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This past October 4-6, 2012, the Boston Cocktail Summit celebrated the outstanding cocktail scene here in our city.  I spent three days attending seminars, being all nerdy about booze and sipping quite a few delicious spirits and cocktails.  One of the many seminars I attended was “I’ll Take Manhattan: A Social History of a Classic Cocktail” with Brother Cleve.  Is there a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than sipping Manhattans while Boston cocktail legend Brother Cleve recounts the history and lasting legacy of this venerable and always delicious cocktail of cocktails? 

The Manhattan. First served in NYC in the early 1870s, this cocktail never seems to go out of style.  Sure, the preferred whiskey, the proportions of ingredients, the vermouth and the garnish may vary depending on decade, but each version is still one hell of a cocktail.  Two early bartending books– How To Mix Drinks: The Barkeeper’s Handbook by George Winter and O.H. Byron’s The Modern Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Fancy Drinks–both published in 1884 include a recipe for a Manhattan.

A mini-Manhattan watches on as Brother Cleve walks us through some boozy history

There were two major factors that lead to the creation of the Manhattan—the abundance of grains growing in the US and the arrival of vermouth from Italy.  In the 18th-early 19th century, it was a lot easier to transport grain in a distilled, liquid form than in big bales of hay, so rye whiskey production was in full swing and was the brown liquor of choice for many Americans.  And then in 1868 sweet Italian vermouth arrives in the US via Martini and Rossi.  Someone puts together rye and vermouth, and the Manhattan is born.

The following are the four recipes that we sampled; recipes courtesy of Brother Cleve.

All cocktails are stirred with ice in a mixing glass, and strained into a chilled cocktail coupe.

1873 Manhattan

This equal parts version is considered the original Manhattan, and remained popular until the second decade of the 20th century.

1 ½ oz Wild Turkey 101 bourbon

1 ½ oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
½ barspoon gum syrup (or simple syrup)
1 dash Orange Curaçao
1 dash Orange Bitters
garnish with lemon twist

Prohibition Era Manhattan
This is probably the best known version with a 2-1 ratio

2 oz Wild Turkey Rye
1 oz Cinzano Rosso vermouth
1 dash Angostura Bitters
garnish with an olive and a lemon twist

I made myself a post-WWII version to sip while writing this post. Delicious.

Post-WWII Manhattan
Also known as the Perfect Manhattan, this version combines sweet and dry vermouth.  As Brother Cleve told us “this is how my grandmother taught me to make a Manhattan.”

2 oz Wild Turkey 81 bourbon

½ oz Martini & Rossi Dry vermouth
½ oz Martini & Rossi Sweet vermouth
garnish with a cocktail cherry

Black Manhattan

This recent variation was created at Bourbon & Branch, San Francisco, 2007, and adds an amaro.

2 oz Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
1 oz Punt E Mes
½ oz Amaro Averna

1 dash Aromatic Bitters
garnish with Maraschino cherry

To Brother Cleve for an entertaining and informative exploration of the Manhattan,  and to a classic cocktail that inspired our learning and imbibing.  Cheers!

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Spending a week in Milano with Brian and Jeff was fabulous.  Seeing amazingly beautiful art and architecture satisfied my soul—the Last Supper really is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  Eating delicious things like fried meat-stuffed olives (yes, you read that right), pumpkin soufflé with a special mountain cheese sauce, cotoletta alla Milenese satisfied my taste buds.  And of course, we explored Milan’s libations—so many that this is the first of a few posts about the trip.

On our second night, we met a couple of Italian friends, Luca and Giuseppe.  For our second cocktail stop before a wonderful dinner (Ristorante da Giannino is where I met the meat-stuffed olive), we went to Bar Basso for the original Negroni Sbagliata.

