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What makes vermouth so critical to a good cocktail

On World Vermouth Day today, five accomplished mixologists share why they swear by this essential bar ingredient  

Crazy Rich Negroni by Sarath Nair.
Crazy Rich Negroni by Sarath Nair.

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For a long time, vermouth was the unsung hero in classic cocktails such as Negroni, Martini and Manhattans. Last year for the first time, Vermouth Day was celebrated on March 21 to inform cocktail lovers about the history and power of this aromatised and fortified wine.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, Lounge spoke to five top bartenders across the country to learn their views on vermouth and the one recipe they swear by when it comes to making a cocktail with it. Here they are, in no particular order. Edited excerpts:

Yangdup Lama, co-founder, Sidecar, Delhi
“Earlier, vermouth was used as an aperitif but once it reached the US, the golden age of cocktails began in the second half on the nineteenth century and it played a critical role in its success. Vermouth came into the spotlight when they were used in cocktails like Martinis, Martinez and Manhattan. These are classic cocktails that we’re still drinking today!”

Yangdup’s recipe for Twisted Manhattan:
“One of my favourite cocktails is a Manhattan. In fact, when I sit at the bar to drink, I like my bartenders to make me a good Manhattan. That’s because I love whisky and I also had a good stock of Mancino Vermouth like no other bar in Delhi had at one point.”

30 ml Bourbon
5 ml Islay single malt (smokier and peatier, the better)
10 ml cherry brine made with Maraschino cherries
10 ml of sweet vermouth (Vermouth Rosso)
Method: Add all ingredients and give it a long stir. Pour in a cocktail glass and garnish with a Luxardo maraschino cherry.

Sarath Nair, Bar Manager, Copitas at Four Seasons Embassy One Bengaluru
“Vermouth is every bar professional’s go-to ingredient to elevate a cocktail. Not only does it have a storied past, since its discovery as a medicinal drink in the 1600s, but the fortified wine infused with herbs and sweet floral botanicals imparts a pleasing aroma and character to any drink. Sip it topped off with soda or on the rocks with an olive or sprig of your favourite herb. Or add to your cocktail, for an instant lift.”

Sarath’s recipe for Crazy Rich Negroni:
“Crazy Rich Negroni is an ambitious twist on the classic Negroni with a fragrant Asian flair from Banana and Pandan leaf. This is a pre-batched drink and packed with loads of character.”

30 ml sweet vermouth
30 ml Campari
30 ml Stranger & Sons Gin
Infused with Coffee, banana peel & pandan leaves for 1 week

Method: Stir all the ingredients with ice and serve in a Highball glass. Garnish with Pandan leaves

Arijit Bose, co-founder of Bar Tesouro and founder partner at Countertop India
“The humble vermouth that we used to call an aromatised and fortified wine and let sit on shelves for months has come a long way to becoming a ‘main ingredient’ and sparking the low alcohol format of cocktails as well. It’s absolute magic and people should experiment with it and drink more of it. Always remember the three tenets: keep it in the fridge; no vermouth, no Negroni; if you want to make it at home, always start with a great wine. Happy World Vermouth Day.”

Arijit’s Recipe for Tequila Hanky Panky:
“My favourite drink is a Tequila Hanky Panky originally made with gin by possibly one of the most well know bartenders of her time, Ada Coleman, who in 1903 joined the American Bar at Savoy Hotel in London and eventually became the head bartender there. My take on that goes something like this,”
30 ml of 100% agave tequila
7.5 ml Fernet Branca
30 ml Rosso Vermouth
Method: Served stirred nicely in a chilled coupe glass and garnish with an olive

Santosh Kukreti, Founder and Trainer of advanced bartending school
“Vermouth is one of my favourite ingredients in cocktails for it adds nice herbal notes and a depth in aroma and flavour. I started making drinks with it during my stint with Ritz Carlton Macau almost five years ago and carried forth my learnings in later jobs.”

Santosh’s Recipe for Supermelon
“This sugar-free cocktail has intense flavours and aroma of melon, cucumber and green apple that is not even part of the drink. The magic actually happens because of vermouth in this pre-batched drink.”

150 ml Homemade Sugar-Free Watermelon Wine
10 ml Bianco Vermouth
Method: Add the ingredients and serve in a wine glass

Olson Pereira, Independent Beverage Consultant and ex-barkeeper at Lebanon’s Hooch Boutique and Drinkery
“Vermouth is aromatized and fortified wine with added botanicals that impart a spectrum of flavours. The human palate is unpredictable; on some days one would crave for something citrusy, and on others one would veer towards herbal or bitter tastes. The versatile vermouth has a complex flavour profile and infuses a drink with the primary tastes notes, specifically sweet and bitter. There's a reason why classic cocktails like Americano or Negroni never fail to impress."

Olson’s recipe for La Rosa Americano:
22.5 ml Campari
22.5 ml crème de cacao blanc
45ml Martini Extra Dry infused with dried rose petals
Method: Stir all the ingredients together and serve in an Old-Fashioned glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist and rose petal.

Priyanko Sarkar is a Mumbai-based journalist and writer covering the beverage industry.

Also read | 5 mixologists on how to order a drink—with respect



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