June 23, 2010
For a long time I’ve been hounding my local wine merchant, T.B. Ackerson, to stock some vermouths in order to save me the constant pilgrimage to Manhattan’s Astor Wines, which is one of the few places that stocks a variety of quality vermouths–and I go through a fair amount of vermouth rather quickly. My neighborhood is sort of up and coming (though it hasn’t completely up and came yet) so understandably they were hesitant to stock an item they didn’t consider popular among the residents in the neighborhood. I’ll just go ahead and say it, my neighborhood sucks when it comes to cocktail places.
So I was pleasantly surprised during a visit a few weeks ago to discover that my wine guy not only finally stocked vermouth, but decided to stock an obscure brand from Catalonia that up until recently was unavailable in the U.S. The brand is called Perucchi, and despite making vermouth in Spain since 1886, has been available in the states for less than a year. Needless to say, I picked up both the offerings, a white and red, and trotted home eager to try my new find.
It’s not often that I do product reviews here, or dedicate an entire post to one product, as I like to leave that sort of thing to other bloggers–and there are plenty of them who do it well. But an exception is merited here, first because the product is so good, and second because it’s so different from other vermouths.
My modus operandi for evaluating spirits (besides tasting it by itself) is to see how they perform in the cocktails that you’d quintessentially find them in. So in the case of sweet vermouth, the Manhattan and the Negroni come to mind. For white vermouth, the Martini (gin, never vodka, though I shouldn’t have to mention this) is the standard bearer. But before I get into the cocktails, a few tasting notes are in order.
Normally white vermouth is referred to as dry vermouth, and red vermouth as sweet. Well, normal is not how I would describe either the white or red Perucchi vermouths, and thus I won’t refer to them as dry and sweet vermouth, because neither fits neatly in either category.
Upon first blush, I was surprised to find that the white vermouth was not at all dry as I anticipated. In fact, it was more like a cross between a dry vermouth and an aperitif wine like Lillet. As a vermouth it more closely resembled a blanco style than the more common dry style of vermouth–a silky texture, golden-hue, more spicy and floral, less herbal. Ginger and honey was immediately apparent on the palate, with slight traces of herb and orange blossom on the finish. I couldn’t wait for the Martini test.
The red vermouth was no less surprising–in fact, I won’t call the red vermouth a sweet vermouth either because the white was actually a bit sweeter. The red tasted like a sweet vermouth-Campari hybrid–bittersweet, profoundly earthy, and slightly reminiscent of Dubonnet Rouge, with a tannic finish not unlike chewing on fresh tobacco leaves. Manhattan here I come!
And now the cocktails which I consider essential to evaluating vermouths…
3 oz gin (used Bluecoat)
1 oz Vermouth Perucchi white
2 dashes orange bitters (used Regan’s)
In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir the ingredients until well-chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist (works better than an olive here).
Imagine a Martini lightly kissed by lush fruit and laced with an essence of ginger, and you have a close approximation of this cocktail. It’s great for introducing vodka drinkers to a real Martini (a Kangaroo cocktail, by the way, is the name for a so-called Vodkatini). The flavor profile of the vermouth so nicely complements the botanicals in gin that it essentially acts as a stepping stone to finer drinking, ie, leaving the vodka behind.
1 oz gin (again, Bluecoat)
3/4 oz Vermouth Perucchi red
3/4 oz Vermouth Perucchi white
1/4 oz Campari
Flamed orange for garnish
In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir the ingredients until well-chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Cut a piece of orange peel, warm it briefly with a match or lighter, then flame it by squeezing it over the drink while holding the lighter to it (may require a little practice). This should cause a brief flame burst which will caramelize the citrus oil as it falls into the drink.
In cocktail parlance, the term perfect refers to equal parts sweet and dry vermouths, or in this case, white and red vermouths. While a Negroni traditionally calls for 1 oz each of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, I’ve altered things a bit, to what I think is good effect. The Perucchi red is already bitter, so I toned down the Campari and balanced it with a bit of the sweeter, honeyed notes of the Perucchi white. Like the cocktail above it, it’s a good alternative to the standard Negroni, especially for those whose palates have not yet formed an embracing appreciation for Campari’s bitterness. However, this is not a novice’s cocktail, as I believe it can really stand on its own as a veritable Negroni variant.
2 oz rye whiskey (used Sazerac)
1/2 oz Vermouth Perucchi red
1/2 oz Vermouth Perucchi white
2 dashes orange bitters (used Bitter Truth)
In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir the ingredients until well-chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
This is basically a Perfect Manhattan using the Perucchi. If you like your Manhattans a little lighter bodied and less austere but still silky, this is for you. The two vermouths combine with the rye to create flavors reminiscent of Fall’s first maple sap. It’s floral on the finish, likely the work of the white vermouth, while the red vermouth provides a woodsy kick that nicely complements the rye’s spice. This is an excellent way to switch up your Manhattan routine.
These vermouths are so unique that there are at least a dozen or so variations on the above three cocktails that you could do, that I simply could not cover.
If you can get these vermouths at your neighborhood wine or liquor store, I urge you to do so. If they don’t carry it, urge them to do so, incessantly until they do. If you live in Brooklyn, I urge you to go to T.B. Ackerson and buy from them, so they can continue to stock it.
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.