FYI: This is an archive of my Tonight's Negroni email newsletter.
Remember how I told you the Negroni is an awesome drink because it's so easy to make? Just 1:1:1 of gin:sweet vermouth:Campari, right?
Well, here's the magic thing about that: the specifics are WIDE OPEN! Gin has so many flavors. Hendrick's tastes like cucumber and roses. Uncle Val's is even crazier, with citrus and botanicals. Tanqueray tastes like everyday gin should taste. Roundhouse has a subtle floral flavor and comes from Boulder, CO. Gin is all over the map, so you get to (or "have to" for the skittish, I suppose...) think about what works best for any given cocktail.
The secret that people who haven't done my kind of deep dive into cocktail mixing, history, and culture don't know is that the same applies to vermouth.
[STOP THE PRESSES: I was just looking for a link for a cheap vermouth example and instead found vermouth101.com. Holy Mary of Seven Bottles! This is where I'm spending the upcoming weekend...]
Sweet vermouth runs the price gamut for a 750ml bottle from around $8 to $35 and beyond. The whole rainbow is worth investigating. The key to knowing how to combine them is experiencing your ingredients alone, as they are. Try your vermouth (and your gin, and so on) neat. Do the nerdy "wine geek" slurpy, swishy thing with your booze, too. Only when you know the individual flavors can you even come close to imagining the taste of a combination.
And that is the thing with vermouth: as a "fortified wine" it IS a combination! That means the variation of this one ingredient can be pretty vast.
You can get a Carpano Antica Formula or Martini Gran Lusso, which are bold and amazing as sippers, but also make for a vermouth-forward cocktail if you mix them. You can also spend your extra money on a Cocchi di Torino, which is a great sipping aperitif, but fades into the background in a something like a Negroni. You can spend in the teens/twenties and get Dolin Rouge or Vya, which are both mainstays for my bar, and yet are vastly different.
Or you can get Punt e Mes, which is my jam tonight. It's bold and flavorful and stands out against the Campari in a Negroni.
The sub-$10 sweet vermouths are all pretty similar in my view. They aren't something you'd want to sip on the porch, but they are typically quite serviceable as mixers.
PROTIP: Unless you are some kind of animal (like me) and you don't consume a bottle of vermouth within a 2 week time span, store your vermouth in the refrigerator. Keep it corked/closed tightly, and don't leave it sitting with a speed pour spout, which doesn't really seal closed. (That's probably not a real concern. Only poseurs (like me, again) use speed pour spouts at home.) Evaporation is your foe with vermouth.
My suggestion to you is this: If you have access to a selection, don't buy the same sweet vermouth twice in a row. In fact, buy a new bottle until you've exhausted the selection. Explore the range and find your favorites in each price level.
As it turns out, I have a few favorites in the ~$20 band of the price rainbow. Dolin is nondescript. Vya is aromatic. Punt e Mes is bold, which is why I went for it tonight.
Someday I might branch out to talk about other variations of fortified wines, which progress from things like Madeira to Port to Vermouth to Quinquina. Plus the whole spectrum of dry vermouth... It's nutso.
Punt e Mes Negroni
I know Negroni recipes might be getting old, but bear with me... I'm playing a long con to teach you about substitution and variation.
- 1.5oz gin (I used my current fave Half Moon Orchard)
- 1.5oz Punt e Mes
- 1.5oz Campari
- Stir with ice.
- Strain into a rocks glass with a very large ice cube or two.
The Punt e Mes is strong enough to give you a striking illustration of what varying your ingredients can do for a cocktail.
Please compare and contrast as you can. It will serve you well!
(NOTE: I didn't do the linking I might usually do for one of these. It seems like you guys don't click a bunch of links from what I can tell in the reports. If you miss the links, feel free to let me know. I'll just assume we all know how to use Google in the mean time.)