A Spicier Twist on the Classic—A Black Manhattan

A spicier twist on the classic Manhattan, a Black Manhattan swaps amaro for sweet vermouth. Think of it as the Manhattan’s bolder counterpart.

A Spicier Twist on the Classic—A Black Manhattan
Glasses of Black Manhattan with Orange Peels and in the Background, Ingredients on a Wood Board
Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

Once you’ve mastered a few classic cocktail recipes at home, you absolutely should feel comfortable modifying them to suit your tastes. If you felt like you needed permission; you have it! There are so many modern twists on classic cocktails—especially springing up during the 2000s—that you’ll be following in the footsteps of many bartenders before you.

Black Manhattan with an Orange Peel
Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

A Modern Twist on a Classic

Take the Black Manhattan, a modern twist on the classic Manhattan recipe, created in 2005 by bartender Todd Smith from San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch. It’s largely a swap, where Averna, a bittersweet amaro, is substituted in for the traditional sweet vermouth. With the addition of a dash of orange bitters into the mix, it’s a whole new drink, if just a tad familiar too. 

What “Makes” a Black Manhattan? Amaro! 

The classic Manhattan is already solid (although, depending on the ingredients, it can be only *just fine*, and not amazing). But bringing amaro into the mix brings a different lens. 

Averna’s secret recipe boasts a special blend of herbs, roots, spices, citrus, and other flavors for a complex flavor profile that is both bitter, sweet, and spicy. If you’re wondering: what’s the difference between a vermouth and an amaro? Put directly, sweet vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine with a bittering agent, while an amaro is a liqueur (which its alcohol base can be a spirit or wine) that has an infusion of herbs, spices, etc. 

The name amaro translates to “bitter” in Italian. 

Glasses of Black Manhattan with Orange Peels
Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

Experiment With Amaro! 

Don’t let access to any particular amaro stop you. While Averna is the recommendation in today’s recipe, there are many other amari you can use instead. My personal favorite is Amaro Lucano, which is similar in flavor to Averna, but less of a “cola” taste for me. 

If you’re familiar with many amari and want to branch out into more complex and, ahem, interesting flavors, give Fernet Branca a try. With its bracingly bitter and minty profile, it stands up strongly next to any rye whiskey and is a unique choice to experiment with here. 

Rye is a Classic Choice for a Manhattan Cocktail

Don’t forget the flavors of the element you’re pairing the amaro with—rye. Rye is the classic choice for a Manhattan and that needn’t change here with the Black Manhattan. Rye whiskey has a spicy flavor of its own with a more dry (read: less sweet) taste than a bourbon. That spiciness doesn’t compete so much as enhance the amaro’s own spicy quality. My pick is Old Overholt, a lightly spiced, smooth rye that is very budget-friendly. You can use it both here and in the classic Manhattan too.

How to Serve a Black Manhattan

A Black Manhattan can be enjoyed in the same style as the classic drink, that is “up” (meaning without ice) and in a coupe. Here, I recommend you serve with an orange peel garnish to complement the orange bitters and citrus flavors found in the amaro. 

Black Manhattan with an Orange Peel and in the Background, Ingredients on a Wooden Board
Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

Make These Classic Cocktails!

Make cocktail:

In a mixing glass filled 2/3 with ice, pour in rye whiskey, amaro, aromatic style bitters and orange bitters. Stir for 20 seconds to chill.

Strain into glass and serve:

Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the orange peel. Serve.

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Black Manhattan Poured into a Glass
Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski
Black Manhattan with an Orange Peel and in the Background, Another Glass and Ingredients for the Cocktail
Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski