The original Manhattan was Rye, sweet vermouth and bitters. Most everywhere the Manhattan has become some sort of Whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters drink garnished with a candied maraschino cherry, often the same cherry you would find on ice cream. People have been drinking these for years and I served hundreds of them. Most every restaurant uses something like Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth which I have to say is just horrible. It might be passible for the first day it's opened but it's a wine based product and oxidizes very fast and "turns" making a very funky cocktail.
There are other options in the sweet vermouth world. Many fine products from Italy and such but I have found the proverbial Holy Grail of Vermouths. Vya vermouth is a California product that is fantastic. Keep it cold and a bottle will last you a good month or so. It's around 21 dollars.
Whiskey, where to begin. Personal preference, I enjoy a more spicy Whiskey. My Manhattans are made with Rye. A bourbon Manhattan is absolutely fine and I would never turn one down, Rye is just my personal preference. Blended Whiskeys like Canadian Club or something like that, in my opinion don't stand up to bitters and vermouth and get sort of lost. I'm only going to have one cocktail so it's going to be a good one.
Bitters, yet another hotly debated issue so again I will give my personal preference.
Angostura bitters can be found in most every restaurant out there. If you take a drop on your finger, give it a taste. It will remind you of Jagermeister. It has very similar properties.
I have found bitters from Fee Bros and my favorite are their old fashion bitters. What a great combination of clove and anise. They make many different flavors and are fun to play with.
On to the cherries...
Frustrated by candied cherries, I set out to try and make my own. My first batch was 4 quarts of pitted cherries in a bath of Bourbon, Triple sec, cherry brandy, simple syrup and Vya.
I then added a star anise and a cinnamon stick to each quart jar. A little goes a long way. In my future batches, the cherries will sit on the star anise and cinnamon for only a few weeks then get pulled.
Let them "Pickle" for a couple of months and you're ready to make drinks with them. I gave some of the cherries to a bartender in Green Bay who said he liked them but they were very "boozy" and was looking for something a little sweeter. I could see his point and it made me re think my process.
Right now I have 3qts sitting on half simple syrup and half triple sec. I am going to let those sit for 2 months and replace the liquid with my bourbon/cherry brandy mixtures and see how that works.
My variation on a Manhattan.
1/2 oz of the aged cherry liquid
1/2 oz Vya vermouth
5 dashes of the Fee Bros. bitters.
Combine in a pint glass with ice and stir.
Pour into a martini glass or over ice in a rocks glass (your preference) and garnish with two of the cherries.