Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Nothing New But Thankfully the Same

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

When we recently were asked to write about this topic, I admit that I had to lookup what these click words mean: relaxation, zen, wellness. See, before the current era’s trilogy of terms and its predecessor—the New Age lifestyle—the search for self was not so much a trend as a secret society game of Chinese whispers shared amongst a very few. 

Some of my generation have somehow managed to live through decades we thought we would never see—thirty, forty, fifty, sixty. And with that experience behind me I am relieved to see external chaos and crisis is being met with a call for personal sanity. 

My grandparents lived through that same roller coaster of stress, during the 1920s and 1930s, brought on by progress and the demands of a world in chaos. They secretly submerged themselves in theosophy, western yoga (introduced through the Self-Realisation Fellowship), and even zen buddhism. Such free souls lived not at the core of cool, but on the razor’s edge of society. They formed the avant-garde. They were the people who sought an unconventional way to accept their presence in a world gone mad between the world wars and economic crises. Over cigarettes, spirits, and the occasional baked wheatgerm doughnut, they delved deep into these esoteric wonders. They questioned purpose for life as their counterparts rattled in the dark forces of nihilism, anarchy, and drug addiction.

A post-war generation swept such thoughts into a dark pit, finding comfort in mood elevators and stabilisers knocked back with a few therapy sessions with a psychiatrist and the local bar. They commuted to jobs they hated so they could live an expected life. Those people, the parents of my generation, told us how to live the life they had planned for us to live. 

Natural human reaction ensued as the outside world fell into the chaos of the Cold War, nuclear threats, and economic downturns. We rebelled. At university, we dove deep into impractical degrees—philosophy, archaeology, sociology, art history—as we planned our next sit-in at the administration building and traded notes on our new macrobiotic diet; our personal take on the meanings of the Sutras; our personal experiences with focussed thinking (read: meditation or research or a masters dissertation on pre-Columbian Amazonian cultures).

And now a similar cycle of outer chaos and a desire for inner peace has arisen. But it is a very special moment for those of us in hospitality. We need provide a quantum of solace to the people we serve. It comes from within: the ability to focus on making a drink and serving it with a personal superpower that delivers solace, comfort, cheer, support. It is the essence of zen.

Solace cannot be conveyed if you are hungover, stressed, angry, unsure. Solace does not need to be generated from the latest fitness craze, diet, or psycho-babble fad. It can build up from cooking the perfect egg for yourself and savouring its flavour, aroma, and moment of experience. It can be empowered in taking a reflective walk to search your thoughts and feelings, to discover new points of inspiration. It be recharged from learning your personal patterns for sleeping, eating, and relaxing.

Different from before? In one sense, yes. This time, those of us who seek this inner calm and self-awareness are not on the outskirts of society. We are not even social rebels. We are the salve that soothes a world that needs solace.






Friday, 10 June 2016

The Secret Past of Molecular Mixing—According to Mixellany

[This article previously appeared on theworldclassclub.com in May 2016]
by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

"You have to know the past to understand the present.” — Carl Sagan, Astronomer

Molecular mixology is the crucible of cocktail trends. By nature it is and will always be the frontier of mixing. Pioneering new concepts are born by testing the limits of ingredients, engineering new ways to combine and present flavours. However, this is hardly new. An article in a Chicago newspaper describes a customer’s amazement at ice spheres in cocktails in a Chicago bar. The article went on to say that bar also used perfect 2-inch cubes to control dilution. This is hardly impressive, except that article appeared over a century ago—in 1898. 

Here’s a remarkable molecular mint julep: whiskey redistilled with mint to create a clear mint whiskey. Then load the still with water and mint to create a mint hydrosol. Infuse sherry with saffron for 10-12 days. Strain out the saffron, and combine the sherry with an equal measure of sugar to create a saffron sherry syrup. Build a julep with the clear mint whiskey and the mint hydrosol. Add the sherry syrup, bringing the classic colour and a beautiful flavour to the drink. 

What’s truly remarkable about the recipe above? It’s one of a series of variations that appears in a book from Dublin, published in 1753. 

