Last night Ian and I decided to spend some time brainstorming new cocktails. We ended up with around eight new things to try, only four of which we had the ingredients to try. Below the fold I’ve posted their recipes and generally how they turned out, as well as an older drink that I invented a while ago but never got around to posting. Given how cocktails work, it’s worth noting that while I am certain that Ian and I invented all of the cocktails below (either together or working separately) there is no guarantee that someone else hasn’t also invented one or more of them, so any claim to originality here is only on the grounds of my being not willing to spend a day or two investigating each recipe. That said, I think at least a few of these are fairly likely to be original to us, and pretty good at that.
When we decided to try to come up with new recipes Ian and I agreed that it would be interesting to see what could be done with a vermouth base instead of the more common spirit base. There are certainly cocktails out there that use vermouth (or other fortified wines) as their base (I am particularly fond of Dubonnet cocktails, and the Adonis), but surprisingly few given how successful the ones that do exist are. So the four cocktails below all have either sweet or dry vermouth as their base (sometimes in combination with a spirit, admittedly). An advantage to vermouth based drinks, it turns out, is that they are generally less powerful than normal cocktails – allowing for more experimentation over the course of an evening.
The use of a vermouth base has a different effect on a drink than I had expected, at least in some cases. Dry vermouth, when used in larger quantities, provides a very smooth buttery field on which to let other sharper flavors play. Of the two dry vermouth drinks below the Rosette was an unqualified success, and the Angry Cat less of a one (though with tweaking it could be decent). Sweet vermouth gives a really interesting richness to drinks instead. I was worried when mixing that the more aggressive herbal notes of it would simply overpower the drinks, but this turned out not to happen. Instead it tended to sit quietly in the background providing a really interesting structure for the flavors of the accents – exactly what it does not do in cocktails like the Manhattan. Of the sweet vermouth cocktails the Mahogany was clearly superior to the Garnet, though both had strong points.
Finally it’s worth noting that since brands of vermouth vary quite a bit in terms of flavors both the dry and sweet vermouth we used were Noilly Prat. Using a less aggressively herbal sweet vermouth might make a difference in the balance of the drinks, so if you’re interested in trying them it might be worth getting some (I wouldn’t recommend replacing the sweet vermouth with a more expensive or interesting version like Carpano Antica or Punt e Mes – though it might be excellent for all I know).
1 1/2 Ounces Dry Vermouth (Variant: gin?)
Tsp Absinthe (Lucid)
2 Tsp Creme de Cacao
Dash Angostura Bitters
Stir ingredients together and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a long lemon twist.
Of all the drinks this may be the best – it’s certainly in the top two at any rate. Unlike the rest which have fairly subtle flavors the combination of creme de cacao and absinthe makes this drink quite noticeable. The Angostura bitters adds a nice bitterness to balance out the sweetness – though this drink is still the sweetest of the four. It may be a nice after dinner drink, though I wouldn’t turn it away before a meal either. The complexity is astonishing – creme de cacao is, I think, an underrated ingredient. Here it manages to hold its own with absinthe, never quite tasting like chocolate but still being distinctly present in the drink. The dry vermouth here acts as a soft background to the velvety texture of the creme de cacao and the sweet complexity of the absinthe. All in all this cocktail really is quite nice and a good showpiece for the Lucid Absinthe (which may even be good enough to justify its price).
When stirred the water from the ice causes the Absinthe to louche nicely, and combined with the redness of the bitters (and the fact that the rest of the ingredients are more or less clear) this gives the drink a beautiful translucent pink color. I’ve picked the name Rosette for it on those grounds, and I think it might even be worth mixing just to look at, though I’ve always had a notable weakness for pink drinks.
I’ve noted that I think replacing the dry vermouth with gin might make for an interesting variant. I haven’t tried this, so it’s worth taking that with a grain of salt, but it might work out in interesting ways – it would certainly change the character of the drink from a soft rich drink to a sharper snappier drink.
