Archives for category: Vermouth

Lots of people know how to play Texas Hold ‘Em.  The rules are stupid simple to learn.  Lots of people know how to make a Manhattan.  It’s just rye, vermouth, bitters, and a cherry.  So why do most people suck at playing poker and making Manhattans?

One mark of great game design is ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’.  Simple yet deep is hard to design.  Games that manage it tend to last a while.  Like poker.  Or Duke Nukem Forever.  Wait.  One of those is wrong.  A great poker player knows the stats on any given hand, how they’re modified by position, and the exact cards any other player is probably holding.  And how drunk each person at the table is.

Great bartenders aren’t much different.  Liquors and proportions are just the starting point.  Rye, yes.  But what kind of rye?  And which vermouth is right for the one you choose?  Then what bitters go with both?  Who’s drinking this, and what are their tastes?  How should you adjust for that?  Maybe we should play around with proportions or throw in a couple of flavor accents?

This is why Murray (currently at Canon in Seattle) is a great bartender.  I asked him to make me his favorite variation on a Manhattan.  This is as close as I’ve come to mocking it.

Another Manhattan Variation

2 oz Bulleit rye
1 oz Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth
.5 oz Amaro Nardini
.25 oz Benedictine

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass.  Drop a brandied cherry.  Don’t think about that song “The Gambler”.  Really.  Try not to think about it.  It’s horrible.

Three years ago, I considered vermouth to be something that sat in the back of the liquor cabinet, simmering with jealousy for the base spirits, and dreaming of a martini that would never come.  Now I have five sweet vermouths, and two dry.

If you don’t like vermouth, it’s probably because, like me, the only stuff you’ve had was poured from an ancient opened bottle that’s been on the shelf for years.  Vermouth is a fortified wine.  If you leave opened wine on the shelf for more than a couple of days, you get a mouthful of vinegar.  Opened vermouth needs to go in the fridge and get used in a reasonable amount of time.

Vermouths can also be as different as wines can be.  The acquisition of the fifth sweet vermouth today demanded a taste comparison.

In first position:  the new kid on the block, Perruchi.  It’s a Spanish vermouth with a very light body.  Cherry on the nose, then a sip of lemon and cardamom, followed by a slightly bitter finish.  I’m going to have to think on the right cocktail for this.

In second position:  our old French favorite, Dolin Rouge.  It’s got perhaps a bit of walnut on the nose, sips with a strong cherry, and finishes with a bitter hint of anise.  This is our house vermouth and gets used in almost anything that might get clobbered by Carpano.

In third position:  Cocchi di Torino.  Oh, how fond I am of this one.  I could use it just for sipping.  It starts out with a sweet, peppery nose.  One sip and you’re in the world of ruby port, with a little bitterness thrown in.  And the finish has a bit of marzipan / anise going on.  I use it in one of the cocktails I’ve published here, the High Tea.

Lastly, the champ, Carpano Antica Formula.  Pralines on the nose, caramelly anise in the middle, and a nice burnt sugar finish.  This makes a hell of a Martinez.  It goes well with many classic cocktails, as long as you don’t mind the fact it’s going to kick your drink’s ass.  It refuses to be subtle.

The Manhattan is the classic sweet vermouth drink.  I went to Canon – Jamie Boudreaux’ new place – for the first time last week.  They had a selection on the menu that was actually three drinks:  Manhattans, each made with a different vermouth.  They had the Dolin, the Carpano, and a Barolo Cocchi.  (The Barolo is wicked expensive, and I ain’t opening it for mixing.)  Since we need to include a drink recipe here, it’s time to do a classic Manhattan.


2 oz rye (I used Templeton.  Nom nom nom.)
1 oz sweet vermouth (I used the Perruchi – it’s new and shiny)
two dashes Angostura bitters

Combine everything in the mixer, ice it, stir it, strain it into a frosty cocktail glass, and drop a brandied cherry into it.  The original Manhattan is made with rye, but if you use bourbon, no one’s going to take away your birthday.  Easy to make, but a very different drink each time, depending on the kind of rye / bourbon and vermouth you use.