Jelly shots. Most bartenders today consider them to be modern abominations. Most bartenders have never seen the original recipes from their inventor, renowned chef Alexis Benoit Soyer who created them during the 1840s. Professor Jerry Thomas was so enamoured with Soyer’s work he included at least half a dozen of Soyer’s recipes in his 1862 book, The Bar-Tender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks, including Soyer au Champagne. He also tried to get a job in London working for the great chef. Unfortunately the admiration wasn’t reciprocated. Thomas ended up working down the road at the American Bowling Saloon in the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens. 

While jelly shots are easy to serve, it is important for bartenders to ensure people are not over-served, as the alcohol is somewhat more concealed. However, even responsible service is not new. Professor Jerry Thomas himself remarked: “the strength of the punch is so artfully concealed by its admixture with the gelatine, that many persons, particularly of the softer sex have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper.” Bear this in mind even if your guests aren’t quadrilling. 

How fast can you bring a drink to a boil? A microwave takes as long as a minute to bring a cup of water to a boil. A kettle or urn keeps it at a boil, but depletes the dissolved oxygen, flattening the flavour. In the past, bartenders could bring a drink to a boil in five seconds using a loggerhead. However, this rapid temperature rise added certain flavours. These flavours—internal to hot drinks from the time, and to drinks still made today—have sadly been lost.

The loggerhead is a uniquely designed fireplace implement. They still appear on eBay mislabelled as fire pokers. With a shorter handle and a large lump of metal as opposed to a sharp point they are as useful for poking a fire as mittens are for playing piano, but that lump of metal holds a lot of heat. Leave one in the fireplace until it becomes red hot. Don’t plunge it into a drink. The liquid expands so rapidly it launches out of the vessel leaving the bartender soaked and the cup empty. Instead, touch it to the surface. Then lower it gently into the drink, touching bottom on a five-count. Now, the drink is not only boiling but sugars in the liquid have caramelised and touch of charcoal is introduced, giving drinks a unique and historically accurate flavour. Working with red-hot pokers is very dangerous, so due care must be taken as ever around open flames such as fireplaces. 

Barrel and bottle ageing of cocktails has become all the rage. Bars are even discovering that the char or toast and the conditioning makes an enormous difference. Harry Johnson, author of The New and Improved Bartenders Manual (1882), would be proud. He felt every good bartender should know how to care for products in barrels and to use those barrels to ensure superior spirits, even of the same brand carried by other bars. He lamented that more spirits were being sold exclusively in bottles. Jerry Thomas advocated bottled cocktails. There is no question that mixed drinks mature in bottle, as demonstrated by many great bartenders today. Leo Engel, another giant from bartending history bottled his punches, remarking on how well they mellowed over time. 

While molecular techniques such as the dry shake seem recent, unlike ice, the cocktail shaker has a longer history than most people would imagine. Centuries before the U.S. patents often cited as indicating when they were invented, the cocktail shaker predates the United States. The “doppelfosbecher” meaning double-barrelled beaker was a set of equal-sized tins that fit seamlessly together. These were common in German taverns back to the 15th century. The mixing technique they used, throwing, was sadly lost around the beginning of the 20th century and is only now returning. This technique gives a drink the clarity of stirring with better aeration than shaking. A couple old New York bartenders were overheard around 1895 watching a young colleague fill a shaker, shake a drink and strain it into a glass without throwing the drink. One turned to the other and called it the death of the profession. 

Even the word mixology has a long history. While Webster’s Dictionary claims ‘mixology’ was first used in 1948, we’ve traced it back as far as 1872. 

There are many more great new molecular discoveries mouldering in the pages of old books and newspapers. They are waiting in the past for the next bartender who wants to shape the future. They can be found through newspaper archives, both free (such as chroniclingamerica.loc.gov) and by subscription (such as newspapers.com, newspaperarchive.com and britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). These may not be the base of every new invention, but more often than not, lasting discoveries will have their roots firmly in history—and there is no question there are still countless new ideas waiting for today’s molecular mixologists.


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

From Ground to Glass

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

I used hate the last grey bits of winter. I used to believed that the summer was lazy and hazy just like the song said. My body clock thought 5 am was bedtime not wake up time. I used to have gloriously long, varnished nails. And then it happened. Jared and I became smallholders.

