The Black Manhattan is one of my favorite drinks. I don’t have one very frequently, but it’s infused with so much memory and significance that every time Shawn Michael makes one at home, I’m transported back about 4 years to when we first started this barware business.
We’ve always been into food and beverages from a culinary perspective. We just like to eat and drink. But not any food and drink…. I guess you could say we’re kind of picky. The experiences we enjoy the most are flavorful, artistic, fresh, and most of all, provide opportunities for rest, connecting with friends, and making space for important conversations.
That’s one of the things we love most about being involved with cocktails. Making and enjoying a cocktail provides space for significance, whether that’s just having an intentional moment after a long day once the kids are finally in bed, or getting together with your sister or best friend at a chill bar to connect about things that really matter in life.
Four years ago, Shawn Michael had just finished building our home bar, we had just successfully funded our first barware crowdfunding campaign, and we were digging in deep to starting a business. He made me a beautiful drink: the Black Manhattan, with a new bottle of Amari that we had never tried. Averna has now become a STAPLE at our home bar. Rather than the traditional cherry garnish (we didn’t keep a jar of luxardo cherries around in those days), he plucked a jasmine flower off the vine in our front yard, which was in glorious springtime bloom.
The floral aroma paired with orange oils was a beautiful, refreshing complement to this dark, bittersweet classic. This pic is actually our 2nd Instagram Photo EVER with that jasmine flower garnish.
I feel like it’s safe to say that we make better photos now. When our jasmine bush went haywire last month, I knew it was time to pay homage to this incredible amaro cocktail.
A Note: One of our readers tipped us off that while plants belonging to the true Jasmine Family are non-toxic to humans, like the common jasmine we used (above), some plants that are commonly referred to as jasmine, such as Yellow Jasmine (click to see) can be toxic. So if you go the route of garnishing with florals, do a quick bit of research to identify the variety you’re using and verify it’s a good choice. Thanks Nyles!
Black Manhattan: What is is, and Where did it come from?
The Black Manhattan Cocktail is essentially a Manhattan (Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters), that uses Averna instead of sweet vermouth. It was created by bartender Todd Smith when he made drinks at Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco, sometime around 2008. To be fair, Todd’s recipe also uses Rye instead of Bourbon, and adds orange bitters to the angostura called for in the original recipe, so it’s really a multi-step variation. But dang, it’s delicious.
You’ll notice right away that it’s darker than a traditional manhattan (hence the name). Averna, which is a dark, bitter, sweet Italian amaro, adds depth and complexity of flavor, which we like over here!
(If you want to learn more about Amaro/Amari, we wrote another blog post about that a few weeks back. Check it out here: “What is Amaro? All About Italian Herbal Liqueurs”)
Another thing that’s essential for the Black Manhattan, and that we will NOT compromise on, is the cherry garnish. DO NOT – I repeat, DO NOT make one of these sublime drinks and then drop a neon pink maraschino ‘cherry’ in. It will not complete the drink. It will ruin it.
Do yourself a favor (you will thank me, I promise), and buy the Luxardo Maraschino cherries – the dark ones. These are absolutely the best. If your local beverage store doesn’t carry them, you can order them online. Yes, they are more expensive than the formaldehyde version — but they are still actually real cherries.
The bright ones are soaked in a salt brine or (WORSE), calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide to bleach them, which also removes their natural flavor. Then they’re soaked in fake red food colorings and syrup. And let’s be honest – it’s high fructose corn syrup or some other lesser ‘sugar’. There’s nothing cherry left about them.
Wouldn’t you rather put THIS into your cocktail (and your body)?
Photo courtesy of Epicurious. Click through for their post on the Luxardo Maraschino Cherry.
Luxardo cherries are naturally colored and flavored. They’re definitely super sweet, but the syrup used is Marasca syrup (Marasca cherry juice and sugar), which is the syrup Luxardo uses for distilling it’s popular Maraschino Liqueur.
How To Make the Black Manhattan Cocktail
The Black Manhattan is a stirred drink (stir all drinks that contain only clear spirits and liqueurs), so you’ll need a Mixing Glass, barspoon, and strainer. We like to serve this drink up, in a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.
Two great ways to chill a cocktail glass:
- Put it in the freezer 15-20 minutes before you make your cocktail, or
- Fill it with ice and let it sit on the bar top while you’re preparing the cocktail. When ready to serve, just dump the ice (you can re-use that ice for making more cocktails too).
Here is the basic recipe with instructions:
Makes: 1 cocktail
Black Manhattan Cocktail
prep time: 5cook time: 0total time: 5 The Black Manhattan is a darker, more complex version of the classic bourbon manhattan. We recommend using Rye Whiskey, but you can also use Bourbon if that’s what you have at home. Don’t skimp on the cherries – you’ll thank us later!
- 2 oz Rye Whiskey
- 1 oz Amaro (we use Averna)
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
- Luxardo Maraschino Cherry garnish
- Add the rye whiskey, amaro, and bitters to a Mixing Glass; fill with ice
- Stir to chill and dilute.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
And of course, if you want to make our custom variation, you’ll have to go hunt down some fresh jasmine flowers.
Shawn likes to spritz some orange oils over the surface of the glass as well; the orange and jasmine together are absolutely intoxicating as you bring the glass to your lips for that first sip….
Check out the Black Manhattan photo gallery on our Instagram Page, and stay tuned for more amazing cocktails coming to the blog soon.
Be a Cocktail Hero. Make Incredible Drinks.
Great tools help you make great cocktails – and enjoy the experience so much more. We used the Hammered Mixing Glass and Aero Cocktail Spoon to make the Black Manhattan. We make two barspoons: the Aero Spoon, which is a seamless, straight handled barspoon, and the Wingman Spinning Cocktail Spoon, which takes the guess-work out of making stirred drinks.
Both cocktail spoons come with a lifetime guarantee. You can buy them, and our other tools, at the Standard Spoon Store.