Cocktails with… Noilly Prat Ambré Vermouth

When I was doing my research, little information was available online about Noilly Ambré*, but what most folks suggest is that it sits between Dry and Red Noilly Prat. As the firm don’t make a Bianco Vermouth, this somewhat fulfills this place. It contains some, but not all, of the herbs and spices in their red vermouth, as well as cardamon, chamomile, cinnamon, lavender and vanilla.

Produced since 1986 and known as “the baby”, Noilly Prat Ambré Vermouth is made, like the others in the range, in Marseillan, France using wines made from Picpoul de Pinet and Clairette grape varieties. I also have unconfirmed reports that it is designed to have a slight sherry-like oxidised quality. It is bottled at 16.0% ABV.

Own
Nose: Herbal notes, a hint of banana and some citrus, more orange and grapefruit than lemon. Oxidised biscuit quality too – like sherry.
Taste: Soft honey-like start, then some citrus and herbs, a hint of bitters, a burst of raisin sweetness, pinch of cinnamon and a dry biscuit finish.

On the Rocks
This is a lovely golden amber colour. It makes for a rich, honey-textured and flavoured drink reminiscent of a Sautern or Vin de Constance. There were some floral notes a touch of wormwood and angelica. I also caught a buttery biscuit note and hints of vanilla and cinnamon. I think is a fine aperitif and makes for a refreshing drink on its own.

Vodka Martini
[40ml Vodka, 10ml Noilly Ambré – SHAKE]
This was a really nice drink. In addition to the usual Martini crispness, there were some notes of anise and honey, making it almost, but not quite, like a Martini liqueur. I’d certainly be happy to have this instead of dry vermouth for a change. It had a very smooth finish and was a lovely amber colour.

Gin Martini
[40ml Dry Gin, 10ml Noilly Ambré – STIR]
Another pleasant drink there are the dry herbal notes you often get from the dry vermouth accompanied by some jammy/honey notes and a sweet spiciness. Rich and flavourful with a rustic edge too. It makes me fell like I’m drinking in the Golden Era for some reason.

Negroni
[20ml Gin, 20ml Noilly Ambré, 20ml Campari – STIR]
Lovely. This was rich, honeyed and smoother than a usual Negroni, although the Campari came through more, so the drink is also more bitter than some. It’s complex, but the vermouth comes through clearly, making this an unearthed gem of a cocktail.

Vesper
[30ml Gin, 10ml Vodka, 5ml Noilly Ambré – SHAKE]
This Vesper is the perfect colour: a golden yellow, and also has a slight, honey sweetness at the end. I think Noilly Ambré is stronger in terms of flavour than Lillet Blanc and adds a sweet, fruity lift at the end. I really do like this drink.

20th Century
A pleasant drink with a good sour-sweet balance. The Ambré added extra honeyed fruit elements, whilst adding a little less citrus than Lillet normally does. The Cacao is almost imperceivable, except at the very beginning and right at the end. This was a good use of Ambré.

Martini with Hendricks
[40ml Hendrick’s Gin, 10ml Noilly Ambré – STIR]
This came recommended, so I decided to give it a go. Beyond my notes on the Martini previously mentioned, I found that using Hendricks also brought out some distinctive notes of dark chocolate. The rose from the Ambré works well with the floral elements of the gin and the cucumber gave this Martini a refreshing lift. Complex and a little on the confectionery side, but very good.

Corpse Reviver II
[20ml Gin, 20ml Cointreau, 20ml Lillet Blanc, 20ml fresh lemon juice, 2 drops Pastis – SHAKE]
A very flavourful and rich drink. It’s crisp, too, with the Ambré adding a sweet, biscuit-y element, as well as some herbal and fruity notes. I found it to be more intense and heavier than a usual Corpse Reviver #2, but it was still good.

Manhattan made with Noilly Ambre and Bokers Bitters

Manhattan
[40ml Rye Whiskey, 10ml Noilly Prat Ambré – 1 Dash Boker’s Bitters – STIR]
This was another recommendation, this time from Jared Brown. I thought it was rather tasty, but dryer and a little spicier. This was be perfect for those that find normal Manhattans too rich or sweet (there are some), although it’s worth noting that choosing the right bitters is key here; I prefer Boker’s to Orange.

In Conclusion
If you can get hold of this vermouth (try the Whisky Exchange), I’d highly recommend it. It adds a new twist to many classic cocktails, as well as being enjoyable to drink on its own. My favourite cocktails were the Vesper and the Gin Martini.

Noilly Ambre is available for around £20 for 75cl at The Whisky Exchange

* This article by Jared brown was one of the most useful.

Special Thanks to Mr. Clayton Hartley and Alex from the Whisky Exchange for your help.