It all started, back in 2001, when we took a country cottage situated forty miles from Oxford for Christmas week. It was standard Cotswold fare: cozy bed, Cotswold stone walls and floors, roaring fireplace, lovely pub two miles away with its own skittle alley and marvellous local ales on tap. To us, it was heaven incarnate. We lived in Manhattan back then. It took until 2010—a whole decade—for us to finally realise our addiction and our need to feed it.

Addiction? Yes, you have to call it that. It was an addiction to fresh-from-the-chicken eggs, perfect for making Eggs Benedict and Egg Sours. It was the eye-rolling richness of fresh-from-the-hedgerow raspberries puréed into sauce for grilled meats and gently transformed with vinegar into the perfect shrub for champagne cocktails. We had become addicted to “fresh-from” anything that was grown in good country soil.

When we moved into this eighteen-century cottage with its long-abandoned kitchen garden, we were ready for the challenge. The first month was part archaeological dig of Victorian china teacups, rusted farm implements, and an astounding array of clay pipes mixed with part geological study on how to turn hard clay deposits and former burn sites into rich, fertile growing compost. 

Out came the graph paper and notebooks. Long searches through seed catalogues in front of a winter fire and rolling newspaper growing pots for seeds whilst it rained and sleeted outside were broke by trips to purchase essential tools. We discovered that working a ton of manure and topsoil into hand-built raised beds is better than three hours doing weight at the gym. Those lazy, hazy summer days are punctuated with contemplative weeding, slug hunting, and toting gallons of water pumped from our water barrel that was a former whisky cask.



There are staples in what is now our seventh growing season  Borage for garnishing summer cups with its cucumber-y splendour has become a welcome “weed” that re-propagates itself year after year. Wormwood shrubs tower two-metres tall, providing a fresh infusion for Gin & Wormwood cocktails during the summer and dried for inclusion in homemade vermouth in the autumn. Corsican mint serves as ground cover before it is snipped as garnish for Grasshoppers and distilled for homemade crème de menthe. 

Three nurtured blackcurrant bushes yield over fourteen kilos of fruit each year: perfect for fermenting into a rich wine and processing into crème de cassis. Assorted wild and cultivated strawberries, gooseberries, and two varieties of raspberries keep us occupied within the confines of our garden. Behind the house rises a hill of hedgerows that offers even more temptation: blackberries, bullace plums, elderflowers, hawthorns, the list is endless.

The Supremes—our three Black Star chickens—joined us two years ago. They yield huge, golden-yellow-yoked eggs that serve as the core for Egg Nogs, Flips, and those Egg Sours I mentioned earlier. They also do double-duty as crop protectors who snap up invader snails as a special treat.

Granted, we do grow peas and garlic. But why waste precious garden space on growing potatoes which are far cheaper in the shops and lettuce that only ends up feeding the local rabbit population? We prefer raise hard-to-find plants that serves a dual purpose: one for the plate and one for the glass.


Will we ever tire of getting sweaty, dirty, achy, and bruised from all this year-round activity? Only if we ever get tired of the taste and overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that happens when you sip a glass of something that travelled that amazing road from ground to glass.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Decadence


[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller

We’ve never recommended a playlist for an article. But before you read this you might want to queue up the following tracks (five of these should do it): "Brick House", "Flashlight", "Bad Girls", "Xanadu", "Dancing Queen", "The Hustle", "Jungle Boogie", "Good Times", and "Rock with You".

The 1960s were trumpeted as the dawn of the sexual revolution. This was supposedly the era of free love—the near abandonment of western culture’s puritanical morals. It started then. However, the seeds planted in the 1960s did not bear fruit until the next decade. The 1970s—and by “1970s” we mean roughly 1975-1985—was the age of debauchery. Bars were the epicentre. The drinks reflected it. What could be more decadent than sweet shooters, strong cocktails with barely perceptible alcohol, and long drinks with tropical pretensions.

Discos quickly took over where rock ’n' roll clubs had been. The Beatles were replaced by the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, and Rick James. Even the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and David Bowie eventually capitulated. Each released an album set to a disco beat. Why not? The parties were non-stop and the the club dress code was literally as bare as you dare. 