Ian’s Notes: Despite the sweetness, this was my favorite of the trials. This drink was at least partly inspired by Jamie Boudreau’s use of cacao next to green Chartreuse.
1 Ounce Sweet Vermouth
1 Ounce Applejack
1/4 Ounce Balsamic Vinegar (Variant: 1 tsp)
Stir all ingredients together and strain into a small cocktail glass. Garnish with a long orange spiral.
The (2) after the name above is because I can’t shake the suspicion that there’s another drink out there named “Mahogany”, so if that is actually the case this one is the Mahogany 2. I’ve also noted a variation with less balsamic vinegar. Depending on the vinegar, and one’s own personal preference as far as vinegar goes, a full 1/4 ounce might be too much and a teaspoon will probably (though as with most of these variations I haven’t tried this) maintain the balance of the drink without quite as much harshness.
This drink, like the Rosette above, is a surprisingly good combination of flavors, though the soft complexity of the Rosette is certainly not present. This drink is robust and surprisingly rustic flavored while still be interestingly balanced. The combination of an orange peel, which is essential, and balsamic vinegar makes for a very interesting flavor, while the sweet vermouth and applejack provide a really nice stage for it. The vinegar, which I haven’t used in cocktails before, is surprisingly well suited to it – giving it a pleasant harshness on the back end and cutting some of the richness of the sweet vermouth.
I’ve called it the Mahogany due to the nice red brown color that results (though this may be subject to change when using different brands of sweet vermouth and balsamic vinegar). Combined with a long orange spiral this drink too is really quite pretty (though, I suppose I should admit, with the exception of the following cocktail they were all pretty surprisingly interesting looking).
Ian’s notes: Mark is correct. There is a drink called the mahogany already. It was invented by Robert Hess in 2003. Doubtless intrepid time travelers (chrononauts?) could go back to 1910, and find a bar where an order of a “Mahogany” would yield a third drink. It’s just too good a name.
–Further follow up: it turns out it isn’t just Robert Hess who has named a drink the Mahogany. There’s also this one , which is coca cola with two ounces of creme de cacao in it. I like creme de cacao and think it’s an underused cocktail ingredient, but I’m not willing to go that far. I have a similar reaction to this one and this one, though without even the general fondness for the notable ingredient. (I like gin, and rye, and rum, but I suspect that adding treacle to gin (or amaretto to rye and rum) wouldn’t really improve it.) I would suggest that perhaps Mahogany 4 (or 5) would be a more accurate name, but I’d prefer to pretend I didn’t know about those other drinks anyway. —
1 1/2 Ounce Scotch (Teachers Highland Cream)
1 1/2 Ounce Dry Vermouth
1/2 Ounce Gin
Tsp Creme de Menth
(Variant: 1 dash lemon bitters; Variant: 2 or 3 dashes peach bitters)
Stir all ingredients and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Of all the drinks this one is the weakest (as is probably obvious from the number of variations listed). The dry vermouth and scotch combine in a surprising way – resulting in a buttery and peaty flavor without much in the way of sharpness, and the creme de menthe somehow manages to blend into the background of the flavor (this alone makes the drink worth trying, as it’s the first time I’ve seen it do that). Adding a half an ounce of gin helps sharpen and dry the drink, though it doesn’t do much to compensate for the fact that the dry vermouth dominates everything but the end of the flavor.
Either peach bitters or lemon bitters make an interesting addition (the peach bitters especially). If adding the lemon bitters, though, the lemon twist on the top of the drink is probably unnecessary. All told this drink is worth trying for the odd balance the ingredients manage, but unless you have a particular love of dry vermouth it’s not likely to become a favorite. It is worth noting, though, that a different brand of scotch might result in strikingly different results (if I buy a bottle of Clan MacGregor, or another crisper scotch, at some point it would be worth trying that out — and Ian thought that a smokier, more aggressive scotch like Famous Grouse might also make for a more interesting drink here).
