Classic cocktails, revisited – “The Nolita”

A take on the classic Manhattan, this large cocktail features the mellow and sublime additions of Rammazzotti amaro with a dash of lemon bitters, or lemon twist. This cocktail is name after the Little Italy neighborhood in Manhattan

3/4 oz. sweet vermouth (Martini & Rossi)
3 oz. Bourbon or Rye Whiskey (Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey or Old Overholt)
1-1/2 oz. Rammazzotti Amaro
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 lemon twist or dash of lemon bitters

Mix all together with ice in a cocktail shaker and stir until chilled. Pour into a chilled highball glass. Add 1 twist of lemon.

Seriously, this will soften any bourbon detractor. Why sip on anything else?


How to make amaro – a basic recipe

If you’re just joining us, we’ve written a few posts about amari and touched on bitters and vermouth. The popularity of amaro continues to grow, and I’m pleased to have informed other tipplers about its enjoyment. I’ve taken on producing my own because it’s fun, creative and they’re really, really good!

I’ve provided a lot of data in earlier posts on creating my own amaro, but it is a lot to digest. So, if creating a simple amaro is your desire too, here are the basics from my “experienced” perspective.

Use these ingredients in the order shown. This will produce roughly 1 liter of amaro in about 2-3 weeks.

A. Base spirit – (choose one)
1.   2 cups of grain alcohol (beverage-grade ethanol) of 75% or 95%
– OR-
2.   3 cups of neutral dry brandy — you don’t want something too sweet (note: this will produce an amaro that is immediately more similar to those found in the stores).
– OR –
3.   3 cups of vodka

B. Phase one – Bittering agents (soak for 5 – 7 days in 75% or higher spirit, up to 2 weeks in vodka or brandy)
1. 1 tsp of one or more of each the following dried roots: gentian root, angelica root, wormwood, orris root, galangal root, burdock root

C. Phase two – Flavoring agents
(remove bittering agents above and soak the ingredients below for 2 – 3 days – except star anise – see below)
1.  1 vanilla bean or tbsp of vanilla bean extract
2.   1-1/2 tsp Juniper berries (dried) approx 10-14 berries)
3.   4 cardamom pods
4.   4 cloves
5.   1 tsp dried orange peel
6.   1 cinnamon stick
7.   1 sprig of rosemary (about 20 -30 leaves)
8.   4-5 peppermint leaves
9.   4-5 fresh sage, or 2-3 dried sage leaves
10.   1/4 tsp saffron
11.   1 tsp lemon balm (melissa oficianalis)
12.   1 star anise – soak for 1-2 days and test. Star anise has an intense flavor and will overpower your mixture very quickly if you’re not careful. Keep infusing to taste.

Strain and remove the solids. Proceed to the next phase.

D. Phase three – Sweetening/diluting agents

1 to 1-1/2 cups Simple syrup
1 cup distilled water
1 cup white vermouth (bianco vermouth)

You’re going to want to be careful with adding sweetener because it will both dilute your liqueur (and throw any hydrometer or alcoholometer measurements way off) and thicken it. I recommend a 1:1 mixture of simple syrup and distilled water.  Do the math before adding the water.  If you’re using 2 cups 95% spirits and add 1 cup of simple syrup, 1 cup of distilled water and 1 cup of vermouth (at about 18% ABV), you will produce a mixture of 5 cups at roughly 40%. Once the mixture has been mixed, begin tasting. This is your baseline. Add more simple syrup as needed.

E. Phase four – Mellowing and coloring agents

1. Add mixture to small oak barrel and let it rest for 1 – 3 months, OR add toasted oak chips (about 3 tbsp) to mixture, and soak for up to 4 weeks

Strain and remove the oak chips and any remaining solids.

Depending on the toast of the barrel or oak chips, your amaro will darken beautifully. If after the mellowing period you wish to darken it further, you will need to create caramel coloring by heating granulated or brown sugar in a pan on the stovetop and dilute CAREFULLY and SLOWLY with boiling water. Add up to 1 oz of caramel coloring to darken your amaro more.

