Cocktails have a long and fascinating history.
Today, there are countless variations available to suit any flavor preference or occasion.
But for many barflies and aspiring mixologists alike, nothing compares to the classics — in this case Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac cocktails.
Each of these drinks has an iconic taste that can elevate any gathering — but which one is right for you? In this blog post we will compare each type of classic cocktail so you can find your favorite tipple with confidence.
We’ll discuss each drink’s origins as well as their unique flavors, ingredients and what they pair best with.
Read on to explore which classic cocktail comes out on top.
What are Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac?
Three timeless classic cocktails have been around for centuries: Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Sazerac.
Each has its own flavor and history.
Old Fashioned’s simple yet sophisticated recipe includes bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar, bitters and a twist of citrus peel.
It’s often finished with a cherry and served over ice.
This drink has been around since the early 19th century and is known for its smoothness and balance.
Manhattan is made with whiskey (usually rye), sweet vermouth, and bitters.
Usually garnished with a cherry or lemon twist.
This drink came from New York City in the late 19th century.
It has a deeper, more complex taste than the Old Fashioned.
Sazerac is one of the oldest American cocktails.
It originated in New Orleans in the mid-19th century.
Rye whiskey, absinthe or Herbsaint liqueur, sugar, and Peychaud’s bitters make up the recipe.
It has a unique herbal aroma from the absinthe or Herbsaint rinse and provides a bold flavor.
Each of these classic cocktails has something different to offer.
Whether you go for the Old Fashioned’s simplicity, Manhattan’s complexity or Sazerac’s boldness, they are timeless choices enjoyed by many around the world.
Old Fashioned: A Timeless Classic
The Old Fashioned cocktail is a classic.
It dates back to early 19th century, making it one of the oldest known cocktails.
It still remains popular with cocktail fans.
Its simplicity is what makes the Old Fashioned special.
It needs only a few ingredients – bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a twist of citrus peel.
When they blend together, the result is smooth and balanced.
The way it’s made is also unique.
Instead of shaking or stirring, the Old Fashioned is built directly in the glass.
Sugar and bitters are muddled with a splash of water at the bottom – this creates a flavourful base for the whiskey.
This process lets the flavours come together, enhancing the taste.
The Old Fashioned is very versatile too.
It’s usually made with bourbon or rye whiskey, but you can also use rum or brandy.
Bartenders often experiment with different bitters or sweeteners to add a special twist.
Manhattan: The Elegance of Rye Whiskey
Manhattan – an iconic cocktail, renowned for its sophistication.
Rye whiskey provides a unique charm with every sip.
This expert mix of rye whiskey, vermouth and bitters creates a harmonious taste to captivate the senses.
The allure of Manhattan is not only in its ingredients, but also in its preparation.
The robustness of rye whiskey is balanced with sweet vermouth, creating a contrast that lingers on the palate.
Bitters add depth and complexity.
What makes Manhattan so special is its versatility.
Rye whiskey is usually used, but variations can incorporate bourbon or scotch whisky.
This allows for customisation, so each Manhattan is unique.
To fully appreciate the elegance of Manhattan, attention to detail is essential.
From the glassware to the stirring technique, each step is important for both presentation and taste.
Serve it in a chilled martini glass with a cherry garnish for a truly sophisticated experience.
Sazerac: A Historic New Orleans Favorite
The Sazerac cocktail has a special place in New Orleans’ past.
It’s famous there, and its roots go back to the mid-1800s.
That makes it one of America’s oldest cocktails.
Rye whiskey, absinthe, sugar, and Peychaud’s bitters mix together for a perfect balance of flavors.
The rye whiskey and absinthe make a unique taste.
Making a Sazerac is precise.
The glass must be chilled and rinsed with absinthe.
Then muddle sugar and bitters.
Add the rye whiskey.
Stir the mixture until it’s blended.
This makes an exquisite drink.
It’s changed over time.
It used to be made with cognac, but not anymore.
When you have a Sazerac, you get a feeling of elegance and sophistication.
You also pay respect to New Orleans’ culture and heritage.
When you’re in the Big Easy, raise a glass and toast to the timeless Sazerac cocktail.
Key Differences Among Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac
The Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Sazerac – classic cocktails that have similarities but also unique differences.
