Vermouth is an irrevocable member of the old guard cocktails. Some of the earliest cocktails were combinations of red vermouth, spirit, bitters and (occasionally) sugar. The Bradford a la Martini and The Manhattan, along with The Rob Roy, are perhaps the most notable examples; using spirits gin, rye and scotch, respectively. Then we enter the rabbit-hole of cocktailing nomenclature when we approach the realm of brandies, tequilas, different variations of whiskey and whisky, strong liqueurs… add a bit of this, subtract that–it’s largely incestuous. It’s also largely a formula, which for us, helps in the memorization.
Old-Guard Vermouth Cocktail Formula
- 1 part [spirit]
- 1 part red vermouth
- 2 dashes [bitters]
- 2 dashes [syrup] (optional)
Build over ice and stir. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass, choose your garnish wisely (a lemon twist will always work).
I’m in the realm and I’ve succumbed, how about an Applejack vermouth cocktail? Enter the Star!
A further variation on the theme of brown liquor plus vermouth, the Star Cocktail enjoyed rather a vogue in the last years before Prohibition. It appears to have been a New York creation; at least, it was first attested to by George Kappeler, of the Holland House Hotel, in 1895 and soon after was being served at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. In its official history, the Manhattan Club claimed it as one of its own; it may be. Beyond that, and a brief mention in the Philadelphia Inquirer from early 1897, the archives are silent.
“The Manhattan Club claimed it as one of its own,” is a phrase we all need to start getting used to. The quote is from Imbibe!, cocktail-laureate David Wondrich’s premier volume on the history of the American cocktailing. In the chapter, Wondrich suggests Angostura and gomme syrup (optional), before lodging an array of variations using everything from orange vermouth to yellow Chartreuse.
I was fortunate enough to have two, unique ingredients on hand. Approximately a month ago I stuck some apples in a canning jar and filled it with Applejack. The reason for this? “This Applejack isn’t appley enough for me. Needs more apples!” So more apples, I gave it. The second is winterspice cherry syrup, which I made this weekend to sweeten up some just cranberry and top it off with soda water for my cranberry-crazed girlfriend.
The Red Star Cocktail
- 1 1/2 oz. Appley-Applejack (apple-infused Applejack);
- 1 1/2 oz. Cinzano sweet vermouth;
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters;
- 2 dashes winterspice cherry syrup.
Build all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice and stir. Double-strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a lemon twist after releasing its essential oils over the drink.
This is a sweet drink, but not cloyingly so, and it’s extremely smooth and deep with flavor. The apple is the forward flavor, and that quickly deepens to the cherried, berried flavors of the Cinzano, rolling into the spices of the bitters and the syrup and then finally onto notes of cranberry bubbling up at the finish. Why the “Red” Star Cocktail?
Now you understand.