Rosemary Miller and I have been working for over six months now to discover the best Manhattan recipe, leaving no stone (or cherry pit) unturned.  We’ve looked for the best type of whiskey, narrowing it down to rye. We’ve looked at both French and Italian vermouths as well as bitters. We’ve even experimented with shaking versus stirring to see if it really makes as big a difference as everyone says it does (it doesn’t).

Now we’re looking at garnishes on our beloved Manhattan cocktails to see what we like best. We both like cocktail cherries to finish off our Manhattans, but I’ve seen many people use more creative garnishes including citrus peels and sprigs of herbs.

According to Albert Schmid’s The Manhattan Cocktail, “The Manhattan garnish changes with the cocktail’s sweetness level. The classic Manhattan is garnished with a cherry. The dry Manhattan is garnished with a lemon twist. The Perfect Manhattan is garnished with an orange twist or a combination of cherry and lemon twist.”

Of course, don’t tell the bartenders this. Many have their own rules about which garnishes go with which recipe, and rightly so. I’ve even seen a bartender or two flame an orange peel into their Manhattans.

Rosemary and I still like the cherries the best. In fact, Rosemary’s all time favorite cocktail cherries are Josh Moore’s brandied cocktail cherries at Volare. But since we didn’t have any of those to try we used four kinds that are easy to come by for the home bartender.

The Cherries

  1. Bada Bing – These are great because you can get them on Amazon easily. They’re not too sweet, they’re very meaty, there’s a little crunch, and there are no artificial ingredients. Unfortunately there’s also no alcohol, so they are basically just fancy cherries.
  2. Jack Rudy Cocktail Co – These are available locally in Louisville at Kentucky Peerless in the gift shop. These do contain alcohol so they have a little bit of spice. They are all natural with a little crunch.
  3. Amarena Toschi Black Cherries – These are just cherries in syrup, but they are pretty good ones. They are more on the sweet side if that’s what you are looking for. They are more chewy and they have a great flavor. They balance out the spiciness of a Manhattan nicely.
  4. Woodford Bourbon Cherries – These are made here in Louisville by Bourbon Barrel Foods. While we did like them there is only a hint of bourbon in them (probably for packaging/sale reasons) so it was kind of this weird in between area. There was some crunch but the flavor profile was very neutral.

The Verdict

We were surprised after how much we liked the Woodford bitters that we weren’t equally crazy about the Woodford cherries. All of the cherries in this lineup would be fine in a Manhattan – it’s really hard to screw up this part. But our favorite ended up being the Jack Rudy Cocktail Company cherries – there was just so much going on there flavor-wise that it would compliment almost any Manhattan you dropped it into.

We’re also looking into making our own cocktail cherries at some point — a do-it-yourself project definitely worth circling back to in the future. All you have to do is drain the syrup from a jar of cherries and add the liquor of your choosing, though I don’t know how it would translate to fresh cherries. Definitely worth circling back to in the future.

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Rosemary Miller also contributed to this article.