An Extinct Style Of Drink?

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Due to circumstances in my life I have evolved into a vermouth drinker. Some how this stuff called vermouth went from totally being in vogue to being completely ignored and barely written about where nearly all real knowledge of it has been lost generations ago and the producers seem to be as quiet as moonshiners. No one is exactly interviewing vermouth producers for wine spectator which I’d pay to read. Luckily with all this decline of things the price, for the most part, has stayed down in two buck chuck territory as well. One reason I think all this persists in modern times anyhow, is because true connoisseurship and afficion is really challenging. Vermouth is sort of alienating because its flavors are so adult, and apparently for many people its alcohol levels are too low for most people (the lushes) to bother with which I think is really significant to its decline.

Cocktails also are a problem for vermouth. The worst vermouth cocktail ever created was the dry martini. I’m not talking about a 1/8 dry vermouth cocktail or a wave of the bottle. I’m speaking of dry vermouth and gin in any ratio with bitters or not. For some reason variations with little deviation had such a profound impact that so few people moved in other directions after its popularity began. Erosion of taste slowly stripped away all the wine and an impatient culture that needed their buzz from one glass took over.

You don’t have a real vermouth drink until you mix up some flavor contrast. And most importantly, you cannot be afraid of having two or three if a buzz is your goal. A couple evenings ago I was looking for a drink for the Cocktail Chronicle’s MxMo event. In browsing the always inspirational cocktailDB, I came across Stephen’s cocktail. I was really impressed by this forgotten Stephen’s good taste. It totally read as my style.

1 oz. sherry (I interpreted this as dry sherry to get a good balance so I used La Cigarrera’s Manzanilla)
.75 oz. dry vermouth (European Noilly Prat)
.75 oz. Benedictine

The drink has a serious flavor to alcohol ratio and a really elegant acidity to sweetness ratio. I wish I could have a good bar experience somewhere drinking maybe five or six of these and pay beer prices because it has close to a craft beer cost basis. Another big problem for vermouth is the nature of our gouge restaurant economies. To sum it up quickly, distributors and marketers push super expensive products on the market leaving generations not even knowing that $12 liters of rye whiskey and rum are stunningly delicious, and to add insult to injury, restaurants in so many cities rather be half full all night long, gouging guests with super expensive drinks than actually work hard, understand spirits, and use products that don’t have pharmaceutical style promotional expenses.

Is there any room in the market for this class of fortified and aromatized wine drink? In matters of taste, sherry with its intense barrel treatment is like whiskey flavored wine (I group sherry drinks with vermouth drinks). I feel like people should be able to relate to it more than they think. Vermouth and sherry are also damn cheap relative to distilled spirits. Tapas places often sell small glasses of them for $5. Additionally, restaurants are trying to get people less drunk these days in the world of liability and conservatism and many people have to work increasing hours but still need time to unwind with some adult tasting stimulus. If in Milan, the vermouth drinkers happy hour is extended well into the evening by the perfect alcohol content and affordability of aromatized wine, couldn’t this new style of drink help revive many lagging urban bar cultures?

So now you’re curious and want to mix up some vermouth? The king of these drinks is the Half Sinner, Half Saint:

1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
1.5 oz. dry vermouth
.5 oz. absinthe (floated)
twist of something

I still have yet to find someone that doesn’t like this drink. the sweetness to dryness ratio is perfect. This drink also makes a dramatic mockery of absinthe. The cloying versus the relief. You can’t know pleasure until you know pain. I need to give No. 9 park credit for introducing it to me. Now one or two is a daily ritual. The two mentioned cocktails illustrate some of the really simple formats but just a few of the many players. When you know their simple properties like whats sweet and whats dry, things can easily be substituted to your wildest imagination.

The players:

Sherry: sweet or dry. Oxidized to elegance with flor yeast, in love with oak like whiskey flavored wine. Fresh styles like Manzanilla are very chamomily while 30 year old sweet sherries, as made by Matuselem, are like liquid bread pudding.

Vermouth: sweet, dry, or bianco. With so many different brands having styles that are hard to nail down, but with little exception all being good. some drys have more fruit than others. Some sweets are sweeter and some are more intense. Some biancos are more bitter than others.

Played out iconic: Brand names Lillet and Dubbonet are usually sweet, usually really orangey and more or less other stuff is more fun.

Forgotten savoy: The Savoy which covers parts of southern France and northern Italy in and around the Alps is aromatized wine country. There are so many forgotten specialties like Chamberyzette which is vermouth heavy handedly aromatized with Alpine strawberries. Chocolate’s best friend is the epic Barolo Chinato which is elegantly bitter aromatized Barolo wine. This region makes aromatized wines that would remind you of a more handsome Campari or a more complex Lillet. (great ones are made by Vergano)

Americano: More intensely bitter aromatized wines that kind of overlap with the Savoy specialities. Great producers are Vergano, Gancia, and I would say Vya of California. I’ve even made my own with good success.

Aromatized cheaters: Bitter and low alcohol but do not have a wine base (to my knowledge anyhow) Cynar, Campari, Aperol, Picon Bier.