These were drinks designed as a prelude to sex. There were no subtleties. Sex on the Beach, Slippery Nipple, Sloe Comfortable Screw Against the Wall, Screaming Orgasm. It was a long list. Who can forget Rupert Holmes’ song "Escape" (the Piña Colada song) which topped the 1978 and 1979 Billboard charts. Then there were the shooters: the B52, the Woo Woo, the tequila body shot. 

Those sugary, fruity, mostly vodka drinks were not without merit. Just as the 1960s set the stage for the 1970s, the 1970s drinks contain the foundations for some outstanding modern drinks—balanced flavours that don’t take themselves too seriously. We make the Harvey Wallbanger with good vodka, fresh squeezed orange juice and high quality ice. It's an excellent drink. Apply the same approach to any of the popular drinks of the 70s and the results are remarkable. Let’s face it, while a Hanky Panky has a suggestive name there will never be anything else inherently sexy about the drink. Even our own variation—the Spanky Panky, with mint in the shaker, a hard shake, double strain and a spanked mint garnish—doesn’t leave you wanting to get physical. It just leaves you thinking it would be a good idea to have another. 

Today’s bitter-balanced and overly-citrus concoctions pack a lot of flavour. They don’t pack a lot of decadence. Perhaps this is because the new sexual revolution is on people’s phones instead of resident in the bars. No one needs to pass a doorman’s scrutiny. No one needs to look particularly alluring in a bar. It’s just a matter of getting swiped right or left these days, circumventing the social aspect of sex.

As social director of a fraternity (perhaps the most important responsibility I took on at university), I fondly recall a line of ten blenders cranking out frozen strawberry daiquiris for the crowd. Yes, we found that a mix of fresh and frozen strawberries gave us the best results. No, we didn’t know the difference between rums at the time and the drinks could have been much better. But far more important to the success of every evening, we were most concerned about the party and the guests. Those parties could not have possibly been better. Drinks may be great, but unless there’s a bit of decadence involved, they can never be the best. 


Saturday, 27 February 2016

A STORY ABOUT LUXARDO

by Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller

Sasha Petraske introduced us to Luxardo cherries. It was around 2001. We had just returned to Manhattan after a seven-year road trip and found ourselves up to our ears in a burgeoning new cocktail scene. 

People occasionally accuse Dale DeGroff of giving himself too much credit for reviving cocktails in the 1980s and early 1990s. We would say he gives himself far too little credit for shaping the globally-influential New York scene in the late 1990s and 2000s. I (Jared) never really got to know Dale when he was tending bar and I was waiting tables in 1990 at the Rainbow Room, though our first encounter was unforgettable. 

One afternoon I was walking past the service bar near the kitchen. The service bartender was there. So was the head bartender. As he passed Dale said to me, “Hey you! You wanna see how to flame a twist?”  

That was how Dale lured unsuspecting young men and women into sharing his passion for cocktails. Fire. No one can resist fire. Soon there was an orange stripped to pith between us, with a pile of spent wooden matches and blackened twists. Plus, one more person was now fascinated with the bartender’s craft. 

But this is a story about Luxardo cherries. 

While we were living in Vancouver, BC, our literary agent of the time said about the only intelligent words to us that he ever spoke. He said, “This internet thing, it’s going to be big.” That was 1995. That was where his brilliance ended. He didn’t suggest we invest in Apple or Microsoft. He suggested we get on this new tech by building a website. 

I happened to be holding two martinis at that moment on Halloween night, 1995, when Anistatia looked up from the computer and said, “So, what should we do website about?” 

Within six months, Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini® had snowballed into a giant site with recipes, history, lore, bar recommendations, a chat forum, and a surprising roster of fans. One of them was a HarperCollins Publishers editor who invited us to turn the content into a book. That book, which rose to become the world’s bestseller on the subject, launched us into drink full time. 

Suddenly we found ourselves judging cocktail competitions, writing about spirits and cocktails for Cigar Aficionado, Wine Spectator and countless other publications. We were signed on as tasters helping distiller Kevin Settles hash out his Bardenay Gin formula in Boise, Idaho. We even appeared in the local police academy where they got us drunk so the cadets could learn to administer sobriety tests.

