This Mixology Monday was a tough one for me -- not because it was difficult to create a new cocktail, or find a sufficiently interesting drink to write about, but rather because the theme was so goshdarned big. How could I narrow it down to just one drink, when there are so many wonderful cocktails out there containing vermouth? The first cocktail I really enjoyed was a Manhattan, after all, and the category is wide open. As I mentioned in the announcement post, the aromatized-wine family covers vermouth, quinquina like Dubonnet and Lillet, aperitif wines, and lots more.
I initially considered a "Vermouth Cocktail", which dates all the way back to 1869 and consists of simply a couple ounces of sweet vermouth, a tiny bit of ice, and a twist. (There's also the "Fancy Vermouth Cocktail", from the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas's How to Mix Drinks, which adds a couple dashes of Angostura bitters and a teaspoon of Maraschino, and changes the garnish to a lemon wheel.) Straight vermouth makes an excellent aperitif, whetting the appetite with its wonderful combination of sweetness, spice, and slight bitterness, and preparing the palate for savory delights to come. Dry vermouth on the rocks is a great summer drink, too, and the light herbaceousness can be very refreshing. As Chuck Taggart points out, Lillet on the rocks with a slice of orange "is the favorite drink of one Dr. Hannibal Lecter", and it's good with a flamed orange peel as well.
You don't have to be a cannibal to enjoy Lillet, though -- this is one of my very favorite ingredients, with its sweet citrus flavor tempered with herbs and its slightly viscous, ice-cube-coating texture. It's essential, of course in what I'd probably pick as my favorite cocktail, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 (you'd most likely have to hold a gun to my head to get me to pick a favorite cocktail, but if you did, I'd probably go for this one.) Lillet also figures prominently in the Corpse Reviver No. 2's cousin, the Twentieth Century. Invented about forty years later (and named for the famed and equally elegant express train from New York to Chicago), the Twentieth Century is an amazing drink best described by Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh in Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails as going down "like light, zingy lemonade, but in the aftertaste there is an ethereal sense of chocolate." In Chuck's post here about the Twentieth Century, he asks "Is it too early to create a Twenty-First Century Cocktail?" Not at all, and as I discovered in a visit to the Pegu Club a while back, there already is one. Invented by Jim Meehan of PDT, it's a wonderful balance of tequila, crème de cacao, lemon, and Pernod...but since it doesn't have an aromatized wine in it, it doesn't work for this post. (There's also a Nineteenth-Century Cocktail, invented by Brian Miller of Death & Co. and shown to me by St. John Frizell -- it's bourbon, Lillet Rouge (not the usual Lillet Blanc), lemon, and crème de cacao.)
As David Wondrich notes in his book Imbibe, the introduction of the Manhattan really got the vermouth revolution going, and bartenders around the turn of the century used it in almost everything. In the April 2009 issue of Esquire, Wondrich offers a great formula for inventing new cocktails: two ounces of base spirit, an ounce of a fortified wine, a teaspoon of liqueur, and a couple of dashes of bitters. This formula's easily as useful as the classic 2:1:1 or 3:2:1 ratios of spirit:liqueur:citrus for making Sours sweetened with liqueurs -- and note that fortified-wine recommendation!
I considered a few other cocktails, which I'm noting here because I want to get around to trying them: Dr. Cocktail's CEO Cocktail and Gary Regan's Delmarva Cocktail No. 2 (itself a variation on an original from Dr. Cocktail.) Also, if I ever want to crack open the Noilly Ambre that was a very, very generous gift from the estimable Jay Hepburn, the Amber Room looks fascinating as well.
But for today, I wanted to go farther back, and try a cocktail that was briefly in vogue in 1895. I have a bottle of Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy (which goes into their applejack, which is a blended product with water and neutral grain spirits), and while I do love the Jack Rose, the prospect of another cocktail using Laird's was too good to pass up.
This is an interesting taste -- at first the vermouth's bittersweet spiciness is reminiscent of a Manhattan, but the apple brandy's mellow flavor is different from rye's peppery bite. And, of course, the bitters tie it all together. Angostura is good in this one, but I think I might try the Fee's Whiskey-Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned bitters in this next time.
- 1 1/2 oz. apple brandy
- 1 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (I used Punt E Mes, for maximum cider-y spice)
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1/2 teaspoon gum syrup (which I omitted, at Wondrich's suggestion)
Stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and serve with a twist.