They each have their own ingredients and flavors.
The Old Fashioned is known for its simplicity and elegance.
Whiskey, sugar, bitters and a twist of citrus peel make up this drink.
The key difference? The type of whiskey used – bourbon or rye.
The result? A smooth and balanced cocktail with a deep flavor.
The Manhattan stands out with its complexity.
It combines whiskey (usually rye), sweet vermouth and bitters.
The sweet vermouth adds sweetness and creates a more rounded flavor than the Old Fashioned.
The Sazerac is the oldest known American cocktail.
This drink unites whiskey (usually rye), absinthe or Herbsaint, sugar and Peychaud’s bitters.
What makes it unique? The use of absinthe or Herbsaint as a rinse in the glass.
This adds an unmistakable herbal note.
All three cocktails share a whiskey base and bitters.
But they each have their own features.
The Old Fashioned offers simplicity and elegance; the Manhattan exudes sophistication; and the Sazerac evokes history with its absinthe or Herbsaint component.
These cocktails continue to fascinate mixologists and cocktail lovers with their timeless appeal and unique flavors.
1 – Base Spirits
Base spirits are the key to any cocktail.
They give the drink its overall flavor and character.
With each spirit presenting unique qualities, bartenders are able to make cocktails with diverse personalities.
Three base spirits stand out in classic cocktails: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac.
These drinks have been served for decades, making them iconic.
The Old Fashioned uses whiskey as a base spirit.
It has been around since the early 19th century.
Its bold flavor is complemented by sugar, bitters, and a citrus twist, creating a delicious cocktail.
Manhattan employs whiskey too, but sweet vermouth is added.
This brings sweetness and herbal complexity to the drink, leading to a smooth and sophisticated taste.
Finally, the Sazerac’s base spirit is absinthe or whiskey.
This New Orleans classic is known for its intense flavors and aromas.
Absinthe gives it an anise-like flavor, while sugar and bitters add depth.
Whiskey creates a traditional, yet satisfying, experience.
2 – Ingredients and Flavor Profiles
Classic cocktails have unique and satisfying flavors.
Ingredients and flavor profiles play a big role.
The Old Fashioned is timeless.
It’s made with bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and an orange peel twist.
It’s a simple yet complex drink with a rich, slightly sweet flavor and citrus undertones.
A Manhattan has whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters.
The result is smooth and sophisticated.
Vermouth adds depth and complements the whiskey.
A cherry garnish finishes it off.
The Sazerac is special.
It includes rye whiskey, absinthe/Herbsaint liquor, sugar cube/simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, and a lemon peel garnish.
It has an intense flavor with licorice notes from the absinthe/Herbsaint.
Lemon adds complexity and a refreshing touch.
These classic cocktails vary with their carefully chosen ingredients.
From the Old Fashioned to the Manhattan or Sazerac, each has a distinct taste.
3 – Origin and Cultural Significance
The Old Fashioned, Manhattan & Sazerac cocktails each have a unique origin & cultural significance.
Let’s explore these details.
- The Old Fashioned: Dating back to the early 19th century, in the United States. It’s believed to be one of the first cocktails ever created. It’s simplicity reflects the pioneering spirit of American mixology.
- The Manhattan: This classic cocktail is from New York City, in the late 19th century. It was named after the city’s bustling borough & quickly became a symbol of sophistication & refinement.
- The Sazerac: Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, the Sazerac holds historical significance. It emerged as America’s first official cocktail in the mid-19th century. It blends French influence with local flavors, like absinthe & Peychaud’s bitters.
These iconic drinks have become more than just beverages – they embody cultural values & tell tales of their respective origins.
The Old Fashioned represents American tradition & simplicity.
The Manhattan conveys elegance & urban charm.
The Sazerac encapsulates southern hospitality & European flair.
Together, they offer a vibrant glimpse into cocktail history & cultural heritage.
4 – Preparation Techniques
When it comes to classic cocktails, the way they’re prepared is super important.
Each one has its own special technique, making them unique.
The Old Fashioned? Muddle sugar, bitters, and water.
Then add whiskey and ice, stirring to blend together.
This helps create a smooth and balanced drink.
On to the Manhattan.
Shake rye or bourbon whiskey with sweet vermouth & bitters.
