Tag Archives: sweet vermouth

Cocktail of the Hour — the Manhattan

manhattan drink 2After researching a lot of cocktails with contentious origins, it comes as no surprise that the ever-popular Manhattan has many origin legends. The drink was definitely a bar staple by the 1860s, but the details of where and when it was created are largely lost to history. One of the most interesting stories was that it was invented for a party thrown by Winston Churchill’s mother at the Manhattan Club. Unfortunately, the historical record indicates that she was across the pond giving birth during the time of this party.

Other sources give credit to a bartender named Black who worked in another bar in Manhattan. If this was the case, it’s likely that this libation was created to be one of the five cocktails named for New York City’s five main boroughs. Despite its lack of historical figures, this tale is likely the most true.

Interestingly, putting together an original Manhattan is almost as  impossible as piecing together its backstory. The oldest recorded recipe calls for a few dashes of Boker’s bitters in equal parts rye whiskey and sweet vermouth. A few decades ago, the original Boker’s bitters went out of production, so unless you’re willing to shell out some serious cash for a vintage bottle, you’re unlikely to ever taste the most historic Manhattan.

As well, modern palates (and bartenders) favor spirit-heavy drinks over vermouth-heavy drinks. As a result, the most popular recipe for a Manhattan calls for a 2:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth. Thanks to a few marketing campaigns featuring the Manhattan, bourbon has largely eclipsed rye in common recipes. Though this substitution doesn’t affect the presentation, it gives the drink a much smoother, sweeter taste overall than a rye Manhattan.

manhattan spread 4The rye Manhattan is a dark, slightly sweet cocktail with a hint of spice from the whiskey. An orange peel garnish adds a citrusy nose that compliments the wine and dark fruit of the first sip. Garnishing with a maraschino cherry, by contrast, adds a very sweet finish to a sweet, but balanced drink. Though the origins of this practice are unclear, written records would seem to indicate that the orange peel garnish came first.

Choosing complimentary vermouths and whiskeys is one of the biggest parts of making a delicious Manhattan. For example, a more bitter vermouth like Punt e Mes won’t necessarily compliment either the boldness of Rittenhouse rye or a smooth bourbon. However, a more rounded, earthier vermouth like Cocchi Vermouth di Turino or Carpano Antica Formula can bring out the best qualities in either liquor.

Since no two people have the exact same taste preferences, experimentation is the best way to find our your favorite drink recipes. Try out different combinations and see what works for you.

Recipe:
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Heering cherry liqueur
1 oz sweet vermouth

2 oz rye whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well incorporated. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel or maraschino cherry depending on your preference.

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Cocktail of the hour — the Harvard

Photo credit to Brent Beachtel

Photo credit to Brent Beachtel

Before high fructose corn syrup was king, colleges had cocktails. Not the sugar-soaked-violently-neon-OMG-Spring-Break cocktails, but more sippable drinks that packed a wallop. During the early 1900s, the Harvard was one such cocktail. This cognac-based Manhattan variation has a rich, earthy and spicy from the brandy that’s balanced by the warmth and sweetness of vermouth.

The Harvard first appeared in print in George Kappeler’s 1895 Modern American Drinks. Like the Manhattan, the Harvard’s original recipe calls for equal parts liquor and vermouth. After these ingredients are mixed, the Harvard’s recipe diverges with a splash of soda water. In the original proportion, the brandy gets lost under the additional dilution.

Within the first 20 years of the 20th century, this cocktail was rebalanced to be more spirit-forward. This newer recipe has endured to present, and changes the ratio to two parts cognac to one part vermouth. Changing the ratio balances the liquor content with both the vermouth’s sweetness and prevents over dilution, leading to a much more balanced drink.

Interestingly, Harvard variations including Chartreuse, citrus juice, maraschino liqueur and other sweeteners are occasionally mentioned in pre-Prohibition documents. That said, these Fancy (or Improved) Harvards have mostly been lost to history. Besides, this solidly balanced cocktail needs very little tweaking; it’s lush and delicious in its original form.

Recipe
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 oz sweet vermouth

2 oz brandy

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 12-17 seconds or until well combine. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with some club soda. Garnish with an orange peel if feeling citrusy.

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Cocktail of the Hour — Blood and Sand

20131102-123144.jpgAs much as I love all things whisk(e)y, I’m still dipping my toes in the peaty waters of scotch and scotch cocktails. One of my recent favorites is the classic Blood & Sand. Composed of equal parts blended scotch, Heering cherry, orange juice and sweet vermouth, the drink is surprisingly smooth and sensuous.

