Manhattan…Boulevardier…Old Fashioned…these 3 easy whiskey cocktails are easy to make and don’t require a lot of special ingredients or equipment. They don’t even require a shaker. They’re the first classic cocktails I ever learned how to make and are a great intro for anyone new to making cocktails (especially if you love whiskey as much as I do!).
Purchasing Your Ingredients
Knob Creek Small Batch (well-rounded, 100 proof)
Old Grandad 114
High Rye Bourbon
Four Roses Small Batch (90 proof)
Redemption High Rye Bourbon (92 proof)
Rittenhouse Rye (100 proof)
Hudson Manhattan Rye (92 proof)
Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye (90 proof)
Knob Creek Rye (100 proof)
Old Forester Rye (100 proof)
You’ll need a sweet vermouth for the Boulevardier and Manhattan recipes. Different sweet vermouths will taste vastly different, with varying levels of sweetness and herbal notes. I would suggest going with something rich like Carpano Antiqua or Martini & Rossi Riserva (their nicer version, not the regular Martini & Rossi). If you are specifically looking for a vegan vermouth, Contratto Rosso is an excellent choice.
It should also be noted that vermouth needs to be refrigerated and will keep for about 4-6 months. Some bartenders may disagree and say that it only stays fresh for a month or two, but unless your drinking straight vermouth and comparing it side by side with a freshly opened bottle, the difference is negligible. There are some vermouths, such as Dolin (also vegan) that are widely available in smaller, 375ml bottles if you want to keep it as fresh as possible.
Recommended Bar Tools
The only tools required for these easy whiskey cocktails are a strainer, a bar spoon, a jigger and either a mixing glass or a pint glass, which can be purchased individually or in this simple cocktail mixing set. That being said, if you plan on making other types of cocktails in the future, it might be worth investing in a more complete bar tool set that includes a shaker and other basic tools, since buying the tools individually can get kind of pricey. If you would prefer to stick with just a few key bar tools and purchase them individually, I’ve included some options below.
Jigger – This jigger offers a wider variety of measurements, including a bar spoon measurement, ¼ oz, 1 ¼ oz, and 1 ¾ oz, in addition to the standard ½ oz, ¾ oz, 1 oz, 1 ½ oz, and 2 oz. Alternatively, you can purchase a graduated measuring cup, which can be used to measure liquid ingredients for food recipes as well.
Bar Spoon – You’ll want to get a bar spoon with a spiral handle. The spiral handle helps the bar spoon turn in your hand without you really having to stir it.
Strainer – Stirred cocktails are typically strained with a julep strainer. However, If you’re only going to purchase one strainer, I would recommend getting a hawthorne strainer instead because it’s more versatile. It will work just as well as a julep strainer, and can also be used for shaken cocktails if needed. Keep in mind that the bar tool set I recommended includes both types of strainers, as well as a mesh strainer that can be used for citrus juice, double-strained cocktails or straining homemade cold brew coffee. You can also purchase a set all 3 strainer types HERE.
To stir one of these easy whiskey cocktails, you’ll want to hold the bar spoon loosely, since the spoon will naturally twirl as you stir. I personally keep my index finger and second finger behind the spoon, with my thumb, 3rd and 4th fingers in front of the spoon. Once you’ve added the ice and ingredients to the mixing glass, just move your hand in a clockwise motion and let the bar spoon do all the work.
Stir for about 20-30 seconds. You can usually tell the cocktail is ready when the outside of the glass feels chilled.
The peel isn’t just for looks. When you garnish with an orange or lemon peel, the citrus oils become a key flavor component and aromatic in the cocktail. Cherries are optional but highly recommended. I’ll go over both garnishes below.
Garnishing with Citrus
Use a peeler or paring knife to cut a strip about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Depending on the size of the orange, it’s usually easiest to peel around the side, rather than stem to stem.
By holding the peel over the glass with the outer peel facing down, and folding it slightly length-wise, you’ll release the citrus oils over the surface of the drink. Run the peel along the lip of the glass before dropping it in. For an old fashioned, you can drop it straight in. For a manhattan, twist the peel before dropping it in the glass, or hanging it over the edge of the glass.
Garnishing with Cherries
Buy cocktail cherries, such as Amarena Fabri or Traverse City, not the bright red maraschino cherries. You can find them at larger liquor stores, or buy them on Amazon through the provided links. Trader Joe’s offers them as well. Cherries aren’t 100% necessary, but they’re definitely a nice little treat at the end of the cocktail. Honestly, I also feel fancier when I use them (like I’m having a $12-$14 cocktail at a bar, instead of a $2.50 cocktail at home).
