June 23, 2010

Happy Hour: Vermouth Perucchi

by Payman Bahmani

Perucchi Vermouth Blanco 

For a long time I’ve been hounding my local wine merchant, T.B. Ackerson, to stock some vermouths in order to save me the constant pilgrimage to Manhattan’s Astor Wines, which is one of the few places that stocks a variety of quality vermouths–and I go through a fair amount of vermouth rather quickly.  My neighborhood is sort of up and coming (though it hasn’t completely up and came yet) so understandably they were hesitant to stock an item they didn’t consider popular among the residents in the neighborhood. I’ll just go ahead and say it, my neighborhood sucks when it comes to cocktail places.

So I was pleasantly surprised during a visit a few weeks ago to discover that my wine guy not only finally stocked vermouth, but decided to stock an obscure brand from Catalonia that  up until recently was unavailable in the U.S.  The brand is called Perucchi, and despite making vermouth in Spain since 1886, has been available in the states for less than a year.  Needless to say, I picked up both the offerings, a white and red, and trotted home eager to try my new find.

It’s not often that I do product reviews here, or dedicate an entire post to one product, as I like to leave that sort of thing to other bloggers–and there are plenty of them who do it well.  But an exception is merited here, first because the product is so good, and second because it’s so different from other vermouths.

My modus operandi for evaluating spirits (besides tasting it by itself) is to see how they perform in the cocktails that you’d quintessentially find them in.  So in the case of sweet vermouth, the Manhattan and the Negroni come to mind. For white vermouth, the Martini (gin, never vodka, though I shouldn’t have to mention this) is the standard bearer. But before I get into the cocktails, a few tasting notes are in order.

Normally white vermouth is referred to as dry vermouth, and red vermouth as sweet.  Well, normal is not how I would describe either the white or red Perucchi vermouths, and thus I won’t refer to them as dry and sweet vermouth, because neither fits neatly in either category.

Upon first blush, I was surprised to find that the white vermouth was not at all dry as I anticipated.  In fact, it was more like a cross between a dry vermouth and an aperitif wine like Lillet.  As a vermouth it more closely resembled a blanco style than the more common dry style of vermouth–a silky texture, golden-hue, more spicy and floral, less herbal.  Ginger and honey was immediately apparent on the palate, with slight traces of herb and orange blossom on the finish. I couldn’t wait for the Martini test.

The red vermouth was no less surprising–in fact, I won’t call the red vermouth a sweet vermouth either because the white was actually a bit sweeter.  The red tasted like a sweet vermouth-Campari hybrid–bittersweet, profoundly earthy, and slightly reminiscent of Dubonnet Rouge, with a tannic finish not unlike chewing on fresh tobacco leaves.  Manhattan here I come!

And now the cocktails which I consider essential to evaluating vermouths…

Martini Perucchi
3 oz gin (used Bluecoat)
1 oz Vermouth Perucchi white
2 dashes orange bitters (used Regan’s)
Lemon twist

In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir the ingredients until well-chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist (works better than an olive here).

Imagine a Martini lightly kissed by lush fruit and laced with an essence of ginger, and you have a close approximation of this cocktail.  It’s great for introducing vodka drinkers to a real Martini (a Kangaroo cocktail, by the way, is the name for a so-called Vodkatini).  The flavor profile of the vermouth so nicely complements the botanicals in gin that it essentially acts as a stepping stone to finer drinking, ie, leaving the vodka behind.

Negroni Perfecto
1 oz gin (again, Bluecoat)
3/4 oz Vermouth Perucchi red
3/4 oz Vermouth Perucchi white
1/4 oz Campari
Flamed orange for garnish

In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir the ingredients until well-chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Cut a piece of orange peel, warm it briefly with a match or lighter, then flame it by squeezing it over the drink while holding the lighter to it (may require a little practice). This should cause a brief flame burst which will caramelize the citrus oil as it falls into the drink.

In cocktail parlance, the term perfect refers to equal parts sweet and dry vermouths, or in this case, white and red vermouths. While a Negroni traditionally calls for 1 oz each of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, I’ve altered things a bit, to what I think is good effect.  The Perucchi red is already bitter, so I toned down the Campari and balanced it with a bit of the sweeter, honeyed notes of the Perucchi white.  Like the cocktail above it, it’s a good alternative to the standard Negroni, especially for those whose palates have not yet formed an embracing appreciation for Campari’s bitterness.  However, this is not a novice’s cocktail, as I believe it can really stand on its own as a veritable Negroni variant.