Monastic contrast: Incredibly masterful aromatized high alcohol liqueurs. Masochistic flavor contrast, the Chartreuses which are an artistic synthesis of the flavor “rocket fuel” via booze and botanicals, and Benedictine which is liquid cigar concentrate.

The wines: Passito, Botrytised, Ice Wine. Sauternes, Port, :Madeira (cercial, bual, malmsey, rainwater!) Fresh or oxidized styles, honeyed, mysterious, and made under rare circumstances.

What can be surprising is how well certain brands perform in the randomness of it all. Cribari sweet vermouth anyone? Try it with some dry sherry like La Cigarrera Manzanilla and a finger of Saint James Royal Ambre rhum. There are a million ways to mix this style of drink and a million of them are already on the books. Check it out and see how much less whiskey you end up drinking.

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Fighting the Good Fight with Cocktail Acids

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[Me thinking out loud so long ago]

I keep reading about stiff drinks made with interesting liqueur combinations. an example would be the window’s kiss.

1.5 oz. calvados or apple brandy
.75 oz. yellow chartreuse
.75 oz. benedictine
dash angostura bitters
stirred.

This drink has wild flavor contrasts and massive nuance but it is still cloying and I can barely enjoy more than a sip unless it is stingingly cold. This style of drink is sweeter than port or ice wine, but you can learn great lessons from it. Epic liqueur duo with an apple-y contrast, amazing idea. How can more drinks get in on that action? I need some serious contrast to that sugar. My thought was to split the calvados into a barrel proof spirit diluted with a very dry apple-y sherry like a manzanilla. I tried making the drink as:

.75 oz. old potrero 18th century style rye (124.3 proof)
.75 oz. la gitana manzanilla (30 proof)
.75 oz. yellow chartreuse
.75 oz. benedictine
dash of angostura bitters

I preserved the alcohol content that the calvados contributed and added acidity but still found the drink cloying. I then added another ounce of manzanilla and things started to be within the average of my tastes but my alcohol content went down which is also not good for what I wanted. Of course I could decrease the amount of liqueur relative to fortifier.

1 oz. old potrero 18th century style rye (124.3 proof)
1 oz. la gitana manzanilla (30 proof)
.5 oz. yellow chartreuse
.5 oz. benedictine
dash of angostura bitters

Mother’s milk, even when reduced, the contribution of the liqueurs is sweeter than the sweet vermouth of a Manhattan but now I have acidity from the sherry. This definitely needs to be strained over fresh ice so it can be as cold as possible and for some reason I wish it smelt of oranges.

I like this concept. The right sherries with barrel proof spirits doesn’t really interrupt my barrel flavors and gives me acidity and something economical because barrel proof spirits are never priced correctly and sherry is so affordable. Now I need to find more dry sherry and more barrel proof spirits.

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Fun with La Cigarrera’s Manzanilla

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I picked up a half bottle of “la cigarrera” manzanilla. It is really pale and dry like every other Manzanilla I’ve ever had but has a pungent and intoxicating nose of the likes I’ve never come across. The character and complexity of the wine really shows what sherry cask finishes do for highland whiskeys. As hypnotic as this stuff is on the nose, it is not really that much fun to drink without the appropriate food to elevate it. I find it beyond the average of anyone’s taste for dryness, which makes it perfect to a cocktail. Pair the sherry with something sweet and its back into balance. If paired with a highland whiskey like Macallan you can get the acidity a cocktail needs with uninterrupted flavor continuity.

1 oz. macallan cask strength
1 oz. manzanilla (la cigarerra)
.5 oz. luxardo maraschino
.5 oz. cynar
2 dashes peychaud’s bitters

This drink is a beautiful attempt at pairing sherry cask seasoned whiskey with sherry as a cocktail acid. I get an uninterrupted highland experience with no annoying lemon or lime interrupts. The sherry alone with its acidity balances the sweetness of the liqueurs. The whiskey and sherrys’ own flavors are so good together they don’t even need to be elevated with vermouth. I typically despise maraschino, and its subtle almond note always reminds me of poison putting me on edge, but here it works. Another beautiful liqueur like strawberry would probably work even better. The cynar really moves this drink deep into the bitter cocktail genre but definitely isn’t the only way to go. Hopefully I can come up with a drink that is unforgettable.

***update!***

1 oz. macallan cask strength
1 oz. manzanilla (la cigarerra)
.5 oz. sloe gin (plymouth!)
.5 oz. yellow chartreuse
2 dashes peychaud’s bitters

This drink turned out really well with decadently powerful flavors. If blind tasted the cocktail almost resembles a Manhattan with fruit and botanicals contrasted against brown liquor. Hopefully it wouldn’t be called over engineered. Everything is a little more advanced than a Manhattan because the blackthorn fruit is more exotic and there is more well integrated structure from the sherry. I would really love to try this again with a common rye whiskey like Old Overholt instead of the Macallan. I think that with the sherry in tandem the cocktail would be wildly fun to drink for low dollars.

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