The Difference Between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned

Both the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned are similar cocktails that focus on whiskey as their main ingredient. Both of them also make use of sweeteners and other occasional mixers and bitters to add to the final taste.

Despite these similarities, however, there are several differences between Manhattan and Old Fashioned. There are differences in terms of the kind of whiskey they use, the kind of sweeteners, how they are served, how they taste and more.

Let’s take a look at some of these differences in further detail.


While both the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned have tones of sweetness in their taste and preparation, but the extent of this tends to differ in each of them. The kind of sweetener use is also different for each.

For the Manhattan, a certain quantity of Sweet Vermouth is used to give the cocktail a bit of sweetness. This sweetness is quite subtle and can serve to bring about a small balance in terms of the otherwise bitter taste of the Manhattan.

On the other hand, the Old Fashioned is sweeter than the Manhattan as it uses sugar or a sugar cube directly to give a distinct to the cocktail.


The kind of whiskey used for the Manhattan and Old Fashioned can also differ occasionally, which can make a slight difference in terms of the overall taste.

The Manhattan generally uses bourbon. In combination with the other mixers and sweeteners, this leads to a different taste from the Old Fashioned.

On the other hand, the Old Fashioned uses either rye whiskey or bourbon, depending on the preferred taste. While rye whiskey is stronger and spicier, bourbon tends to be sweeter by itself.


The mixing and preparation process of the Manhattan and Old Fashioned are slightly different from each other as well.

To make a Manhattan, you will need to combine the vermouth, bourbon and bitters in a mixing container. Stir them all well together and then strain the cocktail into the glasses.

To make an Old Fashioned, you will need to stir bourbon or rye whiskey with sugar and bitters. You can do this directly in the whiskey glass instead of having to strain it from one glass to another (although you can carry out this step if you desire).


There are some differences in the ways in which a Manhattan and Old Fashioned are served in their respective glasses.

The Old Fashioned is served, as the name suggests, in an old-fashioned way. You can make use of a classic whiskey glass to serve this cocktail. This glass is usually shorter but wider than the Manhattan glass. Simply pour the drink into the glass up to the desired quantity, depending on your requirements.

The Manhattan is served in a slightly fancier glass that narrows down at the bottom. You can pour the drink into the glass up to the required quantity that you can then top up if you want to.


The garnish requirements are a bit different for a Manhattan and Old Fashioned in order to meet their taste and aesthetic.

An Old Fashioned is usually served with an orange peel that you can insert across the glass. You can also twist it into a shape to add to the classic style of an Old Fashioned. You can either directly balance it on the glass or you can insert a cocktail pick through the peel and balance it on the glass.

A Manhattan is garnished using a cherry or two that you can balance on top of the glass by inserting a pick through it.


You can choose to add one or two ice cubes inside your Manhattan and Old Fashioned depending on your preferences. However, it is important to keep in mind that the ice will slightly dilute the strength of your cocktail.

Generally, people tend to add ice more often to the Manhattan since this cocktail is otherwise quite strong on its own and the ice can help balance that out.

Since the Old Fashioned is already sweet, ice can dilute it even more. If you want to cool it more, you can refrigerate it or use a frozen whiskey cube.

You can also simply use crushed ice for either of the cocktails by adding it to the glass before you pour the drink into it.


Since there are several different elements used in making a Manhattan and Old Fashioned, the ultimate taste can also differ.

A Manhattan makes use of vermouth for the sweetness which can give it a drier quality and texture. It is also more bitter as compared to an Old Fashioned because of the vermouth.

There are a lot more complex layers and undertones in a Manhattan. However, if you prefer uncomplicated and classic flavors, then you can go for an Old Fashioned.

An Old Fashioned is also sweeter than a Manhattan. The choice of rye or bourbon can also make a difference in this case.


The Old Fashioned was discovered or invented much earlier than the Manhattan. This is also reflected through the name itself. The classic flavors and preparation of the Old Fashioned continue to be retained even today, although people tend to experiment in their own ways as well.

While the Old Fashioned was made first in the early 19th century, the Manhattan came later in the same century. There are several ways of experimenting with this cocktail since it has many layers to its flavors.

Final Remarks

To sum up, there are several differences between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned that we have taken you through in sufficient detail. These differences include categories such as their taste, sweetness, garnish, serving methods, whiskey choices and more.

At the base level, both cocktails use the same three ingredients that include the whiskey, a sweetener and the bitters. The minor distinctions can make quite a difference in terms of their overall taste as well as appearances.