How to Build Your Cocktail Bar, Part 7: Vermouth & Bitters

Article by Kamal

This week, we’re looking at two small parts of your drink that make a big difference: vermouth and bitters. Vermouth is a fortified and flavored wine available in three standard categories: French (dry white), Italian (sweet red) and, less commonly, sweet white.

These bottlings are flavored with differing proportions of botanicals, creating different results with very different cocktail applications. Firstly, you’ll want to be prepared to make Martinis. And even if you like yours on the dry side, the right French vermouth can totally change the character of your drink. Winston Churchill may disagree – he famously claimed to only pass a bottle of vermouth over his glass while looking toward France – but for a more balanced concoction, I generally enjoy mixing somewhere between 6:1 and 8:1 parts gin to dry vermouth.

One of our favorites is Dolin Dry Vermouth, though it’s worth trying out different brands based on your taste and budget to find what works for you. Next, you’ll need to buy a bottle of Italian vermouth for drinks like Manhattans. Red vermouth – interestingly, made with white wine and not red – is sweet, very slightly bitter, and assertive in a drink.

Take a look at Punt e Mes for a delicious and affordable option. For a truly remarkable Manhattan made with your favorite rye, however, Carpano “Antica Formula” Red Vermouth, while a bit pricey for the category, will absolutely stun you with its complexity. Should you choose to splurge a bit with the bottles you buy, keep in mind: good vermouth can also be delicious straight. Bitters have largely only been rediscovered in the cocktail revival of the last few years – I had to hunt for a simple bottle of Angostura years back – but producers have since developed wonderful, clever, and strange concoctions that make for some very interesting drinks.

These infusions of botanicals in a base spirit are potent enough to only require a few drops, and are called for in many classic recipes. While there’s a wide range now on the market, including delightful oddballs like chocolate and celery, there are a few types you’ll want to have on hand for standard mixing. Most importantly, you’ll want to own a bottle of basic aromatic bitters. This is the category into which the familiar Angostura brand falls – you’ll see it referenced by name in some recipes – but DrinkUpNY carries and recommends The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters as an excellent alternative. Secondly, orange bitters are a must-have. Lending a distinctive citrus character to your drink, they’re called for in a number of recipes like the Blackthorn. If you’re fond of Sazerac cocktails, then New Orleans-style bitters should also find a home in your bar. Peychaud’s is the most recognizable brand name for this subcategory, but again, The Bitter Truth makes their own interpretation with Creole Bitters.

Beyond this, experiment! Bitters offer an opportunity for play within classic cocktail recipes, so try different formulations to suit your tastes and mood.

Happy mixing from DrinkUpNY!

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