Dry Vermouth Tasting – With SW4 Gin

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Anyone that has been following my series on Martini Gadgets will realise I have a passion for this mixture of gin and vermouth. As gin has become increasingly popular, a wide array of gin tastings have taken place, held in London, Manchester and Oxford, to name but a few. But what about the vermouth? When a cocktail only has two ingredients, even the lesser partner is a crucial component.

Vermouth is an automatized wine. The flavour is determined by “appropriate derived substances” (e.g. seeds, herbs, spices, roots) and there is no prescribed combination of these, with the one exception that a Vermouth must contain an Artemisia (such as wormwood). Vermouth can be sweetened, but only with caramelized sugar, sucrose or grape must.

Typically there are three main types of vermouth:
Red: A sweet style that is coloured with either caramel or herbs. Often drunk as an aperitif or in cocktails such as the Manhattan and Martinez (both potential ancestors of the Martini).
White: A sweet style based on white wine.
Dry: A dry style, also based on white wine and synonymous with the modern Martini.

Two more styles seem to be growing increasingly popular: Rose Vermouth and Orange/Ambre Vermouth.

All of the vermouths in our tasting were tried on their own and then we tried our top ten in a Dry Martini.

Dry Martini Details
SW4 Gin
5:1 Ratio
Stirred
No Garnish

#1) Martini Extra Dry (Italy) (15%)

A very familiar product to most and synonymous with its namesake cocktail.

Own: On the nose, there is a little pistachio and wet slate. This is quite dry; probably one of the driest we tried. It was quite simple and rather tart.

Martini: Pretty good, a classic drink. It’s a popular brand, readily available and makes a decent drink. This is an excellent fall-back when it’s difficult to get hold of some of the more obscure varieties.

Martini Extra Dry is available from most supermarkets and off-licences for around £8 (75cl).

#2) Noilly Prat Dry (France) (18%)

Own: A very fruity nose with a hint of nail polish. Great scents of honey and blossom, and the slightest hint of salt. One panelist likened the nose to that of a good muscat. Noilly Prat has depth of flavours and is quite complex. There is some jamminess, akin to an apricot preserve, and there is a pleasant warmth at the end. Very popular with the panelists.

Martini: A truly classic Martini and exactly what I would expect when ordering a Dry Martini. Excellent balance between gin and vermouth, with just enough herbal flavours to complement the gin without overpowering it. Cool, clean and crisp.

Available from Waitrose around £10 for 75cl.

#3) Filipetti Extra Dry Vermouth (Italy) (14.8%)

Perlino also make a Blanco and a sweet vermouth, as well as Martelletti, a Classico Vermouth.

Own: Dry; exactly what you’d expect from dry vermouth. Some floral aspects like a good muscat. Well balanced with hints of honey and cinnamon. Very pleasant.

Martini: In the proportions of 5:1, this made the wettest Martini of those that we tried. The dry and slightly fruity flavours have a strong presence in the cocktail and, if you like only a whisp of Vermouth flavour in your Martini, this is worth a look.

#4) Dolin Chamberry Dry Vermouth (France) (17.5%)

Made in Chambery, near the French-Swiss border, this has a wine content of 75-80%, which is notably higher than some of its competitors. Dolin also make a Blanco and a Rosso vermouth.

Own: A musky, tropical nose with notes of passionfruit and guava. Soft flavours, well-rounded, simple and neat. This would make an excellent aperitif and has a lovely aftertaste. A couple of panelists likened it to a dry sherry. Another popular vermouth amongst our panel.

Martini: Exceptionally clean, with a slightly warm texture. Strong, but not overpowering flavours of Juniper and Angelica, a balanced bitterness and a touch of cinnamon. The vermouth compliments SW4 well.

Available from Waitrose around £8 for 75cl.

#5) Stock (Italy) (16%)

Made by the Stock Spirit Company, whose biggest markets are in Italy and Slovenia, Stock is made with Italian Table Wine and Italian Brandy and is infused with more than 50 herbs & spices. They also make a Blanco and a Rosso vermouth, in addition to a very tasty Maraschino.

This has a superb, fresh leafy green flavour and was a favourite of one of the panel. It made a very flavourful Martini whilst still maintaining the underlying characteristics of a Dry Martini.


#6) Cinzano (Italy) (15%)

Founded in 1757 in Turin, Cinzano is owned by Gruppo Campari. Cinzano has a Classic range, comprising of a Dry, Red, White and Rosé varieties, and a Mediterranean range: Limetto and Orancio, which are vermouths with twists of orange and lemon (somewhat akin to the old Martini Limon).

Own: A fruity nose, akin to a house white wine, with some peach notes. It tastes like sweet grape juice and is not very dry, as vermouths go. The taste is much better than the smell, but the panel was left unimpressed.

Martini: Quite a basic Martini; pretty good, but lacks the depth and crispness of some of the others.

