Brandy Manhattan

This variation on the classic cocktail has a Wisconsin connection.

Brandy Manhattan

By Bill Lau

Posted October 20, 2015

The Manahttan is one of the true classic cocktails going all the way back to 1874 when it was created at the Manhattan Club. Composed of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, it’s simple, basic, and packs a punch not unlike a good Martini. So why brandy instead of the whiskey?

Well, back when I was still a youngling and taking private pilot lessons at (sadly long-since defunct) Rainbow Airport in the Milwaukee area, my primary flight instructor (also named Bill) would order a brandy Manhattan (well, several, to be truthful) when done flying for the day. It was his signature drink. (Being underage at the time, I would order a “Pea Picker” – a rather tasty (and brilliant green!) lime mixer served on the rocks. Still love a good sweet lime beverage now and then, like Jarritos limón soda from México. I note there is also an alcoholic version of the drink combining vodka and limeade – I think I’ll have to play around with that!)

Now I wasn’t aware at the time what with both my parents being teetotalers that the brandy Old Fashioned was the de facto official state cocktail of Wisconsin, but I have to think that was a big part of my instructor’s penchant for the brandy Manhattan – the drinks are rather similar after all, except that the Old Fashioned is sweeter and lacks the Vermouth.

When I was reading up recently about the Wisconsin style Old Fashioned (see this article for interesting background and history) I remembered my former instructor and his favorite drink and thought – why not try one? I don’t think I’ve ever had the drink made that way. Not to mention that I prefer a less sweet drink myself. Maybe he was on to something, right?

Brandy Manhattan ingredients

The typical Wisconsin-made version would no doubt utilize Korbel brandy, as that seems to be the prevalent spirit used in the state drink; I happened to have recently picked up a bottle of Raynal so used that because it’s what was on my shelf (and it tastes pretty darned good to me!). I suggest using whatever brandy you prefer here – it’s hard to go wrong, I think, but then I’m not exactly a brandy expert. Yet.

When it comes to the garnish, I have just recently learned of these most wonderful (and expensive, yes) Luxardo cherries. If you can afford them, I really have to encourage you to splurge and get a jar, because they are hands-down the best frickin’ Maraschino cherries I have ever tasted. They’re not dyed that almost obscene bright red and packaged with equally-neon cloyingly sweet liquid, but are naturally dark and packed with a luxurious, rich and delicious syrup. I mean they are OMG good!

Brandy Manhattan with ingredients

After trying one of these, I have to wonder why I waited so damn long. I find it to be a sublime, wonderfully balanced drink.


2 oz brandy
1 oz sweet (Italian) Vermouth
2 dashes (1/8 – 1/4 tsp) Angostura bitters
1/4 tsp cherry syrup (optional)
Maraschino cherry to garnish

Add between half a cup to a cup of ice to a cocktail shaker.
Pour all ingredients in and gently stir.
Strain into rocks glass onto fresh ice.
Garnish with a decent Maraschino cherry and serve.

Brandy Manhattan


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