But this is about Luxardo cherries. 

By the time we returned to Manhattan, Dale—whose personal library had been an invaluable resource when we were writing Shaken Not Stirredhad gone from acquaintance to friend and we started meeting up for drinks. He was beating a path between new and old bars across Manhattan at this point, leading cocktail tours and becoming friend and mentor to a new generation of bartenders. 

One afternoon Dale said we had to meet some talented kid (Dale called anyone in their twenties a kid), a kid who was opening an amazing new bar downtown. That day, the three of us stood outside 134 Eldridge Street. The window had a dusty tailor’s dummy and a sign that read “ALTERATIONS”. 

Sasha was tall, rail thin with a mop of long dark hair falling over his face. He was so young, but his seriousness was obvious from the start. He greeted us warmly, then turned immediately to Dale to hash out the measures of his East India Cocktail. To Sasha, it wasn’t quite perfect yet. We all talked through the drinks on his list, but he wasn’t ready for service, so we wandered off to another new bar in the neighbourhood, another spot where Dale 
intently listened and generously advised. At one point or another a classic cocktail book emerged from his battered leather bag. Another invaluable source for another passionate young bartender. 

But back to the cherries. 

On our second visit to Milk & Honey, Jared ordered a Manhattan. Normally, he was very specific about this drink but this was a bartender who took cocktails to a higher level. He was too curious to say a word. That curiosity paid off. He eschewed the hideous red cherries in favour of an orange twist. 

Here was a small, dark cherry. It was clear there was nothing artificial about this one. It burst with cherry, sweetness and a touch of marzipan. A world apart from the artificial ones, it was the best we had ever tasted.We wanted it to linger on the palate, but it didn’t. However, it had bled a small pool of thick syrup that settled to the divot in the bottom of Jared’s glass. On his last sip, he held the upraised glass to his lips and waited. That thick cherry syrup meandered to the rim. Then patience was rewarded: One more taste of a perfect cherry.

We had a few more rounds, a few more cherries, and asked Sasha about them. He didn’t tell us much at the time. 

Next stop with Dale was Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle. The blonde who used to work at Tonic had moved uptown and upscale. Dale loved her drinks and her passion for cocktails. That blonde was Audrey Saunders. Her Manhattans also featured a Luxardo cherry. She was more forthcoming with her source. 

The only shop that carried them was Dean & Delucca, an appropriate place to find obscure Italian imports. These were about as obscure as it got. D&D (whom Jared once worked for baking scones and other pastries in its Paramount Hotel branch off Times Square) got an occasional case of these cherries. When they arrived, the race was on to buy a jar before they were gone. That seemed to be the entire East Coast supply—an occasional box. Then Sasha and Audrey upped the ante by purchasing as much as D&D imported the moment they arrived leaving the others to beg or borrow until the next round. 

Looking at the pallets of cherries in the Luxardo warehouse marked for shipment to the USA today, it’s hard to imagine two great bartenders and a handful of consumers racing each other to buy those few jars. 

There is little we could add to the history of the Luxardo company that isn’t already on Wikipedia. But for those of you who prefer to curl up to a primary or secondary historical source, here’s what we learnt from Matteo Luxardo and his family on a recent visit to the distillery situated in Torreglia near Padua in northern Italy.

Divided into numerous states and duchies since medieval times, Italy has been restructured over and over again. Its borders rarely settled for long along the French side to the west and the Croatian side to the east. One of its great power seats beginning in the 1600s was the Duchy of Savoy which spanned both the French and Italian Piemont region. That holding by 1720 also included the island of Sardinia.

At the height of Napoleon Bonaparte’s power, this duchy was renamed the Kingdom of Italy in 1805 with Napoleon himself crowned as monarch. For this brief moment in history, the Dalmatian city of Zara (now Zadar) on Italy’s eastern borders was also under Italy’s domain. And although the Kingdom of Dalmatia was designated as a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire beginning in 1815, it still maintained friendly relations with the now-renamed Kingdom of Sardinia.