Available from Waitrose around £5 for 75cl.

#7) Vya (USA) (17%)

Made in Madera, California, Vya was made in response to an increasing number of premium gins making their way into the market; the idea being that, if you’re spending $30 on a gin, does it make sense to then mix it with a $6 vermouth? They also make a sweet variety of their premium vermouth.

Own: Vya had a nose reminiscent of fresh vegetation: cabbage or pea pods. The panel disagreed on their opinion of the taste: some enjoyed its definitive flavours, which were fresh and bright with hints of cloves and liquorice, whereas others found it exceptionally bitter and overpowering.

Martini: Cool and flavoursome with hint of cinnamon and spice, followed by a lightly bitter edge at the end. Complex and slips down the throat very easily, moving toward the intense flavours of the home-made vermouth.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £16 for 75cl.

#8) Top Shelf (UK)

This is based on a flavouring syrup produced by home-brew specialist Still Spirits. They suggest mixing it with either vodka or wine, so we decided to try both versions.

i) Wine-based (14.7%) – This had a nose of moth balls; slightly sherberty. Very sour, very dry, a bit like cordial. Watching the physical recoil of people as they tasted it was very interesting. As a result, this is not recommended, although it should be noted that mixing the syrup with a better quality wine would probably improve the results.

ii) Vodka-based (Sipsmith) (16%) – With a nose of moth balls and lavender perfume, this reminded one of the panel of their great aunt. The taste is much better than the wine version, being sweet with hints of creamy vanilla, although some of this obviously came from the vodka. Not so dry and closer to a Sweet Bianco than a Dry vermouth, this was nonetheless quite palatable and had an interesting a hint of Christmas spice.

Top Shelf Dry Vermouth Flavourings is available here for £2.29 for 50ml (One 50ml bottle makes up to 1.125 litres of Dry Vermouth.)

#10) Berlino (UK) (13%)

Berlino is produced and bottled by Continental Wine and Food (CWF), who are based in Huddersfield. Although it looks a lot like vermouth, it is in fact billed as “Extra Dry Aperitif”, made from the “finest quality concentrated grape juice, herbs and spices.”

Own: There were various cries of disgust at the smell of this; “wet dog” and “drains” were among two of the more polite comments. It had very little flavour and was rather watery, but did have a sharp, bitter finish. This was the least popular of the varieties we tried. At £3.20 a bottle it may look like a cheap alternative, but it would be a false economy.

Belrino is available from Tesco for around £3.20 for 70cl.

Mr Hartley waits, in anticipation, for the tasting to start.

#11) Home-made (UK)

Based on a recipe from the Plymouth Martini Book, which can be found here, this vermouth was designed specifically for Plymouth Gin, but we were intrigued as to how it would fare with SW4.

Own: Fresh, with a slightly meaty nose, one panelist likened it to hotdogs (in a most positive way). Another comment stated that it was reminiscent of a German Christmas market, with mulled wine, stollen and bratwurst. The taste was rather savoury and quite heavy on cloves, with some hints of anise and angelica too. Without a doubt, it had very intense flavours, but was also very good. If you’ve never tried making your own vermouth, I highly recommend it.

Martini: Very popular with the panel, this was jam-packed with flavour. This vermouth may not produce your typical, very clean, very crisp Martini, but it is an excellent drink nonetheless and, if you like a wetter, more flavourful Martini, then this is definitely worth trying. Cloves and Christmas spice come through, but complement the gin well.

#12) Lillet Blanc (17%)

Own: A very light and subtle nose of white grape, grass and dried flowers. Sweeter than expected, this was less complex and thinner than the Jean de Lillet, but, served cold, it is an excellent aperitif and an all-round good product.

Martini: A soft Martini that was less herbal than normal. Simple flavours, less bite and some subtle citrus. Smooth and delicate, and rounds off the gin nicely.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £15 for 75cl.

#13) Jean de Lillet

Own: Strong, savoury nose; fresh and very appetising. The taste is quite sweet, with overtones of honey, blossom, apple, pear and peach. It’s a little buttery and reminiscent of a quality Sauternes. This was really very, very good and there would be little danger of it oxidising before the bottle was finished. It had a finish of apricot stones, apple and almond.

Martini: A rich and flavourful Martini, this does make a truly excellent drink, but for my money I’d rather drink it neat. We also tried it in a Vesper as a substitute for Kina Lillet and the drink certainly had a more bitter edge and was pleasant golden yellow, although perhaps not quite sweet enough.

A selection of the Vermouths we tasted

#14) Gancia Bianco (14.8%)

Own: The nose of Gancia Bianco had hints of sloe gin and lemonade. Floral and herbal. The taste is very pleasant and was a very nice surprise: it was a little syrupy, like mead. It also had a finish of lemon pith, which counteracts the sweetness well.

