Welcome to Pick Your Poison, wherein the world’s best bartenders help stock your bar, one spirit at a time.
“Vermouth is one of the most versatile tools in a bartender’s palette,” says Aaron Paul. “It can add body and complexity to spirit-based cocktails. And it can be served on its own with the addition of very little other flavor.”
Paul is not the Breaking Bad actor, but the beverage director of Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group, which includes Alta, Alfred’s Steakhouse and the just-opened Kaya, a modern-Jamaican restaurant and rum bar, all based in San Francisco. At Alta MSP, Aaron oversees a low-ABV beverage program that includes Vermouth-based cocktails.
“When we make low-ABV drinks at Alta, we tend to follow an inverted pyramid recipe,” says Paul. “Where most cocktails are spirit heavy with a lighter amount of vermouth and a flavor modifier and binder such as an amaro or bitters; an inverted cocktail will be predominantly composed of vermouth with a flavor modifier and a hint of spirit to give it a light bite.”
Technically a fortified wine, Vermouth can be grouped into four subcategories: Sweet (Red, Rosso or Rouge), Dry, Sweet White (Blanc or Bianco) and Rosé. With all that info in mind, we picked Paul’s brain for five must-have vermouths (most available via Drizly), and the best cocktails for each. His choices, in his words, below.
Punt e Mes
"Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth that has a little more bitterness and a little more orange zest than your typical vermouth rosso or rouge. Substitute Punt e Mes for sweet vermouth when you want to amplify the bitterness in your Negroni. It’s also great in a Blood and Sand, a classic cocktail that can be a little flabby with its sweeter components of Orange Juice and Cherry Heering. Our house Blood and Sand Recipe is 1.5 oz. Scotch, .75 Orange Juice, .75 Punt e Mes and .5 oz. Cherry Heering. Less sweet and more complex (and boozy) than the original."
"Cocchi Americano is all zesty citrus and crisp fruit with a rich textured body — that comes from the Moscato d’Asti base. It also contains cinchona bark, which is where tonic gets its distinct quinine flavor. You can drink Cocchi with soda, tonic or straight with an orange twist, or use it as a replacement for Lillet if you’re looking for a vintage feel and flavor to your cocktails — it works great in cocktails like the Vesper and the Corpse Reviver #2, but it is also a great sub for Cointreau. Try a splash of Cocchi in a margarita for a little extra flavor."
"You can use Carpano Bianco like a painter would use the color white. It has zingy bitter orange zest and honeysuckle sweetness, yet it’s surprisingly neutral and the perfect base layer for any produce-based infusion. We infuse Carpano Bianco throughout the year with cherries, blackberries, strawberries, pear, tomato, cucumber, pomegranate and huckleberries; the sweet vermouth base lets the natural flavors of the produce take center stage while adding complexity and body. You don’t have to add much else. Our entire cocktail program at Alta MSP in the Dogpatch is based on Carpano Bianco fruit infused 'Wine Coolers,' where we add a little Citric Acid to the infusion to make natural flavors and natural coloring 'pop.' It’s also great for adding body to any gin cocktail."
Imbue Petal and Thorn
"Imbue Petal and Thorn from Oregon is a Rosé Vermouth that features notes of orange zest, chamomile, pine and Christmas spice up front and then a long bitter finish. Its Pinot Gris base gives it a weighty mouthfeel and its natural beet coloring gives it a deep pink hue. We make a low-ABV Negroni with Contratto Bitter, Punt e Mes, Gran Classico, and Imbue Petal and Thorn. The sum of its parts may actually be more bitter than the classic."
Alessio Vermouth Chinato
“Alessio Vermouth Chinato is a silky, rich Nebbiolo-based vermouth with a medium bitterness provided by cinchona and wormwood. You can drink this all day by itself or use it in a rich, bold Manhattan or Negroni.”
Our sparkling wine coolers on tap with fresh fruits and herbs infused into Carpano Bianco. Try one or taste them all Yes We Cran! - cranberry, orange, mint, orange bitters; Bookworm - marigold, dandelion, grapefruit, lemon and orange zest; Pear of the Dog - Bartlett pear, star anise, almond, Genepy Des Alpes, The Beautiful Ones - huckleberry, lemon, ginger #msp #cocktails
Top photo by Wine Dharma. Bartender photo by Alanna Hale.