Girolamo Luxardo moved to Zara with his family in 1817 to take his new post as consular representative of the Kingdom of Sardinia. It was here that his wife Maria Canevari first started preserving the bounty of Zara: its Marasca cherry orchards. As any good housewife of the time would do, she developed a rosolio maraschino for her household pantry from this particular variety of sour Morello cherry. Guests and friends relished in this spirit and four years later, Girolamo began commercial production of Liquore Maraschino. His was not the first distillery located in Zara to produce this strong, sweet spirit. But it became the second and most popular of the three Dalmatian distilleries to produce this sought-after digestif which condoned by the Austro-Hungarian emperor as well as Italian and British royalty.

Success continued even after Girolamo’s death at the age of 81 in 1865 when he son Nicolò took the reins of the business, followed  in 1913 by Michaelangelo, the third generation to operate the Luxardo distillery. Besides producing its liqueur, the family expanded its interests into preservation of its now vast cherry orchards for baking—and eventually cocktail garnish—as well as preserves and brandy making. The distillery was one of the empire’s largest and most productive. Then came the First World War.

With the Austro-Hungarian Empire at an end by the cessation of the fighting, Zara was again in the hands of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Production continued as Europe recovered from the numerous conflicts that lend to world war and the ensuing battles. Then came the Second World War. 

Italy—now united under Mussolini—was an Axis country. As a consequence, the country including Dalmatia was a target for Allied forces. The Luxardo distillery and operations were almost completely destroyed by the Allies. 

You would think that the story ended there with the finish of the Second World War. truth is, it only just begun.

It was 1944. The Germans were gone. The new socialists took power and Josip Bros Tito took power in the creation of Yugoslavkia. Zara was in that territory. Italian citizens who had resided in the area including Zara fled the invasion, especially in Dalmatia. A new regime wanted nothing to do with its former Italian compatriots. Amongst the refugees, Nicolò Luxardo and his wife Bianca Ronzoni as well as his brother Pietro were murdered as they attempted to flee. Giorgio managed to escape and set up a temporary operation in Venice before he moved to Torreglia, outside of Padua.

Marasca cherry plantings were exported and survived transplantation in northern Italy. The battles had only begun as Yugoslavian interests attempted to capitalise on the marasca cherry market and maraschino liqueur industry that had been founded and developed by three Italian families.

Throughout most of the late twentieth century, the Luxardo family fought against plagiarism of its brand and its provenance, citing forgery of its unique trademark and its formula instigated by the Yugoslavian government. It never gave up. It fought until its dignity was won and maintained.

Wikipedia does not shed the slightest light on the ethos, the spirit, the values that have made Luxardo such an enduring success story. The approach handed down within the family is to build the company for the next generation rather than seeking to spend the profits on a flashy lifestyle.

After spending a day at Luxardo with the family we can completely understand why they want to keep the business within the family whilst it probably attracts quite a few buy-out offers.

At the end of the day, Luxardo cherries and its extensions—especially its remarkable liqueur—are the unique extension of a family that loves what it does and what it has done for multiple generations: they craft the love of a husband for his wife’s talent that has translated into love for a cherry varietal and what it offers in taste and origination. 

What more could you ask from a truly artisanal brand?

And what could the Luxardo family buy with money and find to do in this world that would be more enjoyable than living in Padua, Italy, producing the burgeoning Luxardo range? The secret to happiness in this life is knowing we all have to work, and finding work you can truly enjoy. 

So is finding a Luxardo cherry in your Manhattan.

LOVING VERMOUTH

by Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller

Vermouth. For decades it has been the least respected and most under-valued wine on store, bar and restaurant shelves. Variously known as vermouth, vermut wein or wormwood wine, it has been around for far longer than people realise. There is a plaque in Piazza di Castello in Torino, Italy, commemorating the spot where shop keeper Antonio Benedetto Carpano supposedly invented vermouth in 1786. This marble sign has given rise to the myth vermouth did not exist until 1786. While he did not invent it (the Cinzano family nearby had been in business since 1757) he did create a new and much better formula, so good it convinced the Savoy royal court to switch from rosolio to vermouth as their afternoon libation. However, its history traces back much further.

