File this bourbon cocktail recipe under “drinks every home bartender should know.”
The Man O’ War is an easy cocktail recipe that is beloved by those who know it and very much unknown by those who don’t. We know here at Salt & Wind Travel we’re not all about Kentucky or its bourbon but we love a good cocktail and some of our favorite happen to be bourbon-based.
Often overshadowed by the more mainstream classic bourbon cocktails – like say, the Old Fashioned, the Whiskey Sour, or the Kentucky Mule — this cocktail is one of those that you’ll make once and then put on repeat. It’s a cocktail that’s flavorful enough to stand on its own but food-friendly enough to pair with anything from a cocktail party to Thanksgiving.
When you find someone who knows about the Man O’ War, be sure to ask them when they first had it. We say that because it’s a cocktail you’re all the first time you had it.
For us, that first time was while partying in Park City, Utah. We know Mormon country isn’t usually ground zero for the discovery of cocktails but it was in this case. We were at a conference event and, to be honest, this cocktail was our liquid courage, making it that much easier to break the ice and network.
The Origin Of The Man O’ War Cocktail
Truth be told this classic bourbon cherry cocktail has a history that far precedes our Utah trip. Though not as well known as its cousin the classic Julep, we categorize this as a Kentucky Derby cocktail because it has a long association with horse racing.
You see the Man O’War cocktail is named after one of the greatest horses in horse racing history. Like the bourbon used in his namesake cocktail, Man O’ War was from Kentucky.
He was a serious horse racing legend, having won 20 of 21 races, including both the prestigious Preakness and Belmont stakes in 1920. It’s believed he would’ve won the elusive Triple Crown but his owner never let him run it. Another fun racing fact: the other uber-famous racehorse Secretariat was a relative!
But let’s get back to his namesake cocktail, shall we? Because the Kentucky Derby is one of the great horse races of ever, some purists would claim this cocktail should only ever be made with Kentucky bourbon and served on Derby Day (when you’re not drinking a julep, that is).
Our Take On The Man O’ War Cocktail
To make the classic Man O’War cocktail recipe, Bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange liqueur, and lemon are shaken together then strained and served straight up in a cocktail glass.
It’s a fabulous drink when made that way, but we have made a slight tweak over the year. We like it served over crushed ice so it’s a little less potent and we sometimes mix it up by making it with high-quality Japanese whiskey or rye. Try it each way and decide your personal preference.
Tips To Make A Great Man O’ War Cocktail
Regardless of how you have it there are a few key tips to help you shake up cocktail perfection:
- Use Great Quality Ice: You know that saying “garbage in, garbage out?” That applies to ice too. Use the best quality filtered water for your ice so you don’t have off-flavors in the final drink.
- Make The Crushed Ice By Hand: As we said, this cocktail is classically served up and not on ice so feel free to make it that way if you’d like. For our version, we like pebble-sized pieces of ice and we crush it by hand. Yes, it takes some extra effort but it’s very much worth it.
- Choose A Quality Vermouth: Somewhere in the history of home bars, it became okay to use subpar vermouth. As you know, we like to do like the Spanish and the Italians and have our vermouth straight or in a variety of vermouth cocktail recipes so we’re always stocked with the good stuff. Try this cocktail with Carpano Antica to see what we mean.
- Use Freshly-Squeezed Lemon Juice: Please don’t ever use the bottled stuff in any of our recipes — that extra 15 seconds it takes to squeeze fresh juice makes the drink 15 times better!
A Few Of Our Other Favorite Bourbon Cocktails
Once you’ve added this delicious drink to your bar repertoire, you may be in search of another. Here are some of our other favorite cocktails where bourbon is the star:
The Man O' War Cocktail Recipe
- 2 ounces good-quality bourbon
or your favorite rye whiskey
- 1 ounce Cointreau or other orange liqueur
- 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
- 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Brandied cherries or lemon peel
- Make The Man O' War Cocktail: Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes then add the bourbon (or rye or whiskey), Cointreau, sweet vermouth, and lemon juice. Close and shake until it is thoroughly chilled (almost too cold to touch), at least 20 seconds. Taste and add more lemon if you want it more tart or more Cointreau if you want it sweeter.