MxMo XLIII: Vermouth


Vermouth: a challenge to all bartenders and home mixologists alike. The general public still sees Vermouth as “toxic waste that should be used in the smallest of quantities” as author David Wondrich so elegantly put it. Cocktilians may be enjoying the relatively new bottling of Noilly Prat with its increased spices and new hue but to the general Martini drinker, Vermouth still holds a place of contempt.

Who would blame them? For years the bar going public had been coaxed into believing it. The drinking culture had a virtual book’s worth of rituals and tools aimed to undermine vermouth such as misters, rinses, and the Churchill favorite, a look towards an unopened bottle of vermouth (or France if one wasn’t around).

I have been fortunate to start my bartending hobby/career as the tide shifts back in Vermouth’s favor. The ingredient that, to cite Mr. Wondrich again, was considered to be “the St. Germaine of its time” in the nineteenth century is finally starting to get the respect it deserves in the twenty first century

Robert Hess’s Black Feather cocktail is a particular favorite that comes to mind and I just love that he bosts it has a full ounce of the “toxic waste” in it. The Pegu Club’s Fity Fity martini is another favorite, showing the joyous marriage of the spices in vermouth and the botanicals of a juniper forward gin like Tanqueray. Whether it is Italian, French, sweet, or dry, vermouth is starting to come back.


I decided to take a different approach with this MxMo and do a tiki style Vermouth drink and then provide my own recipe as a supplement. I went to the holy bible of exotic drinks, Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica and came across a composition I had never made before but had always been curious to try….

The Martiki was a house cocktail of the legendary Hawaiian palace, the Luau in Beverly Hills. Intoxica and Sippin Safari documented the tragic loss of the Luau in 1979 to developers who turned the vintage slice of oasis into a parking lot. Just as vermouth had had its resurrection, the Luau returned like a phoenix from the ashes in 2008. I have not had the opportunity to visit the new restaurant but it will be a prime destination of mine when I visit Los Angeles during the holidays. [Perhaps a Bo-Lo from Santa?]

The Martiki is a simple cocktail using the basic Martini formula and substituting a premium white rum for the gin. The idea of substituting spirits in time tested cocktails is not a new concept in either the tiki or standard world of mixology. The Buhens have been doing that for years at the Tiki Ti with modified versions of the Dr. Funk and the Blood and Sand while in the nineteenth century Jerry Thomas gave us cocktails that used brandy, whiskey, genever, or rum.

The execution of this drink is fairly simple but I found that it lends itself to adding some personal touches to the drink (highlighting a bartender’s skill and instincts).

· 1.5 oz El Dorado 3 yr old Demerara rum

· ¾ shot / 22.5 ml/1 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth

· ¼ shot / 7.5 ml/2 dashes Fee Brother’s West Indian Bitters 7.5 ml /

· 1 dash Reagan’s orange bitters

Stir all ingredients with hand cracked ice and strain into a chilled martini glass


The marriage of these two phoenixes, vermouth and the Luau, seemed perfect if not symbolic. However, I found the drink to be lackluster. It was very smooth and had a nice balance between the herbal Noilly Prat and the vanilla toned El Dorado but it didn’t have the snap or pop that a good martini drink should have. Not a bad drink but not memorable either

I leave you with a drink that I think is a stronger marriage of white rum and dry vermouth. Everyone knows the Cuban classic, the El Presidente cocktail, so I won’t even bother posting that one and instead I offer you an improvisation from a 09 New Years party.

This one is called the Izzy. It was a hit with the entire crowd shattering many people’s stereotypes about what vermouth should taste like. I believe that the problems in the Martiki are somewhat solved in the Izzy with citrus and cacao adding that necessary one two punch of flavor.

· 1.5 oz El Dorado 3 yr old Demerara rum

· ¾ shot / 22.5 ml/1 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth

· ¼ shot / 7.5 ml/111asddfsadf ¾ oz fresh lime juice/

· ¼ oz crème de cacao

· ¼ oz- ½ oz simple syrup

Shake all ingredients with hand cracked ice and serve up or on the rocks.

It is admittedly similar in style to the Floridita cocktail but the incorporation of the dry vermouth adds a different balance of flavors and proved to be a popular concotion that night. This was my very first MxMO and I hope to do many more – also its early but HAPPY NEW YEAR!


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