Easy Whiskey Cocktails – Recipes & Variations
Because an old fashioned gets served over ice, high-proof whiskeys tend to work best (100 proof or higher). Otherwise the cocktail can quickly become watered down. If you would prefer a rye, try Rittenhouse. If you are using a lower proof whiskey, such as Chattanooga 91, consider using a large ice cube.
Stir 20-30 seconds until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with an orange peel and a brandied cherry. You can add a little extra flavor by letting a few drops of brandy fall into the glass as you add the cherry.
The original old fashioned, dating back to the 19th century, used a lump of sugar instead of simple syrup. If you want to make it that way, place a Demerara sugar cube in the glass and add the bitters directly onto the sugar and muddle thoroughly. (The sugar won’t fully dissolve.) Build the rest of the cocktail following the instructions.
If you want to try making a flavored variation with a liqueur, increase the amount of whiskey to 2.25 oz and use half an ounce of liqueur. You can also substitute all or part of the bitters with a different flavor, something that compliments the liqueur. Common variations include maraschino liqueur or dry curaçao.
Of course there’s also the mid-century version that calls for a muddled orange and maraschino cherry, but that version has begun to go out of fashion in recent years since many whiskey lovers don’t particularly like orange juice and food coloring in their whiskey cocktails.
The spiciness of rye whiskey works amazingly well for Manhattans. Bourbons can sometime be a little too smooth, in my opinion. If you’d prefer to use a rye, try a high rye bourbon, such as Basil Hayden’s or Redemption High Rye Bourbon.
Stir 20-30 seconds until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with an orange peel and a cocktail cherry. If you enjoy a little extra sweetness, feel free to let a few drops of syrup fall into the glass as you add the cherry.
For a “Perfect Manhattan,” reduce the sweet vermouth to half an ounce and add a half ounce of dry vermouth. That’s 2oz whiskey, .5oz sweet vermouth, .5oz dry vermouth, and 3 dashes angostura bitters.
A Black Manhattan, replaces the sweet vermouth with an amaro. The original, created by Todd Smith of San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, calls for 2oz of Rye, 1oz Averna, 1 dash Angostura and 1 dash Regan’s Orange bitters (garnished with a cherry). Checkout this article from Distiller Blog for variations with other amaros.
I’m not going to cover the original 19th century versions of a Manhattan, since they hardly resemble what we drink today, but if you’re curious, take a look at this article from Spirit of New York.
High proof whiskeys usually work better for cocktails, but it isn’t as essential as it is with an old fashioned since we’re not serving it over ice. Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon and Chattanooga 111 both make an amazing boulevardier, as do Rittenhouse Rye and Knob Creek Rye. Bourbon and rye both work well with Campari and Carpano Antica vermouth, but if your using a bitter liqueur and vermouth that you’re unfamiliar with, it might be easier to make a balance cocktail with a bourbon.
1 1/2 oz Bourbon (or rye)
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth (see vermouth section for vegan options)
3/4 oz Campari (see below for vegan options)
Orange Peel and cocktail cherry
Stir 20-30 seconds until chilled, then strain into a coupe, Nick & Nora or martini glass. Garnish with an orange peel and a brandied cherry. You can add a little extra flavor by letting a few drops of brandy fall into the glass as you add the cherry. For a vegan version, use Contratto Bitter Liqueur in place of Campari and reduce the amount to a 1/2 ounce.
There are countless variations of the boulevardier. The boulevardier is itself a variation of a Negroni, which uses gin in place of the whiskey, along with equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth. Other versions include swapping out sweet vermouth for dry vermouth in an Old Pal, using mezcal in place of the whiskey or gin for a Mezcal Negroni, or substituting Prosecco in place of the Campari for a Negroni Sbagliato. For more Negroni variations, checkout this article from Saveur.
While the original cocktail was equal parts bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari, like the older Negroni cocktail, but with bourbon instead of gin. As the recipe has been improved upon over the years, it’s now more common to use a 2:1:1 ratio. Credited to American Socialite Erskine Gwynne in Harry McElhone’s 1927 cocktail collection, Barflies and Cocktails (page 80 if you want to take a peak!).
If you’ve made any of the easy whiskey cocktails above, or any variations, please share in the comments, and don’t forget to tag us on social media at @we_make_pretty. If you’d like to explore more cocktails, checkout our Paloma or Strawberry-Infused Gin, including recipes for Strawberry Lemonade, Strawberry Negroni or Strawberry Rhubarb French 75. Enjoy!