The Black Manhattan Cocktail

I’m always happy to return to my favorite food group: the Manhattan. This time, it’s the Black Manhattan.

The Black Manhattan sticks pretty close to the original Manhattan formula, substituting an amaro (Averna) for the usual sweet vermouth. The resulting flavor is quite unlike the standard Manhattan—less whiskey-driven, more bitter and earthy, and much more herbal. The name comes from the very dark coloration of the Averna.

The Black Manhattan showed up around 2005 or so; bartender Todd Smith, who worked at San Francisco’s Bourbon and Branch at the time, gets credit for its creation. At that time, I knew very little about amaros, and did not particularly have a taste for them. The flavors were well outside my comfort range—too big, too bitter, too… weird.

Still, the drink seemed interesting enough to add to the notebook—“things to try some other day.”

My comfort zone expanded with time, of course, as did my familiarity with “big flavors,” so when I recently came across that old note, the Black Manhattan concept seemed quite attractive. I had fallen in with various amaros, but not Averna; the opportunity was at hand.

The Black Manhattan Cocktail, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Black Manhattan Cocktail

The Black Manhattan

  • 2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey (Buffalo Trace, Bulleit 10)
  • 1 oz Averna
  • 1–2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters (optional)

Stir all ingredients with ice until cold; strain into a well-chilled cocktail stem. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

The original recipe calls for bourbon. Rye-influenced bourbons like Buffalo Trace and Jim Beam Black are good matches for the Averna, as are straight rye whiskies like Rittenhouse. I’m all for the bourbon and its slightly sweeter profile.

Averna (detail), photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.Averna is a relatively sweet amaro, very dark reddish-brown, and sweeter than many sweet vermouths. It is also moderately bitter, with an herbal and orange peel intensity that is only just held in balance by the sweetness. Where vermouth has a grapey fruitiness, Averna has a licorice and citrus peel earthiness. It certainly is not to everyone’s liking; if you are new to amaros, I would start with a 4:1 (or even stronger) ratio of whiskey to Averna, rather than the canonical 2:1. In fact, I find that I prefer a mix closer to 3:1, though that’s more about controlling sweetness than bitterness.

There are plenty of amaros besides Averna, and the Black Manhattan encourages the idea of experimentation. For example, staying with the “black” motif, you could use Zucca (a rhubarb-based amaro) in place of the Averna. Zucca is a nearly opaque dark brown, but that’s where its similarity to Averna ends—it is much less sweet, and has a more bitter, earthy, almost leathery flavor profile.

Alternatively, you could use both sweet vermouth and your amaro of choice. The possibilities are endless.

And that’s why I love the Manhattan: a simple, robust drink, and a classic model for so many variations.

34 thoughts on “The Black Manhattan Cocktail

Add yours

    1. Hi, Katie,

      Yes, keep it in mind, it’s the kind of thing you might encounter some day on a bar menu, or in a friend’s kitchen. And therein lies the value of memory.

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

      1. I was able to find a 50ml bottle of Averna for $0.99 at a well stocked liquor store. They also had a 50ml bottle of Punt e Mes for $2.69. Snapped them both up to try in Manhattan variations. Great way to try something new without committing to a whole 750ml bottle!

  1. And when you get to Sicily, make sure you ask for Amaro Averna. Only asking for Averna will get you puzzled looks since Averna makes quite a few spirits there.

  2. Mr. Ford:

    Tried this the other night as I was looking for something to combat cabin fever — simply put, what a treat.

    I didn’t have a rye heavy bourbon on hand, but used a high proof bourbon and that made the 2:1 with the Averna work very nicely.

    Thanks for another great suggestion. Anything that plays on the Manhattan is worth a try!


    P.S. I haven’t seen you mention anything on the site re: cocktail cherries. Any chance you make your own? Or perhaps you use the Luxardo brand. Either way, it’d be great to hear what you use!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the Black Manhattan. I’ll keep in mind that it works well with a high-proof bourbon, thanks for that.

      Yes, I usually do prepare my own brandied cherries; I should probably do up a little article on that one of these days. (I also use the Luxardo cherries occasionally.)