I was so excited when we walked through the door and saw owner Maurizio Stochetto behind the bar.  As Maurizio explains in this video, while making a Negroni one evening, his father accidentally grabbed sparkling wine instead of gin to add to the Campari and sweet vermouth.  Instead of ruining the drink, the Negroni Sbagliata (the “wrong” Negroni) was born.

Check out the huge glasses the drinks are served in!

 

Maurizio now tends to the many imbibers who visit Bar Basso, and following the tradition of true Italian hospitality, he is quite the host.  I introduced myself after we enjoyed our cocktails, which were served in giant glasses that first night.  When we returned a couple nights later, he remembered me and even let me snap a picture with him behind the bar.  I have a feeling if I lived in Milano, I would be a regular at Bar Basso.  The atmosphere is great—60s American music, comfortable chairs surrounding quaint tables, and thick red curtains make the large space cozy—and the Negroni Sbagliata is one delicious cocktail.

Me and Maurizio

 

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting people who live in the places you are visiting.  It makes me feel like I am not just a tourist, but like I belong.  So, to my new Italian friends Luca, Giuseppe and Maurizio. Salute!

The Negroni is one of my favorite summer drinks.  I just love sipping the potent bitter complexity on a warm day.  The end of my week-long vacation was sadly in my sights, so I thought what better way to savor the afternoon in the sun than with this delicious drink.

This was my view as I sipped my Negroni

The legend of the Negroni tells us that it was created in the 1920s in Florence, Italy when Count Camillo Negroni asked a bartender to stiffen his Americano, which consists of sweet vermouth, Campari and soda water.  A splash of gin was added and the Negroni was born.  While it is served in various fashions, I agree with Dale Degroff that its best over ice with an orange twist.

It was pretty hot Friday afternoon so I made good use of one of those freezer mugs, so my Negroni stayed icy cold. I know its not the proper glassware, but when in the woods you need to get creative.

Negroni

1 oz gin

1 oz Campari

1 oz sweet vermouth (I used Carpano Antica which is pretty flavorful stuff, so I actually cut this to ¾ oz)

Shake and serve over ice with an orange twist.

Cheers!

My friend Tim recently introduced me to The Thin Man, the 1934 detective film with the lovable Nick and Nora Charles.  Nick is a retired detective, who loves his cocktails and reluctantly gets dragged back into solving crimes.  His wife Nora has impeccable style and undeniable charm and can hold her own. [Nora to Nick: How many drinks have you had?; Nick: This will make six Martinis.; Nora to the waiter: All right. Will you bring me five more Martinis, Leo? Line them right up here.]

Nora and Nick (and their dog Asta)

The best parts of the movie are the clothes (they had amazing style in the 1930s!),  the flirty banter of Nick and Nora, and their love of cocktails. When we first meet Nick he is shaking a drink explaining the following to a staff of bartenders, “The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.”

So, for my inaugural viewing of the film, it was only appropriate to make one of the cocktails that Nick mentions. I chose the Bronx, featuring gin, both sweet and dry vermouths with orange juice added.  Like most pre-prohibition cocktails, there are a few stories about this drinks origins.  Dale DeGroff credits Johnny Solon with creating the drink while tending bar at the Waldorf-Astoria.  For our drinks, I chose to bust open my newly purchased bottle of Carpano Antica (gosh that stuff is awesome!) and I think it added a nice richness to our Bronx.

The Bronx Cocktail

1 ½ oz gin

½ oz sweet vermouth

½ oz dry vermouth

1 oz orange juice

Shake well (to a two-step time, as Nick suggests). Strain and garnish with orange peel.

To Nick and Nora. Cheers!

I love when a weekend from which you expect very little ends up being a great one.  Not only did I enjoy great drinks at Drink and Deep Ellum with good friends, but I also learned a little bit about sweet vermouth and Swedish Punsch.  While I am sure most people have at heard of, if not enjoyed, sweet vermouth, but many may be asking “What is Swedish Punsch?”  I asked the same question during my first visit to Deep Ellum a couple months ago.  Max answered the question for me, and now I will answer it for you.

