The recently concluded Ultimate Spirits Challenge has released the scores and standings in all categories. One particularly brilliant addition to the spirits awards, point’s scores, and special categories is the Cocktail portion of the Challenge, wherein the judges having judged the spirits return to evaluate them in the context of a few famous classic cocktails.
That’s correct: two hurdles for each spirit, the first on its own, and the second actually being used in a cocktail. After all, what good is a spirit if you don’t have recommendations for how to best use it?
The USC, under the direction of F. Paul Pacult, puts some of the best professionals there are (Hello, Dale DeGroff, aka King Cocktail) on the other side of the bar, with current celebrity craft bartenders meticulously making each cocktail fresh and in exactly the same way and sliding them across the bar to the judges.
One big winner is in a category often not judged in the big competitions. But it is here.
Vermouth is a relatively small part of the world of spirits. Yet it is vital to the world of craft bartending. So even though it is a wine (an aromatized wine with added flavoring botanicals stabilized with brandy and aged in barrels) it is part and parcel of the spirits universe.
For one moment, imagine a good bar with a genius craft bartender, but no vermouth.
So judging this wine at a spirits competition makes sense. Because without vermouth we wouldn’t have some of our finest cocktails.
The vermouth that walked away with the most honors from the USC was one of the old and honored brands, the French Noilly Prat.
With the Negroni (equal parts gin, vermouth and bitter liqueur) the singular vermouth to grasp the coveted “Drop Dead Delicious” and the only one to receive 4 ½ stars was the Noilly Prat Rouge. Three other vermouths were in the finals and received the “Very Delicious” award: Cinzano 1757 Sweet Vermouth, Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth, and Drapó Rosso Sweet Vermouth.
In the Dry Martini cocktail, which uses dry, white vermouth—and in this venue there was no nonsense about waving the bottle over the gin or casting a fleeting glance at the vermouth bottle; good, meaningful quantities were used for proper balance—once again, Noilly Prat took the honors with the Noilly Prat Extra Dry Vermouth receiving the highest “Drop Dead Delicious” encomium and the highest point score.
Two vermouths were listed in the “Very Delicious” category for white: Martini & Rossi Extra Dry Vermouth and Drapó Bianco Vermouth. And one was mentioned in the “Delicious” category: Drapó Dry Vermouth.
With the steeply increasing interest of vermouth, and the incredibly dynamic profusion of distinctive craft vermouths coming on the scene, it is rather nice to know the time-tested classics still command attention. Noilly Prat is one of those classics, and according to the experts at the USC, it’s doing better than ever in cocktails.
Here’s a gratuitous tip to avoid one of the pitfalls that can deteriorate an otherwise sound bottle of vermouth: unless you’re a power user, purchase the 375ml sizes of vermouth if they are available. Vermouth is wine, after all, and any wine will begin to lose its aromatic and flavor intensity once opened. A smaller bottle will obviate that problem. Keep any opened vermouth in the fridge; the cooler temperatures will prolong the life of the crucially necessary cocktail ingredient. Finally, if you’ve had your vermouth too long, and it has gone a bit stale….pour it down the drain. Flat vermouth can ruin an otherwise perfect drink.