  3. The only medium amaro I have on my shelf is Ramazzotti and I used it in place of Averna for the Black Manhattan, and it was delicious. I have never had Averna so I am not sure how the Ramazzotti affected the taste, but I enjoyed it.

    Being a fan of the Fanciulli (also a Manhattan variant: Rye, sweet vermouth, and a spash of Fernet Branca in place of Angostura bitters), I have also experimented with the ‘Black Fanciulli’, which as you can imagine, is rye, amaro and fernet. While not as well balanced as the Black Manhattan, it is a big bitter drink that satisfied my want for a bit of that Fernet Branca menthol taste without going off the deep end while keeping the drink quite bitter.

    1. Ramazotti would make an interesting variant, I look forward to trying it.

      Your Black Fanciulli reminds me a bit of the Toronto, with the bitter side amped up. I look forward to trying that one, too. Thanks!

  4. Doug,
    Great web site. I did the black Manhattan with Jim Beam Black and Ramazotti. All of the Manhattan variants and NYC neighborhoods are almost always worth the effort.

    This one is one of my favorites. I live on Guam and we have a very poor selection. I finally got the Ramazotti by having my daughter bring a bottle from Hawaii.

    If you ever do a comparison between the Ramazotti version and the Amaro Arverna version I would like to hear your thoughts. I did 2oz bourbon and .75 oz Ramazotti..(2.67:1). More to moderate the sweetness and NOT the bitterness. I will do the 3:1 next time. I love bitternes but am touchy to the sweetness. I tell my wife I like my drinks like I like her – cold and bitter.

    Love your web site.

  5. 1-2 dashes of bitters? Definitely 2. Manhattan area code is 212.

    2-oz of whiskey
    1-oz vermouth/Averno
    2-dashes of bitters

  6. When entertaining guests at home, I usually offer a Manhattan variation called a Black Prince, which I’ll transcribe from Death and Co’s book as:

    2 oz Ron Zacapa 23 (I substitute any good aged rum, I’ve had excellent luck with the beautiful Pusser’s 15 Year Rum)
    ¾ oz Punt e Mes (to get that bitterness in)
    ½ oz Averna Amaro Liqueur
    1 dash Orange Bitters (D&C uses a house blend of equal parts Regan’s, Angostura, and Fee’s Blood Orange)

    This makes an excellent drink, far more tasty to my sweet tooth than it probably is to yours. I do leave out the cherry…I don’t need any more sweetness in the Black Prince. Still, good to see I didn’t totally leap off the deep end with that variation.

    1. Looks like a good drink, and I look forward to trying it. Yes, I suspect that the rum might make it a bit sweeter than the bourbon-based Black Manhattan, but it looks like a fun idea to play with, and an interesting “rum Manhattan” variation. Thanks!

  7. I’ll further add to the list–Cardamaro works great in this drink, it’s very similar to a Manhattan but with a bit more dried fruit flavor and a nice long finish.

    1. I’ve never tried Cardamaro, but your description is very interesting. I keep running across drinks that call for it, and the flavor profiles all look like they’re right up my alley. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Very tasty, made the second batch with Black Walnut and Aztec Chocolate bitters in lieu of the orange and Angostura bitters – worth trying, notably highlights some of the many complex Averna flavors! Thanks of the recipe.

  9. Just had this last week in a Chicago bar, the Roanoke.
    Met a friend there and he ordered one up and offered me a sip….. I put down my Stella and Flatbread and ordered one myself…..I’m hooked on the combination of licorice/leather flavor and smooth long finish.

    Will be sharing with family this Holiday.

  10. All the photographs here make me want to try every cocktail. You have the most beautiful cocktail glasses! Would love to know where you find them.

    1. Thanks, Kitty. I’ve collected the glass over the years, many of them from antique and collectibles shops. Twenty years ago there were lots of shops in my area that sold good glass, but they have mostly disappeared, and it’s hard to find good new items now. Too bad. I hunt around sometimes when I’m travelling, but the landscape seems to be barren right now. I keep hoping we’re on the verge of a new age of great glassware, but not holding my breath…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