Friday, October 26, 2012

A vermouth above all others

A couple years ago, while sitting at the bar of a small restaurant called Rocker Oysterfeller’s in the tiny town of Valley Ford about forty five minutes’ drive north of San Francisco, I drank what at the time was the best Negroni I’d ever had. It had a smokiness, complexity, depth and hint of burnt orange that just took things to a whole other level.

To ensure that it wasn’t a fluke, a few months later I went back to Rocker Oysterfeller’s and ordered another one, and sure enough it was spectacular.

Now a Negroni is just not that complicated – equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. OK, some people prefer a little more gin and a little less Campari and vermouth, but this is the basic recipe. Wait, I forgot, you need to add your choice of orange slice or strip orange peel. But here’s my point, this means the only real big variables here are the gin and the vermouth, because there’s only one Campari. And what was different here was not the gin.

So, I asked the barmaid, who also happened to be the owner of the restaurant, which by the way is surprisingly good for being in the middle of a beautiful nowhere, what made her Negroni so good. She smiled, as knowing barmaids are wont to do, and said “It’s the vermouth. I use the best there is.” And proceeded to show me a slightly over sized,  kind of fat bottle with an old fashion looking label. Stuff was called “Antica Formula.” I had a 3 second glimpse, and it was gone.

Shortly after that life got in the way. Homes were packed and unpacked. Jobs were changed. Latitudes shifted. You get the idea.

Then, while looking at some bottles of wine at a Whole Foods, what do I see but that slightly over sized,  kind of fat bottle with the old fashion label. Oh yes, this was coming home with me!

Antica Formula is now my house standard. It is, hands down, the best vermouth I've ever had and a spectacular mixer.

Antica Formula’s distributor describes it as follows:
Antica Formula is a red vermouth made from an original recipe by Antonio Benedetto Carpano, the man credited with creating modern vermouth in Turin in 1786. Carpano originally developed vermouth by mixing herbs with a base wine and then sweetening it by adding spirit. His new drink proved so popular that soon his shop had to stay open 24 hours a day to satisfy demand.
Carpano had been inspired by a German aromatised wine and was a fan of German poetry. As a result, he named his new product after the German word for wormwood, wermut, which was frequently used to flavour wine at the time.
Antica Formula is richer and more complex than most red vermouths and will make an excellent Bronx, Manhattan or Negroni.

And there you have it.

Le Capitaine

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