Anyone else here a huge Hedwig fan? You know, the eponymous character from the off-Broadway-musical-turned-cultishly-adored-indie-film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, that one about the queer East German boy whose African-American G.I. male lover/sugar daddy encouraged him to get a sex change that did not go well, hence the “angry inch?” That one.
After Hedwig winds up a craggily transgendered, white-trash divorcee stuck in a Kansas trailer park, s/him sings a bittersweet number about what few pleasures life still holds, one being “vermouth on the rocks.” So to ‘splain — no, there is too much, to sum up — now you get what the above pic’s all about. (An in-joke expressly styled for an audience of exactly moi? Probably.)
OK, my point is — vermouth on the rocks, who drinks this anymore? I know they did back in the day before the counterculture hit, if only because it says so in this book I once read, New York in The 50s: Young adults and also James Baldwin got together at one another’s cramped apartments in the Village and drank vermouth and then danced the Twist to Chubby Checker. So there must’ve been some sort of cool cachet surrounding vermouth back then, to balance out the fact that vermouth tastes yucky.
There, I said it. It tastes weird. I find vermouth very, very hard to like, or even palate. I once tried dry vermouth on the rocks behind the bar at work and spit it out. Do you know what the taste of vermouth, either kind, most reminds me of? Church wine. Unpleasantly sour; spoiled.*
*Speaking of spoiled, I’m gonna jump in here and do a quick 101 for those who’d like it.** Basically, vermouth is fortified wine — wine to which a liquor has been added — which is further flavored by various roots, herbs, etc. There are two kinds, each of which can be referred to in three different ways. Dry vermouth = French vermouth (as in, it was invented there) = “white” (or pale) vermouth. Sweet vermouth = Italian vermouth (same reason) = red vermouth. Both dry and sweet vermouth are made all over the world now, not just in their native France and Italy. There’s no hard and fast recipe for vermouth other than what I mentioned above, so various brands can taste significantly different.
**The reason “spoiled” made me think of telling you all of this is because a big mistake people make with vermouth is treating it like liquor and storing it at room temperature. Don’t! Treat them as wines: Keep them in the fridge after opening and get rid of them after six or so months. (For this reason, if you don’t use vermouth often, you’ll actually save yourself money by buying a smaller bottle.) There, you now know more about vermouth than well over half the world’s population. OK, back to our program…
So you can imagine the trepidation with which I approached the Addington, an old-timey cocktail composed mainly of equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. From there, the recipe wavers depending on the source you consult. I’ve read that it should be topped with but the faintest splash of soda water, and I’ve read that the glass (whether up or rocks) should be filled with soda water. I’ve read lemon peel to garnish and I’ve read orange peel. I’ve read orange bitters but no orange peel and I’ve read vice versa.
How I ultimately chose to fashion my Addington was based on a few considerations. 1) I didn’t want to use a significant amount of soda water; in that case, just make mine an Americano. 2) Also didn’t feel like going the soda-water route because it’s cold out. Americano-esque cocktails are best suited to sweltering, romantic piazzas. 3) Definitely wanted the bitters and the orange peel in there to distract my senses in case I still hated the taste of vermouth. 4) Wanted it rocks for same reason, to let the chill numb the flavor.
Do I like this Addington? Yes! In fact, I’m having my second right now. I actually think it makes for a mighty fine aperitif in that it is not at all sugary sweet. Very mature-tasting, if I do say so myself. Like the sort of hard-earned drink that every The Fire Next Time author or “Wig in a Box” chanteuse deserves.
(Adapted from numerous sources, perhaps mostly this one)
1 1/2 ounces Martini & Rossi dry vermouth
1 1/2 ounces Cinzano sweet vermouth
1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
Orange twist, for garnish
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add vermouth and bitters and garnish. Stir briskly.
There are much fancier vermouths you can use if you want to play around with this: Noilly Prat is considered the French standard; Antica Formula ones are considered very high-end and worth it, etc.