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.
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.
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)
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
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.