This vigorous shaking blends the ingredients, giving a bold and flavor-filled experience.
Lastly, the Sazerac.
The technique here is ‘rousing’.
Chill an absinthe-rinsed glass.
Mix in rye whiskey, sugar syrup and Peychaud’s bitters.
Then pour into the chilled glass with ice cubes, stirring until cold.
This adds flavor and enhances the drinking experience.
Shared Elements in Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac
There are some common elements in Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac cocktails.
Spirits, bitters, and sugar form the base of these drinks.
Whiskey is the primary ingredient, with Old Fashioned calling for bourbon, Manhattan using rye whiskey, and Sazerac a combination of rye whiskey and absinthe.
Angostura bitters is the type used in all three cocktails, providing subtle complexity.
Sugar is essential to balance out the strong flavors, with Old Fashioned and Manhattan using a sugar cube or simple syrup, and Sazerac having an additional layer of sweetness with a sugar-laced absinthe rinse.
Though their shared elements make them similar, each cocktail has its own unique twist – different types of whiskey and variations in preparation techniques give each one its own character and flavor profile.
Notable Variations and Twists of the Classic Cocktails
Bartenders add a creative touch to classic cocktails with varied ingredients, ratios, and presentation.
This grants the opportunity to personalize a drink and cater it to individual tastes.
New flavors or unexpected elements can bring an exciting twist to a traditional cocktail.
Regional adaptations and modern interpretations allow for delicious experimentation – the world of cocktails is ever-evolving with countless possibilities.
Pairing and Serving Recommendations for Each Cocktail
For an unforgettable experience, consider pairing and serving each classic cocktail differently.
For the Old Fashioned, pair it with rich, savory dishes like grilled steak or aged cheese.
Then serve in a lowball glass with a large ice cube and garnish with an orange or cherry twist.
The Manhattan is a classic drink with sophistication and elegance.
Pair it with seared scallops or a charcuterie board.
Serve in a martini glass with a cherry or lemon twist.
Lastly, the Sazerac is linked to New Orleans’ culture.
It pairs well with Cajun or Creole dishes like gumbo or jambalaya.
Serve in an Old Fashioned glass rinsed with absinthe and garnish with a lemon peel.
The Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac are classic cocktails with their own particular characteristics and flavors.
Each offers a unique experience for mixology fans.
The Old Fashioned is timeless with its simplicity and whiskey emphasis.
The Manhattan adds complexity with vermouth and bitters.
The Sazerac stands out with absinthe and Herbsaint.
These cocktails have history.
The Old Fashioned dates to the early 19th century – whiskey, sugar, water, and bitters.
The Manhattan emerged in New York City in the late 1800s and gained fame during Prohibition.
It’s noted for its smoothness and versatility.
The Sazerac is America’s oldest known cocktail, from New Orleans in the mid-1800s.
It’s become synonymous with Louisiana’s cocktail culture.
Old Fashioned vs Manhattan vs Sazerac: A Classic Cocktail Comparison
- Old Fashioned
- Choose between an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or Sazerac cocktail based on your taste preferences.
- Gather the necessary ingredients, including your choice of whiskey or rye, bitters, and sugar.
- In a mixing glass, combine the ingredients with ice, adjusting the sugar and bitters to your desired level of sweetness and complexity.
- Stir well to chill and dilute the drink slightly.
- Strain the mixture into a chilled glass.
- Garnish as desired, with a citrus peel or cherry for the Old Fashioned, a cherry for the Manhattan, or a lemon twist for the Sazerac.
- Sip and savor your chosen classic cocktail, each offering its unique charm and flavor profile.
- Experiment with variations and appreciate the timeless appeal of these iconic drinks.
Andrew Gray is a seasoned food writer and blogger with a wealth of experience in the restaurant and catering industries. With a passion for all things delicious, Andrew has honed his culinary expertise through his work as a personal chef and caterer.
His love for food led him to venture into food writing, where he has contributed to various online publications, sharing his knowledge and insights on the culinary world. As the proud owner of AmericasRestaurant.com, Andrew covers a wide range of topics, including recipes, restaurant reviews, product recommendations, and culinary tips.
Through his website, he aims to inspire and educate fellow food enthusiasts, offering a comprehensive resource for all things food-related.