Manhattan Perfecto
2 oz rye whiskey (used Sazerac)
1/2 oz Vermouth Perucchi red
1/2 oz Vermouth Perucchi white
2 dashes orange bitters (used Bitter Truth)
Orange twist

In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir the ingredients until well-chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

This is basically a Perfect Manhattan using the Perucchi.  If you like your Manhattans a little lighter bodied and less austere but still silky, this is for you. The two vermouths combine with the rye to create flavors reminiscent of Fall’s first maple sap.  It’s floral on the finish, likely the work of the white vermouth,  while the red vermouth provides a woodsy kick that nicely complements the rye’s spice.  This is an excellent way to switch up your Manhattan routine.

These vermouths are so unique that there are at least a dozen or so variations on the above three cocktails that you could do, that I simply could not cover. 

If you can get these vermouths at your neighborhood wine or liquor store, I urge you to do so.  If they don’t carry it, urge them to do so, incessantly until they do.  If you live in Brooklyn, I urge you to go to T.B. Ackerson and buy from them, so they can continue to stock it.

*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.

25 Comments

  • kayoko
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Nice, Pay! I love me a good vermouth! My current fave is Carpano Antica.

    Tried all the brands at Trader Joe’s, and while they are super cheap, they are all pretty awful.

    There’s this one distiller here in Santa Rosa that just started making vermouth, called Sutton Cellars that I need to try. It’s actually on tap at this one bar here on Haight, called Alembic.
    http://www.suttoncellars.com/Welcome.html

    That would be a fun Umamiventure…

    Will be on the lookout for Perucchi.

    Negroni Perfetto, here I come!

  • kayoko
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    PS- How’s our little Moonshine doing today?

  • tomo
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    That dog’s expression is priceless, also what kind of dog is that?

  • Posted June 25, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Kayoko – Carpano Antica is in a category all its own. Its simply stellar. And the ones at TJ’s, they should also be in a separate category, because they suck so bad.

    I haven’t tried the one by Sutton Cellars, but there’s another California brand of sweet vermouth called Vya that’s absolutely great. It’s much more fuller flavored and bodied than say, the Dolin sweet vermouth, and produces a very rich Manhattan. So rich that you almost have to either use more whiskey or less vermouth.

  • Posted June 25, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Oh, Moonshine’s just fine, causing trouble as she wishes.

    Tomo – at the shelter they told us she’s a Border Collie-Retriever mix. The Border Collie’s fairly obvious jsut by looking at her face. As for the retriever I don’t know if it’s golden or lab, but my guess is lab. We plan on doing a DNA test at some point to figure that out.

  • kayoko
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Pay- gonna check out Vya, thank you!

  • tomo
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks Paystyle. Yes a Border Collie totally blanked on the name, thank you. I had my dog DNA tested and it was kind of a waste of money. She was clearly a daschund (which they told us) and and a rottweiler (weird) but the rest which they told us in a pathetically lame chart was “50%undetermined”…weak sauce.

  • Posted June 25, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    First, clearly I need to start working my dog into my cocktail photos.

    Second, wow, I hope these vermouths are available in CA, because they sound really interesting.

    I have some open questions about the evolution of sweet and dry vermouths. I suspect in the past both had a lot more character than many modern brands, with “French” style vermouths probably being richer and “Italian” style vermouths being more bitter.

    I’ve never gotten a modern vermouth producer to talk about this, but these Spanish vermouths sound like interesting pieces in the puzzle.

  • Posted June 25, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    The Sutton Cellars Vermouth is interesting, but probably too idiosyncratic to be considered for use in many classic cocktails. He uses lots of native California herbs and such.

    Great aperitif, though, on its own or with soda. Whenever he comes in for Savoy night, he always orders it in a Adonis or Addington, drinks where I think it works well.

  • kayoko
    Posted June 27, 2010 at 4:47 am

    Erik- What’s Savoy night? Can I come????

  • Posted June 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Erik – I definitely see your point about the evolution of vermouths. I think with the proliferation of various brands happening now, it’s a good time to ask whether the old categories are outdated. They certainly are in the case of these vermouths.

    Kayoko – Check out Erik’s blog, where he’s been documenting the monstrous task of going through every cocktail recipe in the Savoy book: http://underhill-lounge.com/ And I’m guessing Savoy night is when he features them at the bar.

    What makes it such a crazy feat is having to deal with many defunct ingredients as well as having to convert different cocktail measuring standards used back then.

  • David
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Paystyle, can’t wait to try a perucchi-tini. And from the photo, I also can’t wait to try a Poochi-tini.

    Moonshine Rocks the Blogosphere!

  • Posted June 28, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Ha! A Poochitini, that would be something.

  • Posted June 28, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    kayoko, It looks like you’re in SF, so yes, absolutely, you can come to Savoy Night!

