Tuesday, November 13, 2012


By Warren Bobrow

Vermouth has its medical roots in 18th Century Italy, France and Spain. Folk healers added wormwood and other healing herbs to wine as an aid to digestion and to rid the body of a multitude of toxins. Herbal tonics involving wine proliferated for over three hundred years and continue today. Vermouth also has culinary benefits along with a place of honor on the shelf of our cocktail bars. Venerable brands like: Carpano Antica Formula, Dolin and even the much loved Cinzano date back to the time when Apothecary shops utilized these bitter liqueurs as a healthful digestive and healing tonic. Wine based tonics were very popular in France and in Italy in the early days of Apothecary arts. They were prescribed originally as medicines, not solely as pleasurable drinks. The reason why these liqueurs exist to the present day is testament to their endurance as powerful herbal elixirs. Vermouth can be imbibed straight or as an augmentation to iced gin drinks like the Martini.

Vermouth comes in two formats, red and white. The red is used for drinks such as the Manhattan and my favorite the Negroni. My friend Gary Regan has perfected the Negroni and I'll leave it to you to discover why.  If you ever find him tending the bar, ask him to make you a Negroni. 

Dry Vermouth is used most commonly in a Martini. I believe, and this is my own personal belief, that the Martini must be made with gin. Others will disagree with me. That is their preference. What I will say is that the quality of the Vermouth makes the Martini, be it made with gin or perhaps vodka. I think that the Vermouth should be well chilled - so keep your favorite bottle in the fridge. Do not be afraid to cook with Vermouth. It is rather sublime with fresh water fish such as brook trout, sautéed with hazelnuts and dotted with Imbue Vermouth-infused brown butter.

Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth

Hailing from Gaston, Oregon, Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth is a thing of rare beauty. They call it a mélange of Northwest flavors from farm to forest. A collection of botanicals dipped in fine Oregon wine. I think it is all of that and much more. Each sip of the Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth refers to me that flavors of a sappy pinecone. Pinecone sap sticks to your windshield, begging you to lick it, tasting the sticky tar, which is Imbue. It's in there, in every sip - I love the way this Vermouth coats the glass. It screams out for a Botanical Gin, like Greenhook Ginsmiths lush product. Perhaps you want something more traditional with your Vermouth from Oregon? Then you should taste another product from Oregon named Aviation. Want something way out?  How about the FEW Spirits Navy Strength? Oh there are so many choices down in my bar.
Tasting Notes for the Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth:

Pine needle nose, dipped in pine sap. Gently dribbled over your windshield then licked. 

Just do it, don't complain!

Wood from the cask reveals itself. Vanilla, maple syrup, salted caramel, white flowers. Syrupy and thick across the back of the tongue with a spine tingling finish. I love this vermouth over a chunk of hand-cut ice with a zest of orange that has been flamed by a wooden match. 

Imbue is golden in color and 16.5% alcohol by volume. Find yourself a bottle and drink it, cook with it, dip your fingers in it. Let it speed-dial a plane ticket to Oregon for you so you can drink it in the place where it is made. Up in those pine forests, where it is foggy, dark and mysterious.

Atsby Vermouth from New York

There are two new flavors that I'm working with right now.

One of them is called Amberthorn, the other Armadillo Cake. These are the most way out products I've tasted this year. I mean that as a big plus. The Amberthorn tastes like the sweet pollen that sticks to your leg when you walk through an herb garden in late spring. Toasted pecans, lemon curd, stone fruits, sage, rosemary and wormwood predominate. I'd love to mix this with a healthy portion of the sublime Catoctin Creek Organic Watershed Gin, just the gin-a block of ice made from Mavea 'inspired' water and the Amberthorn. This would, in a few words be explosive in the glass.

The Atsby Armadillo Cake Vermouth is akin to chewing into a crusted slab of freshly baked cornbread woven with dreamy, Asian spices. A dark steamy, caramelized pool of treacle caramel woven with candied grapefruit peels, dipped in 80% bittersweet chocolate greets your tongue at the next sip. I'd mix this Vermouth with some Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and a home cured cherry.

Carpano "Antica Formula" Red Vermouth

Carpano Antica in Italy makes the most historic Vermouth of this tasting. Founded in 1786, I imagine that this Vermouth sated many a nobleman and woman - all the while keeping their palate in a state of anticipation. The first notes are of freshly ground coffee - then quickly the flavors of figs wrapped in chestnuts, grilled until soft over wood fire. The flavors of dark chocolate and wood smoke continue to weave a sweater of soft hand spun baby Alpaca over your body. The Carpano Antica is thick against your throat and deeply warming. It makes for a gorgeous Manhattan cocktail with Tuthilltown's Rye Whiskey. I also love Carpano Antica with Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water and a slice of grilled orange mashed into the drink. 

Tasting Notes for the Carpano Antica:

Carpano Antica is elegance in a glass, and a long, stone fruit spice on your palate. The Ancient Formula is chocolate covered cherries on the front of your tongue, vanilla - cedar and mountain herbs on the finish. I love the Antica for the soft finish and deeply aromatic nose. Fine by itself in a glass or with a flurry of ice, I like to use the Antica with a splash of Cynar and Zaya 12 year old rum - neat. It also makes a potent Negroni!

Vermouth. It isn't just for cocktails any longer. You shouldn't feel strangely when you go into a restaurant and ask for sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist. It's a cocktail that has been around since the very earliest days of the apothecary. 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

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