Techniques

How to Use Vermouth in Seasonal Cocktails

A cocktail in a rocks glass with one cube and an orange twist.
From rich, robust Antica Formula to delicate, floral Bianco, there's a vermouth for every season, occasion and cocktail. (Photo: MaximFesenko/iStock)

In 1786, the world’s oldest vermouth brand was born when a Turin herbalist and wine shop owner named Antonio Benedetto Carpano combined a few herbs and spices with muscatel. He was so sure he’d created something truly special, he sent a crate of the herbaceous liquid across the street to the palace of Italy’s King Vittorio Amedeo III. It’s said the king was impressed with Carpano’s magical concoction and officially named it the royal drink of choice. The Carpano brand has since created some of the world’s most beloved vermouths including Carpano Antica Formula, Punt e Mes, Carpano Bianco and the newest portfolio member since the Branca family’s acquisition in 2001, Carpano Dry.

From light and floral to bitter and bold, Carpano has developed a vermouth for every season. But, for Infinium Spirits’ director of brand advocacy and education, Scott Mayer, Carpano’s vermouths are less about seasonality and more about recognizing, then drawing out each formula's unique flavor qualities on the palate to create seasonal cocktails.

“The basic formula for all vermouths is simple: wine, spirit and burnt sugar or caramel, and wormwood, which all vermouths in Europe must contain to legally be considered as such, or bitters and herbs in countries like America," Mayer explains. "At Carpano, we make our own burnt sugar which is a major differentiation between us and our competitors. Each producer then adds to this basic formula with their unique blend of herbs and spices. Our blends have helped Carpano continue to dominate the vermouth category, starting with its most revered: Carpano Antica Formula.”

Fall: Carpano Antica Formula

Type: red vermouth (reformulated antique recipe)

Tasting notes: clove, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, citrus

The cocktail: Manhattan, Reverse Manhattan

A vermouth which has been described as an herbaceous Madeira, Carpano Antica Formula is considered “the king of vermouths.” A traditional Italian vermouth both by design and production, Antica has retained its original formula paying close attention to the creator’s traditional blend of vanilla, wormwood, saffron and burnt sugar. Antica is rich, full-bodied, bittersweet and smooth and can be easily sipped on its own over ice but is rich and bold enough to carry the weight of a much higher proof base spirit without becoming overpowered.

For Mayer, Antica Formula “screams fall.” The vermouth carries a mulled wine quality typical of the flavors associated with the season like clove, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. This profile lends itself well to boozier cocktails or punches where Antica draws out or further highlights these flavors while adding complexity and weight on the palate.

“If I really want to showcase Antica Formula, I simply do it on the rocks with an orange peel. Carpano’s vermouths are beautiful sipped on their own. But for a cocktail, the Manhattan with Antica Formula is a real showstopper. The clove, the cinnamon, the nutmeg, those flavors you identify immediately with fall pull out these great barrel notes in a whiskey. This vermouth is transformative and can stand up against the boldness of those higher proof brown spirits. To me, it’s whiskey’s best friend.”

Mayer also suggests using Antica Formula in a Reverse Manhattan (2:1) as a low-ABV session cocktail which still maintains the rich sipping properties of the boozier classic.

Winter: Punt e Mes

Type: “point and a half” (one part sweet vermouth, half part bitter), vermouth amaro

Tasting notes: bittersweet, orange, quinine

The cocktail: negroni

Considered by some to be a vermouth amaro and one of the original bottled cocktails, legend has it that Punt e Mes was created by a Torino stockbroker who always took his lunch breaks at the Carpano wine shop. He was known to order a “point and a half” — Carpano vermouth with a half measure of bitters. The “cocktail” soon caught on among the brokering set who would order the drink with a thumbs up on one hand (vermouth) and a horizontal thumb on the other (bitters). Recognizing the potential moneymaker they had on their hands, the shop bottled the concoction as an aperitif, naming it Punt e Mes.

Mayer finds Punt e Mes to be a great option for creating boozy winter-based cocktails as the spiced orange and bittersweet properties have the ability to stand up against the bold flavors of the season.

