A crucial component in Manhattans, Martinis and Negronis, vermouth is often perceived exclusively as a mixer. Just 150 years ago though, it was a popular drink all its own and the fundamental component in a Vermouth Cocktail (enhanced only by one dash of Angostura bitters). Today, vermouth bars dot Europe, where it’s served on its own or on the rocks—but stateside that concept hasn’t stuck. Most people aren’t aware of the dynamic, sophisticated tipple, which happens to be not quite a wine and not quite a liquor. NY-based vermouth producer Atsby is seeking to change that, and they’re doing so by producing top shelf, sippable vermouth—with the standout being their recently released Armadillo Cake Reserve. Atsby ages their Armadillo Cake iteration (composed of cardamom, quassia, orange peel, Japanese shiitake mushrooms and nutmeg) for three years in oak barrels to produce the Reserve. The flavor profile of herb and spice deepens with age and reveals 32 flavors to the trained tongue. It’s a medium bodied vermouth with a silky mouthfeel and distinct palate.
Atsby’s liquid blend stems from a North Fork vintage chardonnay wine and a premium apple brandy distilled from 100% New York apples. All other elements—from seeds and spices to roots and raw summer honey—are carefully sourced and hand-selected primarily from local markets. Atsby’s founder, Adam Ford, has even written a book on the topic, “Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit That Created America’s Cocktail Culture.” As Ford explains, there were “several factors that came together” to dismantle vermouth’s popularity. “The most historically significant factor is that during World War II, 100% of the vermouth supply in America was cut off.” This triggered a series of happenings, all explained in Ford’s book, from a post-war cultural reaction in opposition to cocktails and even a decline in the quality of production when European makers took it up once again.
Ford created the recipe in his own kitchen. “It was a matter of me studying all different edible plants, different herbs and spices. I reached for Margaret Grieve’s ‘A Modern Herbal’ and read up on the different purported health properties, and then started testing it all out in different combinations at my kitchen table.” From experimentation he moved into landing ingredients of the utmost quality. “There are no oils, extracts, essences or anything artificial. We said we wanted to produce it the way it was in the 1780s—the move to a much higher quality baseline.” And a sip of each—the Reserve especially—reveals exactly that.
Atsby Armadillo Cake Reserve is available at Caskers for $45, or browse the other Atsby Vermouth options being sold in an exclusive pre-sale. All three can be sipped neat, chilled, on the rocks or in cocktails.
Images courtesy of Caskers