You know that old saying, the more you learn the less you know? Rosemary Miller and I have been studying our favorite cocktail, The Manhattan, for several months now, and the deeper we dive into our studies the more complicated we realize the issue is. We initially had a neat little outline with 8 different sections, and now we’re five parts in and we’re only on the third section. But don’t pity us – we are drinking Manhattans after all. You know, for science.
This month’s section is our third section on Vermouth. We tried French Vermouths and we tried Italian Vermouths, and we ended up breaking it up into sections and then having a French versus Italian runoff. Worth noting here is that one of our French Vermouths is actually a Vermouth-like aperitif, many of which are used in Manhattan recipes in place of one or more of the Vermouths.
Top 2 French And Top 2 Italian Vermouths
- Maurin Rouge (French) – Smells strongly of lemongrass. Tastes like lemongrass and citrus, not very sweet.
- Byrrh Grand Quinquina (French) a sweetened spiced wine aperitif with fruity notes.
- Martini & Rossi Rosso (Italian) – smells like rosemary and spice. Tastes light and citrusy. There’s a light bitterness on the finish.
- Barolo Chinato Cocchi (Italian) – dark red. Smells herbal. Tastes sweet and bitter like orange peel.
The Manhattans – Our Notes
Barolo Chinato Cocchi – “I could drink that all day long!” was Rosemary’s initial reaction. This Manhattan had a dry finish and was sweet but balanced. There was a nice spice but it was not overly so.
Martini & Rossi Rosso – It’s slightly more bitter than we remember, but it has a fair amount of complexity. After sitting a while it did take on a slightly medicinal finish.
Byrrh Grand Quinquina – “I just love this!” was my initial reaction on the first sip. This combination yields a different kind of spicy sweet cocktail that is still balanced. The finish is spicy and sweet but not at all dry, and the predominant flavor is fruity plum and oak.
Maurin Rouge – There is a nice spice to this, but it is clear it is a different combination of spices than the others. There is a hot, dry finish, but otherwise the flavor is complex and balanced.
We are continually amazed that we still like the Martini & Rossi Rosso so much, especially over many others that have been recommended to replace it. It is a shelf staple at almost any liquor store and it makes a perfectly fine Manhattan.
Our favorite, though, was the Byrrh Grand Quinquina. It doesn’t mask the rye, but it adds more fruitiness than the other Vermouths do along with a pleasant combination of spices.
Second place went to the Barolo Chinato Cocchi. This is a standard for many of the people we know and it makes a fabulous Manhattan.
That said, there wasn’t a drink among these we would have sent back. It was more a good-better-best situation than anything.
Up next, by popular demand, we are going to be examining shaking versus stirring in our Manhattans. Many of the bartenders who are following this series have expressed serious concerns about my use of a cocktail shaker, so we’re going to find out what the difference really is. Stay tuned!
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl
Rosemary Miller also contributed to this article.