Ok, remember when I said that Noilly Prat vermouth was a decent compromise between cost and taste? Well. About that.
I’ve been eyeing some higher-end vermouths of late, courtesy of my wonderful local liquor store, Jubilation. It was actually my 16-month old son who drew my attention to them a few weeks ago; as I was carrying him he began gesturing emphatically at the whole vermouth section, as if to say, “Dad, look at all this goddamned vermouth!” So I did, and I began to wonder how much better a $37 bottle of vermouth could be than a $13 bottle. Now, I’m well aware that a $60 dollar bottle of Scotch is generally much better than a $20 bottle, and the same tends to hold true across the board liquor-wise. But, I thought, geez, really? Vermouth?
I went with the Contratto brand, newly back on the market after being discontinued in the 1960s, and following an 1890s recipe. Plus, cool Art Nouveau bottle art.
Let me try to explain the difference between this and something like Noilly Prat or Cinzano or Martini & Rossi.
This stuff smells like a nice, sweetish white wine with a variety of herbal and floral notes which my untrained nose cannot distinguish individually but that as a whole lend a delightful bouquet to the thing, and make one think, “wow, this is something I’d like to drink.”
Those other things are vinegar-smelling crap sauces.
I CANNOT OVERSTATE HOW MUCH IMPROVED YOUR COCKTAILS WILL BE USING A HIGH-END VERMOUTH.
Well, I can’t speak to other brands. Although for a sweet vermouth, I’ve got my eye on this Antica brand. But Contratto makes a red vermouth as well, so we’ll see.
I’ve always been ambivalent about vermouth, at best, and recipes that called for it have never been ones that I get too excited about. Sometimes such cocktails are surprisingly good, but more often my reaction tended towards, “not bad, but too much vermouth taste.” I think those days are over.
But just to be sure, I made another Jupiter Cocktail. You may recall that my only beef with this drink was a salty flavor coming from the vermouth. But using the Contratto, that flavor is gone, and the Jupiter truly becomes a fine cocktail, moving into five liver territory.
It’s been said that a cocktail is only as good as its worst ingredient – by whom, I can’t remember, and cursory research has not turned up the source. Regardless, and although I knew this to be true, it was never so clear to me just how true until I replaced my skanky vermouth with a quality product. I urge you to do the same at your earliest opportunity.