fbpx Skip to main content
Book a Tour or Experience

Is a Manhattan Cocktail Better with Bourbon or Rye?

The Classic Manhattan

Whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. The quintessential classic cocktail has made many variations over the past 150 years. People often choose to substitute the traditional 2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters with cherry juice or even orange bitters. However, a more debated question than cherry juice and bitters use is whether a cocktail tastes better with Bourbon or rye.

Spirit connoisseurs may frequent the debate over which whiskey makes a better Manhattan – American Rye or Bourbon whiskey. Although the original New York cocktail ingredients call for American Rye, bartenders from across the US have quickly adopted a substitution for the spirit with a Bourbon Manhattan variant.

The use of either spirit creates a hint of complexities that other classic aromatic cocktails cannot match. However, many enthusiasts subscribe to their favorite variant on the traditional Manhattan. Which one is best for you?

What is Bourbon?

The use of bourbon whiskey as a substitute for American Rye isn’t a new trend. Many bartenders across the US have made the bourbon addition a welcomed one behind the counter. For over a hundred years, Bourbon has been just as much of a staple in the classic Manhattan as American Rye whiskey.

Bourbon is an American-made whiskey that contains a mash bill of at least 51% corn. The whiskey is distilled at 160 proof or less and stored in new charred oak barrels at 125 proof or less. Straight Bourbon contains zero additives and is aged for a minimum of two years before the bottling process.

The New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a classic bourbon for making delicious Manhattans. Our core bourbon is a high-rye, full-bodied whiskey which flavor characters that include vanilla accents, rye spices, and a finish that includes white pepper, clove, and red-black fruits. Our Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a must-have for nearly any classic aromatic drink.

What is Rye?

By law, American Rye whiskey must be made from a mash bill of at least 51% rye. Like Bourbon, American Rye is stored in barrels at no more than 160 proof and aged in new charred oak barrels at 125 proof. Typically, American Rye whiskey is aged for a minimum of two years and cannot be blended with other spirits or additives to be considered a straight whiskey.

The New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey is full-bodied rye with a spicy character. Our Kentucky Rye features a unique mash bill of 95% rye, 5% malted rye, and aged for four years in new charred oak barrels. Our new riff pulls additional flavors from the rye while adding a touch of elegance from the additional malted rye. Our Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey pairs magnificently with a class Manhattan or other aromatic cocktails.

The Difference in Flavor

The greatest differences between these classic spirits aren’t just the mash bill ingredients but also their flavor profiles. Of course, their components and mash bill play a role in both spirits’ different flavor profiles.

Bourbon tends to taste sweeter, with caramel-like flavors resulting from the heavy corn mash. American Rye whiskey tends to have a bit more spice, with savory undertones in the whiskey’s finish.

American Rye whiskey is typically used over Bourbon in the classic cocktail recipe. This is because an average cocktail recipe calls for sugar or a mixture or sweeter liquors. Some may find that substituting for Bourbon is cloy. However, replacing American Rye with Bourbon is another variant of classic cocktails.

The use of either Rye or Bourbon is up to the person drinking the cocktail. Only they know what they truly like.

Pairing Vermouth with Rye and Bourbon

The difference in Rye and Bourbon whiskey’s flavor profiles means that using specific vermouth is necessary to bring out the broadest flavor profiles present in the drink.

Those who choose to mix their Manhattan with Bourbon might find that sweet vermouth adds a bit too much sweetness to their cocktail. Consider splitting the 1 oz of vermouth into 1/2 sweet and 1/2 dry (Contratto Dry) to balance the flavors.

Just like Bourbon, pairing the right vermouth with American Rye in a Manhattan can also bring out the spicy notes without overpowering the sweet hints. If you wish to stick with the classic American Rye in your Manhattan, pair it with sweet vermouth like Cocchi Storico. Those who want to add a new riff on an old tradition, mix your Manhattan with both 1/2oz Cocchi Sweet Vermouth and 1/2oz Contratto Dry Vermouth. We call this the Perfect Manhattan for a reason.

Which is Better, Bourbon or Rye?

Ultimately, choosing either American Rye or Bourbon for your Manhattan is purely up to preference. Some believe that using a bourbon adds too much sweetness to their cocktail, while others who choose bourbon use one similar to New Riff’sRiff’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon as they are high in rye for flavor balance. Others have to have their Manhattan made with rye, as they believe the traditional ingredients make the cocktail a staple.

Check out our flagship whiskeys to start your journey towards the perfect Manhattan cocktail today. Follow us to learn more about New Riff and our relentless commitment to whiskey.


New Riff 2021. All rights reserved.

Age Verification: Are you 21 or older?
You must be 21 or older to enter this site.