But first, let’s talk about sweet vermouth.  Friday night after work, Julie, Bridget and I went to Drink.  After enjoying a a delicious mulled spiced wine, I asked Josey for a Little Guiseppe.  This drink features Cynar, an artichoke based liqueur (it may sound strange, but trust me, its good stuff—buttery and complex) and sweet vermouth.  As I enjoyed this rich drink with a flavor like nothing you can quite imagine, I asked Josey which vermouth she used.   Before I knew what was happening there were 4 small glasses lined up in front of me and Josey was gathering bottles.  And the lesson began.

We began with the basic—Martini and Rossi.  She explained it was heavy on the oregano flavor which if you like oregano is a good thing, but doesn’t work in all cocktails.

Next came the Cinzano (which is what she uses in the Little Guiseppe), an Italian vermouth whose recipe dates back to the late 18th century recipe developed by two brothers in Turino.  It is herbally and slightly sweet.

Then we tried Punt e Mes. Like just about all vermouth it is made with white grapes, so you taste a sweet cola-like flavor.  But the wormwood here adds more bitterness at the end than the others.

The 4th and final vermouth, we tried was Carpano Antica. This was by far the best—after one sip, you just wanted more.  Phil and I compared the flavor to a port.  We also learned (and maybe everyone else knows this, but I didn’t, so I’ll share) to store vermouth in the refrigerator.  It’s made from grapes like wine, with a spirit added plus herbs and barks for flavor, so it doesn’t have a shelf-life like pure spirits and keeps best in the fridge.  This little impromptu lesson on sweet vermouth from Josey is one of the many reasons that I love Drink.  You go in for a couple cocktails with friends and leave having expanded your palette and mind.

Here is the recipe that sparked the whole lesson:

The Little Guiseppe

2 oz Cynar

2 oz sweet vermouth (Cinzano)

Barspoon (or quick squeeze) lemon juice

6 dashes orange bitters

Stir. Serve in double old-fashioned glass with big chunk of ice. Add pinch of coarse salt.

 

 

Little Guiseppe-- you can see the salt doing its thing with the huge chunk of ice

And now onto Swedish Punsch

So, Deep Ellum is quickly becoming one of my favorite places—killer cocktails, great beer selection, amazing food, and fun, knowledgeable staff.  One each visit I have been treated very well by Max Toste, one of the owners, and bartender Casey Keenan.  This Saturday night with Holly, Julie and Jim was no exception.  Deep Ellum may be the only place in Boston where you can get this amazingly delicious stuff called Swedish Punsch.  [They also have a great selection of Manhattans–10 ways.  I think those deserve their own post, so more on that later.]    Originally developed in Sweden in the mid-18th century, Max has revived this almost forgotten concoction (its so good, his recipe was recently featured in Imbibe magazine).  The main ingredient is Batavia-Arrack, an Indonesian spirit made of sugarcane fermented with red rice.  It’s a South East Asian version of rum.  To that, simple syrup, lemon juice, nutmeg and cardamom are added.  This is one of the most delicious things I have ever had the pleasure to drink.  You taste the rich, smooth sweetness of the Batavia Arrack followed by the wonderfully distinct spiciness of nutmeg and cardamom.

 

The Hesitation

I enjoyed the Swedish Punsch three ways.  First, I had a Hesitation which is equal parts rye whiskey and punsch; then I had a Waldorf, equal parts gin and punsch.  For my final punsch cocktail, I had a Contraband—gin, Batavia Arrack, Swedish Punsch, Agwa Coca leaf liqueur, and absinthe.  While all of these were tasty, the Waldorf was my favorite because the flavor of the Swedish Punsch really shines here because it doesn’t really have to compete with any other flavors.  The gin adds a nice, subtle background but allows the punsch to shine—which it totally deserves!

So, here’s to a weekend of good drinks with a little learning slipped in.  Cheers!

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