There is some evidence the Chinese were using bitter herbs in wine thousands of years ago. Hypocrates made bitter wine-based medicines. There was no evidence of vermouth or wermut consumption in England until much later, not because they didn't drink it but because they called it by an English name: wormwood wine. This aromatised beverage was a daily drink for England’s Queen Elizabeth I. The Duke of Savoy cherished vermouth di Torino such much he issued a proclamation that only vermouth producers situated in this Piedmonte region of northern Italy were allowed to manufacture the product. 

Albrecht von Wallenstein—Duke of Friedland and supreme commander of the armies of the Holy Roman Empire—instructed his estate manager Captain-General Gerhard von Taxis to order 83 barrels of wormwood wine in 1632 as it was deemed an especially good vintage.

Yet, in the past century, vermouth has been the butt of jokes the likes of which have never been inflicted on other beverages. Martini mixing instructions historically included waving the vermouth over the shaker, bowing toward France or Italy, using an eye dropper to add it to a drink, or spritzing it from an atomiser into the bowl of the glass. 

The only reason vermouth has held its shelf presence in some parts of the globe is because it is an essential ingredient in two of the world's most popular cocktails: the Martini and Manhattan. Yet even here it was abused. We knew a man in Sweden who would call a friend in Australia and ask him to tap a vermouth bottle against the phone while he mixed martinis as that was as close as he allowed it to get to his drinks. 

How could such a reviled wine hold a pivotal place in such vaunted drinks? 

Vermouth has only recently been misunderstood. Most importantly, in the last century, people have forgotten that vermouth is not a shelf-stable spirit. Vermouth is a wine, an aromatised wine. It breathes. It rots, It dies just like wine. 

Yet when you walk into a bar, you are likely to see the vermouth standing on the back bar with the liquor bottles, a pour spout stuck in the top allowing it to breathe freely while the white and often the red wines to be sold by the glass are in a refrigerator under that very same back bar. 

The misunderstandings about vermouth aren't from ignorance alone. For a while those misconceptions were bantered around by the producers themselves. We tracked down one who claimed his major brand product would last for up to five years unrefrigerated after opening. After a few rounds of drinks with him, we pulled out a half empty five-year-old bottle and offered to drink it with him. He recoiled, "It's not really drinkable. But you could still cook with it!" He no longer tells people it is good for five years. 

We met two newly-hired marketing representatives of another major brand a few years ago. They took us to three or four bars that served Manhattans and Martinis with just a few drops of vermouth in them and they raved about the drinks. In the next bar I waited until they were distracted and asked the bartender for a glass of their product on ice. I sipped it and loudly complimented the bartender on this great drink. They turned and asked what I had. I offered them a taste. Both loved it and asked again what it was. "It's your vermouth, straight." One of them replied, "I've never tried it this way! It is good." At that moment, the lesson began in earnest. 

Straight vermouth is delicious. It was about this same time a young bartender in one of the world's best bars looked me in the eye when I ordered a vermouth on the rocks and said, "I could never respect anyone who drinks straight vermouth." I will never name him or the bar, but by the same token I will never forget that moment. 

A recent study has shown that the shelf life of any wine can be extended by 10 to 15 times if the bottle is refrigerated after opening. This also applies to vermouth. Once opened, if a bottle is refrigerated it will keep for a few months. 

By now you might consider pouring your old vermouth down the drain. Do not do it. Those bottles still have one purpose. Open a fresh bottle of the same vermouth. Pour some of the old vermouth into a white wine glass. Pour an equal taste of fresh vermouth into an identical glass. Nose and taste them side-by-side. The difference will be readily apparent. The old vermouth is weak and flabby and a touch soured. The new vermouth has a remarkable botanical balance and a beautiful flavour. Now, pour the old vermouth down the drain, and put the new bottle into the fridge. Or better yet, drink it. 

One trick to ensuring you always drink fresh vermouth is to buy smaller bottles. Many vermouths come in half bottles. Some are even fortunate enough to be produced in 5cl miniatures. Ask your retailer or distributor for them.  

For artisan bartenders, vermouth is not difficult to make. At its essential foundation, it is simply an acidic white wine that is infused with artemisia absinthium—the species of wormwood plant which also gives its name to the drink. (The term ‘vermouth’ is derived from the German word ‘wermut'). There are vintage distillation guides from the 1800s and early 1900s that have recipes, including botanical blends as well as infusion and fortification instructions for the classic Italian, German, and French styles.