While this cocktail has a pleasant light gold color there’s really nothing to distinguish it in terms of appearance, and so it is the only one without a name reflecting its appearance. Instead I’ve just named it after one of Ian’s roommates (though honestly I expect this one to fade from memory fairly quickly, and so I’m reserving the right to reuse that same name for something better later on).
2 Ounces Sweet Vermouth
1 Ounce White Rum
Tsp Creme de Cassis
Lime wedge (garnish)
Stir all ingredients together and strain into cocktail glass, place lime on the rim of the cocktail glass.
This drink manages a really interesting balance between the white rum, sweet vermouth, and cassis (which does, admittedly, manage to be the most prominent flavor in the drink, as it does in basically anything). I liked this drink better than Ian, who has an aversion to the green flavor of Cassis, though it was subtle enough that he didn’t mind it (the lime wedge garnish is primarily to introduce enough freshness to the flavor that the cassis doesn’t taste off). The balance and subtlety of the drink makes it probably the most sophisticated of the four drinks above – it lacks the sweetness of the Rosette and the aggressiveness of the Mahogany. I would definitely recommend this one as a before dinner drink, or one for at a party.
It is worth noting that since white rums can also vary a bit, especially in terms of how much sugar they contain, that we used Appleton’s white Jamaican rum in this cocktail, which tends towards the dry end of white rums. If using a sweeter white rum (I’m thinking particularly of Cruzan here, which is usually my preferred white rum) some tweaking of proportions might be needed. Like three of the above, this one also has a distinctive and beautiful color to it – in this case a dark but clear red which is why I have named it the Garnet.
Overall our experiments with vermouth based cocktails were surprisingly successful. I like to think I’m fairly good at coming up with cocktails, but three successes out of four (and two significant successes) is more than usual. I think this indicates a good potential for future vermouth based drinks (as well as ones based on more obscure vermouths, and sherry (a very neglected cocktail ingredient). Ian and I will be trying more variations in the future, and hopefully posting more drinks along these lines – and if anyone reading this has come up with any particularly nice drinks with a vermouth base we’d appreciate hearing about them in comments. What we have so far has oriented around two simple formulae – first drinks which are primarily vermouth with a teaspoon or two of stronger flavored accents facing off against each other, and secondly drinks which are equal part (or close to equal parts) vermouth and a base spirit with one or two accents. And these are fairly standard cocktail starting points, but there’s almost certain to be more interesting variations out there as well. (Currently I’m thinking through a cocktail based around vermouth but on more punch based proportions – 4, 3, 2, 1 in this case.) If anyone has any suggestions along these lines they’d be particularly appreciated.
Bonus Drink –
French Foreign Legion
1 Ounce White Rum
1 Ounce (Cruzan) 151 Proof Rum
1 1/2 Ounces Pear Nectar
1/4 Ounce Lime Juice
1/2 Ounce Falernum
3/4 Ounce Rhum St James Royal Ambre
Lime wheel dusted with Cinnamon
Shake White rum, overproof rum, pear nectar, lime juice, and falernum together with a scoop of crushed ice and pour into a double old fashioned glass. Add more crushed ice to fill, and float Martinique rum over top. Garnish with lime wheel dusted with cinnamon (Vietnamese cassia is even better, if available), and drink with a short straw.
This is a drink I invented a few months ago when it was warmer outside and exotic drinks had captured my interests. Somehow the spice and lime flavors of the falernum and lime juice, and the sharpness of the overproof rum manage to bring out the flavor of the pear nectar in a way that I found really interesting. The combination of Martinique rum at the top and cinnamon dusted lime adds up to a really interesting combination of smell and taste – something like a spiced baked pear. It’s not exactly what I’m interesting in drinking in the winter, but I’d certainly recommend giving this one a try once spring comes around.
It’s worth adding one caveat here, that it has been several months since I invented this drink and I’m no longer entirely certain if these were the exact proportions I used. If the drink tastes off balance there’s a good chance that I’ve managed to forget how I originally mixed it.