Finishing touches
See the fining process in an earlier post if the mixture is too cloudy to your liking. You can let it settle for a few days and try to siphon off the clearer liqueur above any sediment.
Once it is clear, bottle it up. It will be certainly drinkable now, but will continue to mellow over the next few months. Store it in a cool dark cupboard.

DIY Sweet (not too sweet) Vermouth

As long as it’s bitter, I’m on it! Manhattans are my cocktail of choice these days. One can’t go wrong with the various bourbons on the market (even a bottom rail bourbon tastes good as long as it hasn’t sat around in an opened bottle for months or years), and a nice sweet or semi-sweet vermouth. If a Manhattan is too sweet, I’ve cut the sweet vermouth with a dry vermouth. Accompanyied by a shot of my favorite bitters and a twist of lemon (no cherry, please), the classic Manhattan is a warm and welcoming reward for a day’s hard work.

So what about vermouth? Like most people who are your run-of-the-mill cocktail consumers, I thought vermouth was just one of those cheap ingredients that made the cocktail taste like you’ve always remembered. I’ve had some bad vermouths – like a bottle of Cinzano behind that bar on Roy Street in Queen Anne (I won’t name names), where the bartender tried to surreptitiously remove some floating debris before mixing it into a cocktail. It tasted like someone had squeezed a few drops from a dishrag into the cocktail – a little yeasty and sour. And I thought it was the bourbon. Well, a good bourbon might attempt to compensate, I suppose. I’ve had Vya and gin martinis made with Vya.

Now, I like gin. I like it a lot, and feel a little silly ordering a martini where the vermouth is used to rinse the glass. Especially when they do that with a nice vermouth like Vya. Seriously! If that’s your idea of a martini, why even bother with vermouth? It seems it would be best to order gin straight up with a twist or olives (depending on the gin).

I’ve had Punt e Mes which is really nice, but other than an occasional Martini and Rossi or Gallo (really sweet), I’ve never ventured too far into the world of vermouths.

Until now…

The name vermouth comes from the German word for wormwood: wormut. Wormwood flower and petals are a nice bittering ingredient and the basis of the vermouth I’m going to illustrate here. But another amazing ingredient really took over and made this vermouth a very unique aperitif. The myrrh bark is a very strong presence in this vermouth – it is very woody, aromatic and smells like an antique chest or cabinet. If that seems a little challenging, you can cut back on the amount – maybe just a pinch. But it is a wonderful aromatic addition. I like to call this vermouth Myrrhmouth!

Without further ado, here is the recipe.

    Base ingredients

1 750 ml bottle of Pinot Grigio (I used a Hogue Cellars 2011)
1/2 C of sweet sherry (a cheap Sheffield cream sherry)
1/8 C of dark toast French oak tincture (75% ABV)
1/8 C of medium toast American oak tincture (75% ABV)

    Flavoring agents

1 tsp dried wormwood
1 tsp dried centaury
1 tsp gentian root
1 tsp galangal root
1 mace flower
1 tsp hyssop flower
1-1/2 tsp dried orange peel
1 tsp angelica root
1/2 tsp ground corriander seeds
5 cloves
7 drops of cinnamon tincture
1 tsp crushed myrrh bark

    Sweetening/coloring agents

1/4 C caramelized sugar
1/4 C boiling water
1/4 C simple syrup


1. Pour half of the wine into a saucepan with the flavoring agents and bring to a boil. Immediately cut the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the solids out and discard. Keep the wine in the saucepan.

2. Boil some water and have it ready
3. Caramelize the sugar by heating it on medium or medium high until dark reddish brown.
4. Let the sugar cool slightly and carefully add 1/4 cup of boiling water (stand back!)
5. Add the remaining wine to the saucepan and add the caramel coloring. Stir and mix thoroughly.
6. Fortify the wine with the oak tinctures (You can use brandy instead if available).
7. Add 1/2 cup of the sweet sherry and 1/4 cup of the simple syrup.

Let the mixture cool. Strain it through a coffee filter and bottle it up. Cool and keep in the refrigerator.