Vermouth-based drinks, being wine-based, are technically of a genre called cups. I enjoy them, because good vermouth is delicious, and especially on a work night, I don’t always want a full strength drink. To my palate, a good vermouth-based drink should highlight the flavor of the vermouth, and use other flavors in very small quantities. In many classic drinks, you will see mere dashes or spoonfuls of liqueur against full measures of base spirits, and that’s the style of construction I aim for when making a drink based on a fortified wine.
In fact, that wine need not be vermouth. It could just as easily be quinquina wine,sherry, cardamaro, ginger wine, or Japanese plum wine. It might even be Merlot. The important thing is to let the wine take the driver’s seat. (Say that in another context, I dare you!) A good template for a wine-based drink is:
1.5 oz Wine-like beverage product
.25 of an abrasive or bitter modifier
.25 of a sweet modifier
(optional) dash of bitters
aromatic garnish (most likely citrus peel)
This template is not quite as versatile as 6:3:1, which in turn is not as versatile as the formula for a sour, but with a little thought, it can go pretty far. You have to pick modifiers that will work well with your base. The flavor of dry vermouth is delicate, and if you blast it with cherry heering, it’s going to die. Even St. Germain, which pairs well with white wine flavors, might be too strong in a quantity of .25. Might want to tone it down to .125 (1 tsp). For an abrasive modifier, lemon or grapefruit juice are interesting choices for dry vermouth, whereas for sweet, you will get farther with Campari or fernet.
The modifiers need to work well together. For example:
Vermouth Template Variation #1
1.5 oz Cocchi Americano
.25 oz Grapefruit Juice
.25 oz Cinnamon Syrup
Stir vigorously over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
When you use citrus juice in a low proportion relative to the total volume of a drink, it is not unreasonable to stir, but you must still double-strain, to avoid leaving pulp in the drink.
Vermouth Template Variation #2
1.5 oz Punt e Mes
.25 oz Campari
.25 oz Maraschino
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
Sweet vermouth generally has a pleasant flavor of orange, intermingled with other herbs and bitters. All of the best sweet-vermouth drinks play off of its orange flavor with a second ingredient that also contains a note of orange; that could mean an orange peel, or Ramazzotti, or triple sec, or even fresh orange juice. Variation #2 is one of my all-time favorite drinks, both for its simplicity and its complexity. I don’t know if it’s an original creation, but I couldn’t find it in any of my bookmarks. It’s very reminiscent of a classic cocktail, I think.
I hope you find a good variation on this template. If you do, please let me know!