Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: 2 Ingredient Differences & Calories in Each

Manhattan vs Old Fashioned

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: 2 Ingredient Differences & Calories in Each

If you're someone who sticks to the classics, when it comes to ordering a cocktail – and a whiskey drinker – you'll probably go for either a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. But do you know which one came first and how they're different? Read on to find out what each drink is comprised of and their respective histories.

Try Home Chef - Family Meals Made Easy
  • 4-serving meals starting at $3.77 per serving (up to 25% cheaper than HelloFresh).
  • Incredible variety with 10+ weekly meal options, delivered directly to you.
  • Easy to prepare meals ready in 30-minutes or less.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

What is a Manhattan?

A Manhattan is often credited as the first modern cocktail because it involved the mixing of different drinks. This mixing was not common practice among bartenders in the late nineteenth century prior to the creation of the Manhattan. It’s not altogether clear what year the drink was created, but it was sometime in the 1870s-1880s and its place of origin was the Manhattan Club, a social club erected in Gilded Age era New York. The Gilded Age was a time of excess and luxury, so it only makes sense that the Manhattan would arise out of such a time.

A Manhattan is a cocktail made with whiskey (typically rye), sweet vermouth, and bitters, often topped with a maraschino cherry. Sometimes, an orange peel is also added as a garnish, but it's more of a twist than what you'll see in an Old Fashioned.

Vermouth is the ingredient that really sets the Manhattan apart from other cocktails of its time. It is an aromatized (fragrant), fortified wine that can often be flavored with various botanicals. Botanicals are things like roots, plants, flowers, fruit peels, and more. A fortified wine is one which has a distilled spirit added to it. Examples of other fortified wines besides vermouth include port, sherry, and madeira. Because these wines are so strong and potent, they are often either mixed with other ingredients, like in a Manhattan, or served in much smaller glasses and sipped slowly over time with dessert. 

Bitters are similar to vermouth in that they are alcohols infused with spices, herbs, roots, and other botanicals. They are very strong and bitter in flavor, but add a desired flavor to cocktails like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. Bitters also have a high alcohol content so you need only add a small amount of them to your drink for the desired effect. Too much can overpower your drink. 

A Manhattan can really be made with whatever whisky and bitters you prefer. Rye is the popular choice because that is what was most popular in Gilded Age New York, but if you’re partial to a different whiskey, you can definitely make it work. Sometimes they're even made with brandy or cognac!

Homemade Rye Bourbon Manhattan with a Cherry Garnish
A Manhattan is often served in a coupe glass with a maraschino cherry garnish.

©Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

What is an Old Fashioned?

Whereas the Manhattan is considered the first modern cocktail, the Old Fashioned is considered the first cocktail. 

Whiskey cocktails came into popularity fairly early in US history because of George Washington’s fondness for whiskey. Over the years, bartenders started getting more creative with the addition of different alcohols and flavors to the standard whiskey cocktail (like the Mahattan). But some people preferred the classic whiskey cocktail without all the add-ons. They started calling it the “Old Fashioned”  and the name stuck! 

The Old-Fashioned is comprised of whiskey (typically rye), sugar (muddled or syrup), and bitters. It also calls for an orange peel garnish. It's definitely not a drink for the weak-willed or hearted. You better like your whiskey if you plan on ordering one of these!

Old fashioned, classic cocktail served on the rocks
An Old Fashioned sticks to the basics: whiskey, sugar, bitters, and ice.

©Dr Faulkner/Shutterstock.com

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: 2 Key Differences

The biggest difference for Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned is the presence of vermouth in the former, more modern drink. For an Old Fashioned to be an Old Fashioned, you really need to stick to the basic ingredients of whiskey, sugar, and bitters, although there are some variations. 

Since the Manhattan already has sweetness in it from the vermouth, it is not made with sugar like the Old Fashioned is. That's the second big difference.

Finally, in terms of how each drink is served, the Manhattan is classically served in a chilled coupe glass, mixed with ice but strained so that there is no ice in the final cocktail. An Old Fashioned is mixed with ice just like the Manhattan, but then it is strained into a tumbler that has either one or several large ice cubes in it. 

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: Calorie Differences 

A Manhattan has slightly fewer calories than an Old Fashioned, but not by much. A Manhattan has 167 calories per cocktail, as well as 3.3 grams of sugar and 2.1 mg of sodium. 

An Old Fashioned has less sodium (0.3 mg) but more sugar (6.5 g) than a Manhattan. It has 176 calories per cocktail. 

How to Make a Manhattan

The actual process of making the Manhattan isn’t the tricky part. What’s difficult is deciding what flavor you’re looking for. 

