Friday, January 11, 2013

Hail Bianco Vermouth - The Astoria Vecchio Cocktail

In February of last year, Jason Wilson of the Washington Post wrote about white vermouth and its place in the craft cocktail movement.  In this "blogarized" post, I add to Mr. Wilson's thoughts.

Real cocktail drinkers know that no ingredient is more important to a well made cocktail than vermouth. Vermouth is what the icing is to the cake, the top hat to the tails, the bow tie to the schnug; it’s what makes a craft cocktail worth your time. It’s also an ingredient that bartenders, both professional and at home, are taking better care of; treating it as a wine that must be refrigerated and is best used within a few weeks. Consequently, more people are sipping martinis with a good portion of dry vermouth rather than “very very dry” (otherwise known as a glass of gin), and with more higher-end sweet vermouths on the market, Manhattans and Negronis have never been better.

With vermouth awareness at its highest level since before Prohibition, a third member of the vermouth family still, however, doesn’t get much attention. Everyone knows dry and sweet vermouths and their many uses, but a mystery to most drinkers is the vermouth known as bianco (if it’s Italian) or blanc (if it’s French); i.e. “white” vermouth.

Not that white vermouth is anything new. Martini has been making its bianco vermouth since about 1910. In Italy, bianco is the most popular vermouth by far, and accounts for more than half of Martini’s production. Go to any bar at happy hour, and you’ll see Italian young people ordering bianco vermouth on the rocks, with a twist of lemon. In the United States, however, many liquor stores don’t even carry a white vermouth.

The difference between dry and white vermouth is significant. White vermouth has distinct aromas of thyme and oregano and notes of cloves and vanilla, striking a unique balance between sweet and savory. Many foolishly use dry vermouth when a recipe calls for bianco/blanc/white vermouth -- perish the thought.

A terrific use of white vermouth is the Astoria Vecchio, a twist on the classic early 20th century Astoria cocktail which uses white vermouth (I prefer Dolin) instead of dry and changes the gin to genever, a Dutch precursor to gin with a malt wine base, or Old Tom gin, a malty style prevalent in the 19th century -- especially a barrel-aged Old Tom such as Ransom, from Oregon (my preference).

Astoria Vecchio
1 serving


2 1/2 ounces genever or Old Tom gin
1 ounce white vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Twist of orange peel, for garnish


Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the gin, vermouth and bitters. Stir for the appropriate craft cocktail time and in the appropriate craft cocktail manner, then strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with the twist of orange peel. Repeat as necessary.

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