The concept of vermouth as a cocktail modifier alone was questioned. When a customer asks for a Manhattan, instead of asking "rye or Bourbon?" and "Up, down, or on the rocks?", perhaps asking what vermouth they would like to have used. As was demonstrated from the tasting, vermouths of each type vary widely and the balance of the drink needs to be altered accordingly. For example, Carpano Antica is a beast of a vermouth and needs to be used more sparingly that Cinzano or Martini & Rossi, whereas the more delicate Dolin Rouge needs to be used in more abundance. Since vermouths need to be kept fresh, having too many open bottles of vermouth at a bar can be an issue. Placing open dates, not marrying bottles of different vintages, and tasting old bottles will keep the product within healthy guidelines. However, figuring out ways to increase vermouth use will help keep the rate of opening fresh bottles frequent. One way is to have plenty of drinks on the menu that utilize vermouths. Another is to drink it straight, and Jackson brought up the point that the barbacks at Eastern Standard were often required to drink the remainders of vermouth bottles as part of their shift drink. Personally, the art of the aperitif is my favorite way, and the Half Sinner-Half Saint favored by Rendezvous' Scott Holliday is my preferred go-to at home or for guests at the bar. Moreover, vermouths are not just for aperitifs. While the bitter notes from the botanicals are great for getting the gastric juices flowing to prepare the digestive track for food, many of them also help to settle the stomach.
Without further ado, here are my tasting notes:
1: Martini & Rossi Dry. Trebbiano wine, artemisia (wormwood), oregano thyme, dittany. Despite being called dry, it is not all that dry. Jackson referred to this one as a fully-balanced bottled cocktail.
2: Noilly Extra Dry. Straw color all from aging for over 1 year in barrels. Smell is floral with honeysuckle notes, apple, unripened strawberries, and carrot. Taste is very vegetal and reminiscent of oysters due to the salinity. The aging also donates some oxidative notes. Produced near the fishing port of Marseillan, this vermouth is often paired with oysters.
3: Dolin Dry. Based on an 1827 recipe. The clear-colored vermouth has granny smith apple, lemon, nut oils, and white peach aromas, while the taste has great acidity and low wormwood. It is evident that a lot of love went into the wine. Jackson pointed out that the aromatics here can be lost in cocktails and a 2:1 ratio might be necessary. It is a restrained style that was meant to be drunk alone and has less of history with cocktails.
4: Martini & Rossi Bianco. Developed in the early 1900s and created for women once they were allowed to drink in public. The smell is vanilla cream, cinnamon, angel food cake, oregano, thyme, and dittany. The style has a rather high sugar content.
5: Eastern Standard Rose. Made on a stove in a kitchen instead of more traditional ways. Ripe fruit forward due to the Spanish grenache wine base and the strawberry maceration. The vermouth contains wormwood in a very traditional style and the bitterness can really help to balance the rather fruit forwardness of the ingredients.
History of Eastern Standard's vermouth program: It began when Mayur Subbarao, now of Amor & Amargo, drove up to Boston and cooked up vermouths in an informal vermouth class held in an apartment's kitchen in Somerville, MA. He made and taught recipes for replicas of Carpano Antica and Noilly Prat Amber, two vermouths that were not available at the time in the United States. Some of these techniques were discussed at the Vermouth Tasting and Making Class held by Tom Schlessinger-Guidelli at Craigie on Main in early 2009. Jackson was interesting in duplicating Martini & Rossi's Rose which was also not imported at the time. With Mayur's help, they were able to replicate the product; while not an exact match, it is rather delightful on its own or in cocktails like the Frobisher.6: Martini & Rossi Sweet. White wine is still the base here with caramel color added. The caramel is not added for sweetness; instead the sweetness comes from cane sugar. The tasting notes are reminiscent of pizza with oregano and thyme. Kola nut, unsweetened chocolate, cherry, bitter honey, and overly ripe plum were also mentioned.
7: Noilly Prat Rouge. Noilly's answer to Martini & Rossi's sweet vermouth; created in the early 1900s. Drier finish than the Martini & Rossi.
8: Dolin Rouge. Smell has sarsaparilla, root beer, thyme, fig, and wintergreen; similar to Martini & Rossi but more raw. The taste has grapefruit, orange, and apple notes with not a lot of bitter notes and a somewhat port-like feel.
9: Carpano Antica. Nose shares Coca Cola, vanilla, Necco wafer, Bubble Yum gum aromas. Taste has tea flavors such as rooibos and mint tea, orange, lemon peel, clove, cinnamon, gentian. Very bitter sweet.
10: Martini Gran Lusso. Color is ruby red from the Barbera grapes. The nose displays pineapple, rosemary, star anise, and menthol. The tasting notes were rosemary, thyme, juniper, woodsy pine, hibiscus, lavender, and grassy-wet leaf.