    Once a month, usually the 3rd or 4th Sunday of the month, myself and the other bartenders at Alembic in the Upper Haight are crazy enough to throw out their regular drink menu and instead hand out Savoy Cocktail Books. Pick your poison, any poison in the book.

  • Posted June 29, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Woa! Erik, I had no idea for Savoy nights you guys hand out the entire Savoy book as the menu! That’s crazy.

    Kayoko, you must go asap!

  • kayoko
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Erik! I would LOVE to come to Savoy Night! Will you keep me posted on the next one? I usually work on Sunday nights (I bartend down in San Jose twice a week), but will def get the night covered.

    Do you work at Alembic? I wrote about your matchbooks– it’s silly I know. Great spot!
    http://www.umamimart.com/2010/03/the-alembic-matchbook/

  • Posted June 29, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I help out at Alembic just for the Savoy Cocktail Book nights, not exactly “work”, more like consulting.

    I do bartend at Heaven’s Dog, the other Sundays of the month. Though this month is kind of messed up by vacations, Tales, etc.

    I would guess the Alembic Savoy Night for July will be the 31st, but don’t quote me.

  • Carl Sutton
    Posted August 11, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Hi All -

    Just wanted to clarify a couple of things:

    There are no native CA ingredients in my current release of vermouth but there is rosemary which grows locally. I do have a rosé vermouth in the works that will feature some native botanicals (think wild sage, fennel, etc).

    And while idiosyncratic may be a good description for my personality I think a better description for the vermouth would be assertive. Either way thanks for mentioning my product.

    Cheers!

  • Posted August 11, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Carl – Please send me some of your stuff, especially the rose vermouth you speak of! I’ll make some cocktails with it and write about it.

  • Marinjay
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Erik and anyone else in northern California,

    You will be happy to know that the perucchi vermouths are now available at The Spanish Table in Mill Valley (Strawberry Village) and probably also at their Berkeley store. The red was included in their Saturday tasting this last weekend, and we loved it. Served just chilled by itself, it could serve easily as either aperitif or digestif.

    I found this blog looking for recipes, and will definitely try all these. I was thinking that the negroni might well just skip the Campari, but it certainly would not have the characteristic bitter edge. Can’t wait to try all three.

    Thanks Paystyle!

  • kayoko
    Posted August 31, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Wow good to know Marinjay, thanks! This is a bit far from me, but will make it a point to drop by when I’m up there.

  • Gil in SF CA
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Can anyone identify a source for doing a mail order of this Vermouth Perucchi or even better a store in the San Francisco Bay Area (tried the usual spots and no luck)?

    I just had it at a high end restaurant in Austin last weekend, and it was terrific.

  • kayoko
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Gil did you see Marinjay’s comment? Try the Spanish Table in Mill Valley or Berkeley.
    Which restaurant did you have it at Austin?

  • Ken
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I just got back from Barcelona. I knew the name Perucchi was familiar. I now have a bottle of the red on my shelf.

  • Posted April 30, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Hi, all. I just bought Perrucchi Vermouth at Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley (University at Acton – free parking, 4 blocks from North Berkeley BART) and made the best martini I’ve ever had in my life with it. I was googling the brand so that I could learn more about it, and came across your posts. For those of you in the Bay Area, you should know about Ledger’s: it’s a funky-looking old timey liquor store, still sporting its 1950′s decor. Ed Ledger stocks the BEST selection of single malts, tequilas, rums, liqueurs, and obscure mixers I’ve come across. Yeah, it looks more “malt single” than “single malt” and that is definitely a big part of their business, (that and scratchers) but that is part of its charm. Paystyle, are you MAKING vermouth? I was just thinking about making my own. I make a line of organic liqueurs, and I’m always trying out new ideas.

3 Trackbacks

  • By Happy Hour: The Devil’s Idle Hands – Umamimart on August 25, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    [...] tequila (I used Tanteo Jalapeno but you can very easily infuse your own) 3/4 Cynar 3/4 Vermouth Perucchi Blanco 2 dashes Grapefruit Bitters (used Bitter Truth) 1 dash Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters Lemon twist [...]

  • By Happy Hour: Return from the Dead! – Umamimart on October 20, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    [...] mezcal (Mezcal Vida is a great, well-priced choice) 1/4 oz Pelinkovac (used Maraska brand) 1/4 oz Vermouth Perrucchi Blanco 2 dashes Xocolatl Mole Bitters ( Bitter Truth or Bittermens) Lemon [...]

  • By Happy Hour: Rainforest Cobbler – Umamimart on May 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    [...] if you can’t find Vermouth Perucchi Blanco, substitute another blanc/blanco/bianco vermouth such as Dolin Blanc or Martini Bianco. Keep in [...]

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