This tipple first appears on the radar in Henry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. Its name is most likely derived from the 1922 movie that starred Rudolph Valentino, but its history is otherwise unknown. More recently, its revival was almost halted by its ingredient list. In fact, master bartender Dale DeGroff rediscovered the recipe in the mid-1990s and was so intrigued by the combination that he both doubted its value and had to try one.

Though the ingredients might seem incompatible at first glance, the result is a rich, almost-tropical-punch drink. Rich cherry liqueur adds weight, sweetness and velvety texture that’s balanced by the orange juice’s acidity. The scotch gives the drink the smoky, peaty notes that are grounded by the rich wine-y-ness of the sweet vermouth. On paper, it appears of be a cacophony of tastes, but in reality, it all comes together for a right, delicious experience.

Recipe:

.75 oz orange juice
.75 oz Heering cherry
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.75 oz blended scotch 

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake until well-mixed, about 13-17 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and serve.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Negroni

Image c/o Angel Negrin

Image c/o Angel Negrin

Despite all of the amazing alcoholic products exported from Italy, it’s not a place known for its cocktails. Since the country didn’t have to get creative to make illegal spirits palatable, few recipes have emerged. However, a few Italian cocktails have become critical parts of cocktail history.

One that has inspired endless variations is the Negroni. Like many other cocktails, this one doesn’t have a clear cut backstory. Its origin is traced by some back to 1919. At that time, Count Camillo Negroni is said to have ordered an Americano (equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth) with gin and no soda.

The result was and is a cocktail with a beautiful ruby tone. Taste-wise, the Campari adds a bitterness and sweetness that plays around the gin’s herbaceous bite. Sweet vermouth balances these flavors with a smoky, wine-y earthiness. Though many bartenders have rebalanced this cocktail to please modern palates, others argue passionately that these variations are not actually Negronis.

For that reason, I’ve included the original recipe. By what I can tell, it’s also the most historical, so it’s the best suited for my purposes. Other interesting variations to try include the Boulevardier (sub bourbon for gin), a 1794 (sub rye for gin) or a Boulevarista (sub tequila for gin). With one Google search, I uncovered more than twenty variations, and scores of others exist in books and bars all over the world. With the number of possibilities available, it’s just a matter of finding one that’s to your taste.

Recipe:

1 oz Campari

1 oz sweet vermouth

1 oz gin

Combine in a mixing glass and stir for 12-15 seconds or until combined to taste. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Martinez

Photo c/o Angel Negrin

Photo c/o Angel Negrin

As you might have gathered, cocktail history is equal parts interesting, contentious and vague. For every cocktail with a crystal clear genealogy, five more exist in a much more nebulous place. Such is the case with the Martinez.

Sometimes called the father of the Martini, this drink is supposedly named for the town in California where it originated. Other cocktail lore suggests it is one of Jerry Thomas’s creations or is named after the bartender who invented it. Unfortunately, there is little information to back up any of these stories.

Even if the Martinez didn’t have a direct impact on the creation of the Martini, each drink represents a different route for mixing gin-based drinks. The Martinez is basically a gin Manhattan complete with sweet vermouth, while the Martini gets the dry vermouth treatment.Interestingly, recipes for each cocktail have varied widely over the last century. Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks (etc) presents a cocktail that has a 2:1 vermouth to gin ratio, while The Savoy Cocktail Book inverts these proportions.

Personally, the more modern recipe is more pleasing for my palate. Though you can occasionally catch me drinking straight vermouth, I prefer cocktails that accentuate the base spirit rather than covering it. In this case, the vermouth tends to overpower the Old Tom gin. This style is heavier on botanicals than the now-popular London Dry gin, and is not as widely available. In fact, only one store in the entire state of Alabama carries a brand of Old Tom.*

The result is a light, nutty drink with a sweetness balanced by the addition of bitters. Even though it finishes dry, the addition of the sweet vermouth provides a depth of flavor beyond the Martini’s searing dryness.

Recipe

2 dashes orange bitters

1 tsp maraschino cherry liqueur

1 oz sweet vermouth

2 oz Old Tom gin

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir for 12-15 seconds or until the drink is to your taste. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

*Hayman’s Old Tom gin is available at Lou’s Pub in Birmingham. Disclaimer: I have not been paid or compensated to mention them in this post.

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