black manhattan cocktail in martini glass with bar tools and cherry

Black Manhattan Recipe: Your Complete Guide

The black Manhattan is a twist on a classic, timeless cocktail, and this variation of the Manhattan cocktail features amaro instead of sweet vermouth. Bitter-sweet, somewhat spicy, and with rich hints of fruit and caramel throughout. The black Manhattan has become increasingly popular for its bold flavors and simple recipe that is a unique homage to the original Manhattan.

Our article will give you more information about the black Manhattan cocktail, including what exactly this drink is made from, what it looks like, and how it tastes. We’ll also give you details on how to create a black Manhattan by yourself so you can enjoy this drink whenever the mood strikes you.

What Exactly Is Black Manhattan? An Overview

The black Manhattan is a twist on the original Manhattan cocktail that originated sometime in the 1870s. The classic Manhattan features whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, and it’s traditionally topped with a Luxardo maraschino cherry.

The original version of this drink is strong, alcohol-forward, and varies in sweetness depending on the type of whiskey used; rye produces a drier and spicier drink, while bourbon is more sweet.

The black Manhattan changes up the original Manhattan recipe by substituting amaro, a bitter-sweet Italian herbal liqueur, for sweet vermouth. The preferred brand of amaro is Amaro Averna.

The black Manhattan typically uses rye whiskey to create a booze-forward, spicy, and bitter-sweet drink that has hints of fruit and caramel due to the amaro. This version of the Manhattan is also topped with a Luxardo cherry.

Black Manhattans have a golden or dark brown color and they are perceived as a modern classic. This twist on the Manhattan is reported to be fairly recent, at least as far as the Manhattan’s extensive history stretches, and the black Manhattan is quickly rising in popularity for the classic, yet unique and intriguing, flavors it offers to this historical recipe.

What Does a Black Manhattan Taste Like?

Black Manhattans taste somewhat similar to the original Manhattan recipe, as they both offer alcohol-forward and boozy experiences. The black Manhattan will taste spicy due to the rye whiskey base with hints of fruit or caramel and chocolate thanks to the amaro.

This drink is bitter-sweet, though it can be made sweeter by substituting bourbon for the rye whiskey in this recipe.

The black Manhattan is bold, smooth, and spiced. Depending on the brands of whiskey and amaro you use, it could be spicier and drier, or it may have more fruit and citrus qualities. Averna amaro, the preferred brand of amaro for this recipe, can have a slight ‘cola’ taste to some, and hints of this may be found in your black Manhattan if you choose to use this brand. You can also add more coffee flavors if you want it to be sweeter and more comparable to a Black Russian.

What Is the Alcohol Content of a Black Manhattan?

The alcoholic content of the black Manhattan is fairly high, as it has a base of whiskey that can be quite strong. This base is also what adds to the bold, booze-forward, and spicy flavor of this drink.

You can expect a standard black Manhattan to have an ABV of around 35 to 40 percent, depending on the proof of whiskey used in this drink.

What Is the History of a Black Manhattan?

While the history of the black Manhattan is relatively short, this drink is a spin on the classic Manhattan cocktail.

The original Manhattan came into existence sometime between the 1860s and 1870s at a club located in Manhattan. The classic cocktail rose in popularity throughout the area and New York City in general, quickly becoming an essential recipe in many bartending and drink-mixing collections.

Some of the earliest known records of the Manhattan cocktail are found in the 1884 publications of American and Other Drinks and The Modern Bartender’s Guide.

The original Manhattan cocktail features whiskey, traditionally rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. These ingredients are stirred with ice and chilled before being served in a cocktail glass, though Manhattans may be served on the rocks in a lowball or short glass.

The black Manhattan was created around 2005 by bartender Todd Smith at the San Francisco bar Bourbon & Branch.

This variation on the original Manhattan replaces sweet vermouth with Amaro Averna, a specific brand of Italian herbal liqueur that has a bitter-sweet, lightly spicy, and somewhat fruity taste. Other ingredients of this drink remain the same, and the black Manhattan may be topped with a Luxardo cherry, an orange twist, or both.

The black Manhattan is viewed as a modern take on this classic drink. It is finding its way to greater popularity today as many individuals find the bold, bitter-sweet, and spicy flavor intriguing. When rye whiskey is replaced with bourbon, it becomes an ever sweeter, booze-forward take on the timeless classic that is the original Manhattan cocktail.

How to Make a Black Manhattan

Black Manhattans are fairly simple to create once you have all of your ingredients gathered. We give you an ingredient list below as well as step-by-step instructions for crafting this modern twist on the Manhattan by yourself.

To make a black Manhattan, you will need:

  • 2 ounces of rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce Averna Amaro
  • 1 dash of Angostura Aromatic bitters, or another aromatic bitter
  • 1 dash of orange bitters


  1. Add all of your ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice
  2. Stir your ingredients for at least 20 seconds until they are chilled and well-blended
  3. Strain your drink into a cocktail glass or a lowball glass filled with ice as preferred and garnish

It’s important to note that there are a few variations you can make to the black Manhattan to ensure this drink suits your tastes. Bourbon may be substituted for rye whiskey to create a sweeter drink, and you don’t need to use the Averna brand of amaro, though this is what the original creation contains.

You can garnish your black Manhattan with a Luxardo cherry, a brand of dark and luxurious maraschino cherries, or you may use a different preferred brand. You can add an orange twist to your drink to bring out the citrus flavors or use both garnishes as you prefer.

Black Manhattans may be served in a coupe glass, which is a small, bowl-like glass with a stem or a lowball glass. When served in a lowball glass, you may have this drink neat or on the rocks.

How to Serve a Black Manhattan

Black Manhattans are typically served neat in a coupe glass. They might occasionally be served in martini glasses, or you can serve a black Manhattan in a lowball glass. If you choose to use a lowball glass, you can serve this drink neat or add extra ice to keep the drink chilled.

The black Manhattan needs to be chilled, as room temperature doesn’t bring out the flavors of this drink. You can serve this drink with a charcuterie spread, roasted nuts, or roasted meats. These choices will balance the bitter-sweet spice of the drink with the rich and decadent flavors of food for the perfect black Manhattan experience.

When to Drink a Black Manhattan

Black Manhattans are considered a classic cocktail, and they are popular at speakeasy-style bars, during quiet evenings out, or as part of a dinner party or other event. These drinks are almost never frowned upon, as they are a modern classic, and the black Manhattan suits many palates.

This drink is not considered a party drink. Instead, you can perceive the black Manhattan as a unique and tasteful way to wind down after a long day or as a complement to good company and good food.

What Are Some Black Manhattan Variations?

The black Manhattan itself is a variation of the classic Manhattan recipe. This drink substitutes Averna Amaro for sweet vermouth, so if you want to try the regular black Manhattan, you can create this recipe with sweet vermouth instead.

Other popular variations of the black Manhattan include substituting bourbon or brandy for rye whiskey to create a sweeter drink. Or, you can simply add a little bit of simple syrup into this cocktail for sweetness.

You can also vary the recipe by garnishing this drink with orange instead of cherries.

Classic, Boozy Black Manhattans

black manhattan with cherries and bar tools on dark table

The black Manhattan is a modern twist on a classic cocktail that has a decades-long history for a reason. The black Manhattan expands on the flavors of the original Manhattan and balances the strong booze-forward experience of rye whiskey in this drink with the bitter-sweet flavor of Averna Amaro.

Spiciness, hints of fruits or citrus, and an aftertaste of cola, caramel, or chocolate are all unique flavors that make the black Manhattan a classic. Plus, its simple recipe makes it a great place to start when home bartending.

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