a distinct herbal character that adds depth and sophistication to the drink. In contrast, the Old Fashioned emphasizes the pure essence of whiskey, allowing its rich, smooth flavors to take center stage. The absence of vermouth in the Old Fashioned results in a more straightforward, whiskey-forward experience. 

Serving Styles

The serving styles of the Old Fashioned and Manhattan are quite similar. Both are typically served over ice in short glasses, allowing the flavors to develop gradually. However, one variation between the two lies in the garnish. While citrus peels and maraschino cherries are common garnishes for both cocktails, the Manhattan is often garnished with a cherry alone, while the Old Fashioned may incorporate an orange twist or a combination of both garnishes. 

Learn more: 10 Cocktail Glass Types to Level Up Your DIY Drinks 

Who drinks it?

Both the Old Fashioned and Manhattan have devoted fan bases. However, their appeal can differ slightly based on personal preferences and regional traditions. The Old Fashioned tends to attract those who appreciate the elegance of simplicity and the timeless allure of whiskey-based cocktails.  

The Manhattan, with its more complex flavor profile, may entice individuals who crave a well-balanced drink with the added intrigue of vermouth’s herbal notes. Both cocktails continue to be enjoyed by a diverse range of people, from cocktail enthusiasts who appreciate the art of mixology to those seeking a sophisticated drink for special occasions. 


The Manhattan cocktail predates the Old Fashioned, making it the older of the two classic cocktails. The exact origins of the Manhattan are not definitively known, but its creation is attributed to the mid-19th century. It is believed to have been first crafted in New York City, specifically at the Manhattan Club, hence the name. The Old Fashioned, on the other hand, emerged later in the 19th century, around the 1860s. It is considered one of the oldest recorded cocktails and is believed to have originated in Louisville, Kentucky.

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