Return of the Manhattan

Well-made Manhattans – This legendary spirit is making a comeback, and plenty of great local places offer the good stuff.

A Manhattan made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and a maraschino cherry. Muddled sugar and bitters with top shelf whiskey and a citrus rind twist in a classic old-fashioned. Sweet-tart whiskey sours that balance fresh-squeezed lemon juice and house-made sugar syrup. Bourbon cocktails are back.

“Bourbon consumption has grown at a faster rate than other spirits over the last 3 to 5 years, and I think bourbon cocktails have become more popular as the cocktail craze has gone through the roof,” says Ryan Maybee, owner of Manifesto and co-owner of The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange (1924 Main St.). “Each bourbon profile is so unique.”

Maybee says a classic old-fashioned can be adjusted by using different forms of sweetener, various bitters, club soda and ice then garnished with an orange or lemon twist. For a bourbon Manhattan, he uses equal parts sweet and dry vermouth to balance the bourbon’s sweetness.

“I think the best cocktails involve seasonal menu changes. In the summer, we use [fresh] cucumbers, basil and berries.” ~ Alberto Santoro, bar manager at Extra Virgin

Alberto Santoro, bar manager at Extra Virgin and Michael Smith (1900 Main St.), is the co-founder of the Kansas chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. He sees more people ordering “old-school” old-fashioneds and a lot of Manhattans. “I think the best cocktails involve seasonal menu changes,” Santoro says. “In the summer, we use [fresh] cucumbers, basil and berries.”

LOCAL BOURBON Dark Horse Distillery, based in Lenexa, Kan., released its Reserve Bourbon Whiskey and Reunion Rye Whiskey in spring and they are stocked on store shelves now.Visit for a list of locations where their bourbon is sold.Read more about Dark Horse Distillery in KC Mag.

The right bourbon makes a difference. “Everybody wants Crown [Royal], Maker’s Mark or Jim Beam,” says Brock Shulte, bartender for the Drum Room Lounge at the President Hilton Hotel (1335 Baltimore). “We sell a lot of Willett too. I also like William Larue Weller and Elijah Craig.”

Four Roses is a top seller at Manifesto, which also pours single barrel and small batch bourbons.

Santoro has noticed a similar trend. “Our most popular brands include Maker’s Mark, Four Roses and Buffalo Trace, which is super high-quality stuff,” he says.

Dedicated and passionate bartenders make the best bourbon cocktails. “I think people are becoming way more trusting of bartenders for good, balanced cocktails,” Maybee says. “People are putting their trust in them like they do a good chef.”