Drink of the Week: The Black Manhattan


Today’s drink might look like the simplest possible Manhattan variation – and it is – but there’s still some 21st century cocktail history to it.

The Black Manhattan was created circa 2005 by bartender Todd Smith. Smith worked at San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, a leading-edge joint that was also one of the very first nouveau speakeasies. At that time, subbing sweet vermouth with Amaro Averna in the Black Manhattan was a bold move simply because nobody knew from amaros. Fernet Branca was still mostly a secret as a bartender’s handshake and it would be nearly a decade before the Negroni craze popularized Campari in the US. Even now, there’s a good chance you don’t know that Fernet and Campari are members of the same family of bittersweet digestifs that includes Montenegro, Mellitti, Ramazotti, and Averna. Now you know.

Lesson aside, today’s drink is pretty awesome; just the thing if you’re a Manhattan lover looking for a more complex change of pace.

The Black Manhattan

2 ounces rye (a drier/high-rye bourbon can also work)
1 ounce Amaro Averna
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

The instructions here are about the same as any other member of the Manhattan/Martini cocktail family. Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Stir vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Drop in the cherry garnish if you’ve got one. Sip and appreciate.


This is a very good cocktail in a classic style, but it’s not for everyone. Averna doesn’t so much soften the flavors of a strong whiskey as reinforce them, and that includes some bitter notes that not everyone loves. My in-house guinea pig preferred the Black Manhattan when I used Melitti, a much sweeter and less bitter amaro that’s also light in color, so I guess that would be a Tan Manhattan. I was fine with it to a certain extent but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I also tried Abano and Ramazotti, which were just okay. I had to go slightly out of my way to find very darkly colored Averna and it was totally worth it. Once I went full black, I didn’t go back.

One tough bourbon (100 proof Very Old Barton) aside, I stuck with rye whiskies. They were Sazerac and something new to me, 100 Proof Bottled-in-Bond Old Overholt. It’s as feisty as my usual bottled-in-bond Rittenhouse but also less sweet and was a very good choice here. Sazerac, more mellow and 90 proof, makes for a smoother but still powerful taste that a lot of folks might prefer. I’m sure some super-premium ryes might result in even more deliciously thought-provoking beverages.


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