It’s true: vermouth is a slightly confusing thing, largely because it isn’t just one thing but a whole range of beverages in the “fortified wine” category that can be dry or sweet, white, red or pink, light or substantial, bitter and herbaceous or sugary and caramelized. Originally a medicinal beverage, botanical-infused grape wine goes back at least the Ancient Greeks, and the name “Vermouth” is derived from the German word for wormwood, a common additive for its anti-parasitic qualities and incidentally also the stuff that gives absinthe its Je ne sais quoi. Modern-day vermouth is more commonly used as an aperitif than a medicine, but whatever, it’s still good for what ails ya.
Unlike, say, vodka, where the range of flavor profiles is relatively limited and they’re (let’s be honest) pretty darn interchangeable in cocktails, vermouth recipes are complicated and often closely guarded secrets, and the results can be hugely varied, so it’s important to try a few to know what works for you as an aperitif or a cocktail mixer. Some classic cocktails that just don’t exist without vermouth? Martinis, Manhattans, Negronis and Rob Roys come to mind, but enterprising bar-keeps are always looking for new ways to play with this versatile ingredient.
Sweet vermouth was, if I am not mistaken, introduced to the market by a gent named Antonio Carpano in Turin in the late 18th century. That stuff is, happily, still around. Carpano Antica Formula is a limpid amber color with russet reflexes and has a prominent vanilla note on the nose. Other flavor and aromatic notes include bitter orange, cloves, saffron, cacao, raisins and almonds. The exact recipe is, of course, a closely guarded secret. Its velvety texture makes it a wonderful aperitif on the rocks (and the gorgeous label, if I might mention it, makes it a really satisfying gift for the Mister Top Shelf on your holiday list). If the Negroni is your deal, this is an ideal vermouth for it. It’ll make an unconventional but quite resplendent Martini as well.
But what can I say, my allegiance will always be to the Manhattan. And since this particular vermouth is so dang yummy, a lot of bartenders are showcasing it in “reverse” Manhattans (or so says my inbox and a desultory look at some local cocktail menus, all of which seem to be sporting vermouth-o-rama drinks lately). Here, with thanks to the tireless intoxicators who cooked these up, are a few suggestions to show off the luscious, spicy, and almost certainly good-for-you classic Carpano Antica Formula.
Recipe by Max Green, Amor y Amargo, Coup
1 oz. Sancho Infused Wild Turkey 101 Rye
2 oz. Carpano Antica
2 dashes Scrappy’s Lime Bitters
Directions: Add all ingredients to the mixing glass, stir and stain into a chilled coup, garnish with a lemon twist.
Recipe by Jeremy Oertel, Donna Cocktail Club
2 oz. Carpano Antica
1 oz. Lock Stock & Barrel Rye
1 tsp. Borghetti Coffee Liqueur
1 dash Mole Bitters (preferably Bittermens)
Directions: Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass and strain into a Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Recipe by Natasha David, Nitecap
2.5 oz. Carpano Antica
1 oz. Templeton Rye
1 tsp. Branca Menta
1 dash Absinthe
Directions: Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a cocktail coup. Garnish with an orange twist.