Martini: A very flavourful Martini and not too sweet. I’d never really thought of using Bianco vermouth in many cocktails, but in a Martini it worked well; nice for a change.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £12 for 75cl.

#15) Martini Gold (Italy) (18%)

Own: Very floral on the nose, with hints of tea, lavender and Bergamot. The taste is quite smooth and sweet, but has an underlying bitterness akin to Campari or Suze. Quite a long finish, with the saffron coming through. Very much a departure from their traditional range, but a product with potential.

Martini: On the face of it, this is a pretty standard martini – cool and crisp – but there is definitely a more bitter finish than usual, with herbs and spice and the hint of saffron, which works well with the bitter elements. It’s like you’ve made a martini half with vermouth, half with a bitter apertif.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £21 for 75cl.


In Conclusion
From our tasting, it is clear that the vermouth you choose for your Martinis can have a big impact on the drink and so it’s a decision worth some consideration. It’s also clear that vermouth is something that is more versatile than I had previously thought: its merits extend beyond its use in Martinis and that, by over-looking Bianco/White vermouth, I’ve been missing out; definitely something to look into.

THE RESULTS

Best Aperitif: Dolin
Best Martini: Noilly Prat, Home-made
Best All-rounder: Fillipetti

Special Recommendation: Jean de Lillet

A special thanks to Pernod Ricard, Bacardi-Martini, Lillet, Marblehead, Speciality Brands, Vya, Perlino, Stock Spirits Interntional, Imbue and Graphic Bar for their support in this tasting.

Thanks also to SW4 Gin for providing the Gin for our Martinis.

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Plymouth Martini Book & Home-made Vermouth

Barroom Bookshelf #3:
The Joy of The Plymouth Martini

 

Yesterday, Mrs. B and I had the fortune to attend the Plymouth Gin Juniper Society and Martini Masterclass; or, as I like to call it, the Plymouth Gin Christmas Extravaganza. For a full round-up of the evening’s festivities, check out the Institute for Alcoholic Experimentation (article coming soon).

One of the gifts in our, very generous, goody bag was a book entitled, “The Joy of the Plymouth Martini”, and this shall be the basis of this post.

This 28-page booklet was created especially for the event and starts with some in-depth information on making a Martini, with notes on balance, stirring, ice, twists and ratios. My two favourite tips were:
1) Double strain; using a cocktails strainer and then a tea strainer, this removes the tiny shards of ice that can leave a drink watery.
2) Be Ready! Don’t allow your ingredients to sit in the ice for long before mixing, once again this leads to a more watery drink.

The process of making a Martini is described on the next page and there is a page on “Describing Dryness”, see below:

Given my curiosity concerning things like Martini Stones, I found this classification system of interest and discovered that, although I hadn’t heard of the term before, it appears that I like my Martinis “off-dry”. (Noilly Prat being my current Vermouth of choice).

Fruity Martinis can be controversial, but I agree with the many great bartenders before me that, if it tastes good and you like it, drink it. Either way, I didn’t see many people turning away their Fruit Martini welcome drink! My watermelon one was delicious.

What is particualrly clever and useful about this section is that you start with a generic recipe:

50ml Plymouth Gin
2 tbsp fresh fruit
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp water

Add fruit and sugar to shaker and muddle; add water and Plymouth Gin and ice.
Shake 15-20 secs, taste and sweeten if necessary.
Strain and serve.

Now you can make any kind of Fruit Martini you like, maybe even a Medlar Martini. Should you be stuck with a lack of ideas, Plymouth do make some suggestions. On the other hand, if you fancy returning to a classic, there is also a very comprehensive, yet concise, history of the classic Dry Martini or the Marquerite.

Now for the really interesting stuff: the folks at Plymouth also provide you with a recipe for a custom vermouth & bitters, both of which are specifically designed to complement Plymouth Gin.

 

 

I was distracted whilst writing this post by a sudden urge to make Vermouth to this recipe. Having only cloves and Plymouth Gin in the house, I was soon heading into town to find the rest of the ingredients and was surprised when I managed to return some time later with all of them.

 

 

This was quite fun to make and took about an hour, muddling the ingredients together first certainly help the flavour to come out. When tasting, the nose is very much if the wine base but also the angelica and star anise come out too. The initial flavour is quite sweet and then more herbally, some wormwood, fennel  and anis are noticeable. It is also quite soft as vermouths go.

 

The vermouth, in a glass, in a bottle and mixed in a martini. Why "Three"? Well, it was formualtion #3 of the dozen they tried that the Plymouth team liked best.

The book concludes as any good cocktail book should with space for you to write-in your own ingredients. This is a great little booklet, one of the best I have seen created by a specific brand, get hold of one if you can.

 


For more Barroom Bookshelf Reviews click here.