If you want a less sweet, more dry Manhattan, you’ll want to use dry vermouth. If you’re looking for the classic flavor (also known as the Perfect Manhattan), you’ll use a mixture of sweet and dry vermouth. Finally, if you like your drinks sweet, you’ll use only sweet vermouth. 

To make the Perfect Manhattan, you’ll mix the following together with ice, then strain the drink into a chilled glass.

  • 2 fl oz whiskey
  • ½ fl oz sweet vermouth
  • ½ fl oz dry vermouth
  • 2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters 

Lastly, garnish the drink with a maraschino cherry.

Manhattan cocktail garnished with brandied cherry.
When making your Manhattan, you'll mix your drink with ice but then strain it.

©Arina P Habich/Shutterstock.com

How to Make an Old Fashioned  

To stick to the classic way the Old Fashioned was made in days of yore, you should use a sugar cube instead of syrup. To “muddle” your sugar and bitters, you will add your drops of bitters to your sugar cube and then use your muddling tool (often included with most cocktail kits) to pulverize the bitters and sugar combination into a paste. 

Try Home Chef - Family Meals Made Easy
  • 4-serving meals starting at $3.77 per serving (up to 25% cheaper than HelloFresh).
  • Incredible variety with 10+ weekly meal options, delivered directly to you.
  • Easy to prepare meals ready in 30-minutes or less.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

In the same way you make a Manhattan, you will stir all the ingredients of an Old Fashioned together with ice. Then, you’ll strain your mixture into a glass tumbler over ice. 

The rest of the recipe is below. 

  • 1 ½ fl oz bourbon whiskey 
  • ½ fl oz rye whiskey
  • 1 sugar cube (muddled with 9 drops of bitters)

Finally, garnish with a large orange peel.

Step by step. Preparing Bourbon old fashioned cocktail at home bar.
You can use sugar syrup in your Old Fashioned, but the classic way to make the drink is by muddling your bitters with a sugar cube and making it into a paste. Then, you mix that with the rest of your drink ingredients.

©Arina P Habich/Shutterstock.com

Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned: Which Drink Should You Pick?

Infographic comparing the Manhattan
Which cocktail do you prefer?
  • Both Manhattans and Old Fashioneds have similar ingredients. The main difference is that the Manhattan uses sweet vermouth, while the Old Fashioned uses sugar instead of vermouth.
  • A Manhattan is served in a coupe glass, while an Old Fashioned is served in a tumbler or whiskey glass.
  • As you might expect, a Manhattan has less sugar than an Old Fashioned.

If you haven't tried either, it would hurt to try them both and see what you like! If you like Negronis, you may like Manhattans because both of them use vermouth. However, if you don't like the taste of vermouth, the Old Fashioned is probably best.

If you don't have large ice cubes on hand, you should make a Manhattan, because Old Fashioneds should really be served over large blocks of ice. The ice that your fridge dispenses won't cut it!

Try Home Chef - Family Meals Made Easy
  • 4-serving meals starting at $3.77 per serving (up to 25% cheaper than HelloFresh).
  • Incredible variety with 10+ weekly meal options, delivered directly to you.
  • Easy to prepare meals ready in 30-minutes or less.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Of course, the drinks are best served with some friends to unpack the day with. Try making a themed night of it, where everyone dresses up in their best Gilded Age looks and sips their Manhattans by the fire. If the conversation starts to lull, you likely have one thing that none of those in the Gilded Age had: a TV with all the latest streaming platforms. For an extra treat, pair your Manhattan or Old Fashioned with this chocolate pie recipe.

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon

Chocolate Pie

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)


  • Author: MomsWhoThink.com


Units Scale

For the pie filling:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups hot milk
  • 2 oz. (squares) unsweetened baker's chocolate, broken into small pieces
  • 2 egg yolks, well beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 baked 9″ pie shell (recipe here)
  • 1 recipe Meringue

For the meringue:

  • 2 egg whites (room temperature is a must)
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


For the pie filling:

  1. Blend sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt.
  2. Stir gradually into hot milk, and cook over boiling water (using a double boiler) until thickened.
  3. Add chocolate, and stir until well blended and smooth.
  4. Add a small amount of cooked mixture to beaten egg yolks, blending in thoroughly. Return this mixture to the remaining mixture in a saucepan and cook for 2 minutes longer.
  5. Remove from heat then add the vanilla, and mix well.
  6. Place cooled filling into the pie shell, then make the meringue. 
  7. Pile the meringue on top of the filling, going to the edge of the pie with the meringue to prevent shrinking and gaps.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees F for 12-15 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned.

For the meringue:

  1. Beat egg whites until stiff and foamy.
  2. Add sugar very slowly (this is important) to preserve the air in the meringue, continuing to beat until soft peaks are formed. Add the vanilla while beating to mix well.
  3. Spread the meringue over the filling. Seal to the edge of the crust to prevent shrinking.
To top