For less ambitious mixologists, there are many new vermouths available and more arriving soon. These generally follow a distinct style. They are brash, heavily bittered, sharp and are a challenge to use. If you use one of these in a Manhattan, there is no need to add dashes of bitters. If a drink does not normally call for bitters, you may find a classic vermouth profile is a better fit.

It is also very easy to modify a vermouth's flavour. Don't hesitate to combine two vermouths in a drink. Carpano Antica vermouth is rich and balsamic. But if you are going to have three Manhattans you may want to add a portion of Martini Rosso to soften it. One bartender we know in Tokyo offers a touch of sweetness by rinse his ice with a splash of bianco vermouth. After all, the best drink is not the one that bowls you over on the first sip. It is the one that leaves you wanting another on the last sip. 

So, why did Churchill bow toward France while mixing a straight Gin Martini during the Second World War? Why did Nöel Coward similarly nod toward Italy? It was not because these great drinkers disliked vermouth. Both countries were in the grips of wartime Prohibition and the vermouth manufacturers were compelled to produce spirit for the military. These gentlemen were bowing out of respect. They missed vermouth and went straight back to mixing with it when it was available once again.

According to our research, the Martini cocktail takes its name from Martini vermouth. The earliest appearances of the drink in print feature a capitalised M in Martini indicating it was a proper name. not long after the drink was born, Martini vermouth launched an ad campaign in The New York Times reminding drinkers that a real Martini can only be made with original and genuine Martini vermouth. 


The original measures for the Martini, Manhattan and other vermouth-driven drinks was equal parts spirit and vermouth. The first Martini recipe called for one part gin to one part sweet vermouth. This recipe appeared in the 1888 edition of Harry Johnson's New Improved, Illustrated Bartenders Manual. (The Dry Martini was first mentioned in print in 1895 in a joke printed in New York newspapers). 


When vermouth is fresh, drinks balance with considerably more, just as a drink will taste good with a freshly cut slice of orange, but will taste like rot if the slice was cut days before and is starting to decompose. At that point it doesn't matter how little you use. The same applies to vermouth. If you have no fresh vermouth, do not make drinks with vermouth.


This wonderful wine is finally being returned to its rightful position on shelves and in the minds of drinkers. It deserves love and respect for the complex beauty it brings to drinks, and for the part it has played throughout history. Pour some on ice and raise a glass of straight vermouth. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

NEW FROM MIXELLANY: gaz regan's 101 Best new Cocktails, Volume IV


gaz regan knows his bartenders and their drinks. He’s picked the 101 formulas that he deemed to be the very best of the best new cocktails each year for the past four years. And in every volume, gaz has captured the ever-changing styles and tastes found not only in well-known drinking havens such as the good ole USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. He’s also tracked emerging cocktail cultures in places like Bahrain, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Norway, Panama, Romania, and the UAE.

This is the fourth collection of gaz’s 101 Best New Cocktails, the only book to annually detail global cocktail trends. Wanna know what’s going on in the cocktailworld? The information is right here.

It’s the only book that allows bartenders to explain the madness behind their methodologies. And there’s no other place on earth where you’ll find cocktail recipes from superstar bartenders right next to formulas created by mixologists who you might not have heard of before.  Each and every one of them is worth their weight in gold.

Among the mix in this volume you’ll find fabulous creations from the likes of Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Clyde Common, Portland, Oregon, Jesse den Dulk, Jigger's The Noble Drugstore, Gent, Belgium, Charles Joly, Diageo’s World-Class Bartender of the Year, 2014, Jenn Tosatto, The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange, Kansas City, Salvatore Calabrese, Salvatore at Playboy, London, Mochammad Fadli, RUKA Luxury  Japanese Lounge at Ramee Grand Hotel & Spa, Manama, Bahrain, and Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale, Artesian Bar, Langham Hotel, London.

ISBN 13: 978-1-907434-44-0

Softcover, 220 pages, full colour

United States: $23.95 USD
United Kingdom: £15.95 GBP
Canada: $25.95 CAD
European Union: €18.95 EUR
Australia: $27.95 AUD