“I love to sip boozy drinks with Punt e Mes because this vermouth holds its own beautifully against higher proof spirits like gin or a spicy rye and ingredients which can weigh heavily on the palate. I highly recommend creating a Negroni with Punt e Mes. It allows those bittersweet, herbaceous notes in the cocktail to really shine.”

Spring: Carpano Dry

Type: dry vermouth

Tasting notes: slightly bitter, fresh, green apple, citrus

The cocktail: Vermouth and Tonic, Pace Car, The Boulevard

Carpano Dry, released in 2014, is the latest vermouth produced by Carpano since the Branca family’s acquisition of the brand in 2001. The vermouth is slightly bitter, bright and fresh with notes of citrus and green apple. Mayer says the aroma may surprise you at first.

“When you open a bottle of Carpano Dry, there’s an oregano-like nose on it which comes from the Cretan Dittany used. This plant is part of the marjoram family and grows uncultivated and wild on the island of Crete. All Italian dry vermouths contain this herb. It’s pungent. The aroma of Italian dry’s like Carpano are a great way to distinguish immediately between Italian and French vermouths. For the French, it’s all about the wine. The Italians are all about the botanicals. The wine is neutral. Carpano Dry is a great example of the style”

The floral, herbaceous, sweet green grass notes of spring are what come to Mayer’s mind. Bright, acidic flavors that pop.

“For spring, I love simple drinks. These cocktails are where the vermouth really becomes important as it can be used as not only a proof reducer but the star of the show. Carpano Dry is perfect for drawing out any herbal or floral flavors in a cocktail on the palate.”

He suggests starting with the classic vermouth and tonic with a twist of lemon or the low-ABV cocktail, the Pace Car, created by John Lermayer of Miami’s Sweet Liberty. The drink is built with Carpano Dry, club soda, a dash of bitters and a lemon twist.

“Carpano Dry makes fantastic fifty-fifty martinis. The vermouth stands up to gin so well and really compliments its herbal and juniper components. I find it’s the most balanced dry on the market. For Manhattan drinkers looking for a crossover cocktail between winter and spring, I suggest the Boulevard with 2 ounce of rye, a half ounce each of orange curacao and Carpano Dry and a dash of orange bitters. It’s light without being too weak for the Manhattan lover.”

Summer: Carpano Bianco

Type: blanc

Tasting notes: smooth, slightly dry, sweet, crisp, floral, citrus

The cocktail: Vermouth and Soda, Bitter Developer

The grande dame of the Carpano portfolio, Bianco is lovely, crisp and sweet with a velvety touch on the palate. The most wine-forward of the four, Bianco’s nose gives off hints of citrus and almond before descending into the floral sweet notes of orange, lemon and candied ginger.

“Bianco is 100% Summer to me — lemon, grapefruit, vanilla, beautiful, happy, sweet flavors. It pops in cocktails. Again, I suggest starting simply with Bianco over crushed ice and soda with a grapefruit peel. It’s incredibly refreshing on hot days.”

Mayer says Carpano Bianco can act as an alternative to sweeteners in summer cocktails, eliminating the need for heavier ingredients on the palate like simple syrup to keep the drink light and fresh. He also suggests using Bianco to brighten and transform a winter cocktail into a summer drink.

“Carpano Bianco is incredibly versatile in cocktails. It’s aromatic and sweet yet crisp and citrus-forward. You just don’t need extra sweeteners or modifiers when this vermouth is present in a drink. Bianco is beautiful and complex.”

Try building the negroni-like Bitter Developer with Bianco, Aperol and gin; a 2:1:1 build with a dash of grapefruit bitters and a peel. Mayer believes this vermouth deserves to shine. If you choose to use it in a cocktail, create drinks where Bianco is the base or equal parts to a higher proof spirit like gin, vodka or even genever.

“There’s a way to drink all of these vermouths year-round in cocktails but Carpano has made it so easy for bartenders to take each of their unique flavor profiles and fit them neatly into the four seasons. We’re always interested in seeing what people are doing with our vermouths.”

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