The Black Manhattan is a smooth, dark almost bittersweet version of the classic Manhattan. This flavorful twist on the traditional Manhattan cocktail uses Averna Amaro Siciliano in place of sweet vermouth.
This classy drink has a rich flavor with a slight caramel undertone and hints of fresh fruit thanks to the addition of the Italian Amaro. As much as I enjoy a Manhattan, this tasty Sicilian version is now my preferred aperitif.
What is a Black Manhattan?
The Manhattan is a classic cocktail that combines rye or bourbon whiskey with sweet vermouth and bitters. It dates back as far as the 1880s, when it was said to have been invented by Dr. Iain Marshall for a party hosted by Lady Randolph Churchill (Winston Churchill’s mother) at the Manhattan Club in New York City. This account was later disproven, so the true origins remain a mystery but the popularity of the drink has not waned.
The Black Manhattan, which is quickly becoming a modern classic, was first made in 2005 by bartender Todd Smith at San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch bar. He alters the original recipe slightly by swapping out the traditional sweet vermouth for the slightly bittersweet Averna Amaro and adding a second type of bitters, orange bitters to the recipe.
What is in a Sicilian Manhattan?
To make the best Black Manhattan you really do have to use the best ingredients. So let me lay out what makes the smoothest drink.
Should You Use Bourbon or Rye Whiskey?
A traditional Manhattan can be made with either Rye whiskey or Bourbon. Rye whiskey has a spicier flavor, while Bourbon tends to be a bit sweeter and not quite as intensely spicy. I personally like the more intense flavor of Basil Hayden Dark Rye Whisky although you can use either one in this recipe. If you want a smoother cocktail, I recommend the sweeter caramelly essence of Bourbon.
Averna Amaro Siciliano
“Amaro”, which means bitter in Italian, is a bittersweet herbal liqueur that is wildly popular in Italy. Bittersweet liqueurs were produced in Italian monasteries as early as the 13th century and they have been mass produced since the 1800’s. Each region in Italy has their own secret recipe based on the flavors the region is known for, giving the herbaceous liqueurs profiles ranging from very bitter to light and sweet.
Averna Amaro is a very dark, sweet Sicilian amaro that dates to 1868. It has the prominent citrus flavors that Sicily is known for, such as oranges, lemons, and pomegranates. Although the color might make this herbal liqueur intimidating, it has lovely notes of sweet fresh fruit which make it easy to drink on its own.
Bitters are typically used in a Manhattan. Angostura bitters have been the most popular mainly because they widely available. In addition to the angostura bitters, the Black Manhattan also includes a dash of orange bitters to complement the citrus from the amaro Averna.
The last ingredient is Luxardo Cherries! Luxardo cherries are luxurious cocktail cherries that also have Italian roots. They are truly the original maraschino cherries, but they are nothing like the American cocktail cherries. These candied cherries are exceptionally dark, sweet and are still crisp and meaty when you bite into them. You will find these cherries garnishing the drinks in reputable cocktail lounges and bars around the world.
According to the Tasting Table, they have been made in Torreglia Italy since 1921, using dark purple Marasca cherries. The cherries are naturally candied in their own thick juices and are a tasting experience all their own.
How to Make a Black Manhattan Cocktail
Stir Don’t Shake
Fill a shaker or mixing glass with large ice cubes and pour in the Bourbon, Amaro, a dash of bitters and a dash of orange bitters. Then stir well. Shaking the cocktail with ice will make it cloudy and that is not what you want with this modern classic. By stirring the liqueurs appropriately, you both cool and dilute the beverage while preserving its impeccably clear appearance.
A tip about stirring your cocktail: If you are using smaller ice cubes, don’t stir your drink for more than 15 seconds because the ice cubes will melt quickly. If you are using large ice cubes you can cool your drink down longer by stirring for up to 30 seconds.
How to Serve it
Traditionally, a Manhattan is served straight up so it is often served in a chilled glass. This keeps the cocktail chilled without diluting it any further. Just pour the Black Manhattan through a strainer into your glass. Then garnish it with a Luxardo cherry or two or three! You can also serve it with an orange peel twist if you want to compliment the flavor or citrus in the bitters and liqueurs.
What Kind of Glass Should You Use
A Manhattan is usually served in either a coupe glass or a martini glass. The stemmed martini shaped glass gives the cocktail the sophisticated and elegant presentation that it deserves.
Can You Serve This Drink Over Ice
Traditionally this is a booze forward drink that is served straight up. Once the ice starts melting, it alters the flavor of the cocktail by watering it down. So if you like your cocktails over ice, then I would recommend using a very large ice cube, so that it melts slowly and does not dilute your drink too quickly.
When Do You Drink a Black Manhattan?
Typically a Manhattan is served before dinner. It is an excellent drink to serve with appetizers during a cocktail party. Because it is a bit heavy it is not normally served during dinner or as a digestive after dinner.
Other Variations of the Manhattan
This Black Manhattan recipe makes some small changes that create a new and tasty version of the old standard. There are actually many versions of the original Manhattan that you might want to try. For instance changing to half dry vermouth and half sweet vermouth results in a Perfect Manhattan! If you use Scotch Whiskey instead of the Rye Whiskey it is now a Rob Roy.
If you want something with a little less alcohol content, then swap the ratios of the Bourbon and Vermouth. This now becomes a Reverse Manhattan. The Vermouth becomes the more dominant liqueur, making the drink a little less potent but just as enjoyable.
Other Italian Inspired Cocktails
In Italy we love things that make life enjoyable! Food and Drinks are at the top of our list.
If you like a booze-forward drink like this Black Manhattan, you will love a sweet and nutty Sicilian Kiss. This potent cocktail is as tasty as it gets.
Not Italian but I have to share it because it is incredibly delicious and refreshing, is the Apple Cider Margarita, which has become a fall favorite.
I love to get your feedback so if you tried this Black Manhattan recipe or any other recipes on this website, please leave me a comment below. I hope you enjoy our recipes and look forward to hearing from you!
Black Manhattan Cocktail Recipe
- 1 Cocktail glass
- 1 Martini or Coupe glass
- 2 oz Basil Hayden Rye Whiskey or Bourbon
- 1 oz Averna Amaro Siciliano
- 1 dash Orange Bitters
- 1 dash Regular bitters
- Luxardo Cherries for garnish, or Maraschino cherries
- Fill a cocktail glass with ice. Add the Bourbon, Amaro Siciliano, and the bitters. Stir and pour the cocktail through a strainer into a prepared glass. Garnish with Luxardo cherries and serve.