Typically Italian Vermouth is thought to be sweet and French Vermouth is thought to be dry. But I can tell you from my short research that you can get both kinds from both regions. For a standard Manhattan you want to use a sweet vermouth, and for a Perfect Manhattan you want to use some combination of sweet and dry vermouths. Since we are testing variations of a standard Manhattan we are using sweet vermouths.
In our last installment we tried our Manhattans with Italian vermouths after testing eight different vermouths. Here are the notes on the three French vermouths we tried last time:
- Dolin (French) – Very dark in color. Smells floral. Tastes sweet with faint herbal notes. Would likely be like just adding sugar to whiskey.
- Noily Prat (French) – Smells like tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce. Tastes like sweet Worcestershire sauce.
- Maurin (French) – Smells strongly of lemongrass. Tastes like lemongrass and citrus, not very sweet.
I went back to Westport Whiskey and Wine to find another French vermouth to add to the lineup, but I found that there are far more Italian vermouths on the shelves than there are French, so I went for a close relative – Byrrh Grand Quinquina, a sweetened spiced wine aperitif.
The Manhattans – Our Notes
Maurin Rouge– The nose was hot buttered celery seed. In the Manhattan the predominant flavor was Christmas spices. It was not overly sweet. Rosemary said, “Now THAT’s an adult beverage!”
Noilly Prat – The nose was Worcestershire sauce. It smells sweet but has a bitter taste. All that survives in this mixture is a hint of bitter and saltiness. We wondered whether this would do something magical with a wheated bourbon since we’ve heard it recommended that way so many times.
Dolin – There was almost no nose. It smells faintly sweet and spicy. This combination brings out the spice but in a balanced way with a hint of citrus. We wouldn’t complain if this were served to us.
Byrrh Grand Quinquina – Smells faintly herbal. The taste- AMAZING! There was a nice perky spice, no bitterness, and faint notes of citrus and oak.
Our favorite of these four was shockingly the Byrrh Grand Quinquina, followed by the Maurin Rouge as a close second. We wouldn’t pass on the Dolin and we’ve both had plenty of great Manhattans made with it in the past.
But we were troubled by our dislike of Noilly Prat so much that we decided to make a bonus drink using completely different base ingredients which was, much to our dismay, even worse. It left us wondering whether we had gotten a bad bottle of Noilly Prat, which does happen on rare occasions with spirits, particularly when there is a cork involved. It does not have a cork, but there are other things that could have gone wrong. This warrants further investigation.
In our next installment we are going to be pitting our two favorite French vermouths against our two favorite Italian vermouths. Stay tuned.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl
Rosemary Miller also contributed to this story.