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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!

How to Build Your Cocktail Bar, Part 3: Tequila and Mezcal

Article by Katherine Ramos

Last week, we looked at rum in building a home cocktail bar. In this installment, we’re moving to a category that you’ll find few mentions of in dusty cocktail books, but that’s critical to a modern bar: tequila and mezcal. Both have previously suffered bad reputations – too many cheap shots of anything in college will do that–but in recent years, connoisseurs have discovered just how good this stuff can get. A well-made agave distillate can be complex and entrancing, and that quality translates into cocktails.

Tequila and mezcal are subject to different laws and standards; tequila must be made in Jalisco while mezcal can come from anywhere in Mexico (though most is from Oaxaca), and the traditional production processes leave mezcal generally smokier than tequila. However, there’s one thing you should keep in mind while buying either: make sure it’s made from 100% agave. In the case of tequila it should be Weber Blue Agave, and in mezcal, one of many potential subspecies including Tobala and Espadín. Your drink will thank you! Make sure you always have a blanco tequila on hand–we recommend Milagro Silver–and bring in a reposado like 7 Leguas for more advanced mixing.

A bottle of high-quality mezcal, such as Del Maguey Vida, opens up possibilities for creative drink-making. Mezcal is still coming into its own with cocktailians, but there are some interesting possibilities for this smoky, earthy spirit. For some delicious variety, try swapping mezcal for tequila for an subtle twist on old favorites. With their relatively recent entrance into the cocktail world, agave spirits also offer interesting opportunities for substituting in classics; for something a little more unexpected, try swapping out tequila or mezcal in recipes that traditionally call for whiskey.

Margaritathree parts blanco (silver) tequilatwo parts Triple secone part Freshly squeezed lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a salt-rimmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Tequila Old Fashioned(inspired by The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess)2 oz reposado tequila2 dashes aromatic bitters1 tsp. agave syrup

Stir with ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. Until next time, cheers from DrinkUpNY!