It’s an exciting time for the vermouth category, according to Naren Young, managing partner of Dante in New York. When he took over the 101-year-old Italian café in 2015, “we wanted to add a cocktail program and have a well-curated list of vermouths.”
Young discussed the program as part of a July 21 Vermouth Primer session at the 2016 Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans. The seminar included a guided tasting of Carpano, Antica and Punt e Mes vermouths led by Edoardo Branca, a sixth generation brand owner of Fratelli Branca Distillerie.
Dante now offers 25 to 30 vermouths, with offerings from Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. The current interest in the Negroni has helped people become more aware of vermouth, Young said. But he added that getting some guests’ heads around vermouth can be an uphill challenge.
Vermouth cocktails can be a good way to introduce customers to the fortified wine, he noted. In developing these drinks at Dante, Young said, “we take our historical cues and use them as a platform for creativity.
One example is the Upside-down Gibson, which emphasizes the vermouth rather than the gin. Dante’s reverse Gibson is made with 2 oz. of dry bianco vermouth, 1 oz. gin and house-pickled onions; “sometimes we add a bit of onion brine,” Young said.
Dante serves several Martinis with a 50-50 vermouth-to-gin ratio. They are refreshing and enjoyable, this way, plus they’re lower-proof cocktails, Young noted: “We don’t want people to ruin their palates before dinner, as we are a restaurant.”
It’s important to have beautiful, aromatic cocktails that fit in with your concept and that you can change with the season, Young said. “If people aren’t curious in bars, we’re doing something wrong.”
But keep in mind that vermouth is a wine and should be treated like one, he said. So you don’t need to get too fancy.
For instance, Dante offers vermouth on tap, served perfectly chilled in a special glass. “There’s no shame in serving something simple,” Young noted. “Small details elevate the experience.”