There’s this sequence in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray is trying to imitate every opinion and preference Andie MacDowell has, thinking, incorrectly, that if he can trick her into believing they have the same favorite ice cream flavor or 19th century French poet, she’ll let him have sex with her. His first line of attack is to parrot her favorite drink, so instead of his go-to bourbon, he gets what she gets, a sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist. “That’s my favorite drink!,” she exclaims. “Mine too!,” he lies. They toast, they both take a sip, and his face contorts, struggling to repress his irrepressible disgust.
This is where vermouth was in 1993’s popular consciousness: It was a punchline. It was something your great aunt might order after high tea at the Waldorf, necessary for ancient cocktails perhaps but certainly nothing to be taken seriously. The thing is, vermouth is wine based, so it begins oxidizing once opened—not as quickly as wine itself, but inexorably nonetheless. Therefore, vermouth in a society that doesn’t use it finds itself trapped in a kind of vicious circle: The more it oxidizes, the less people want to drink it; the less people drink it, the more oxidized it becomes. The bottle he barely keeps down in Groundhog Day had probably been open at room temperature for at least a year. It’s been two decades since bartenders started treating vermouth with the respect it deserves, and it remains a struggle to convince the general public of this, not that they should learn to like vermouth, but that if they give it a chance, they’d find they already do.
Everyone knows “dry” and “sweet” vermouth, but by far the most charming and persuasive version—and my favorite to change the mind of would-be vermouth naysayers—is the rosé. Rosé vermouth is usually made the same way rosé wine is, which is to say, from red grapes that have been promptly pressed from their skins, yielding a pinkish product. Like all vermouth, it’s infused with a special blend of herbs and spices (“aromatizing” it) and then some high proof spirits are added, to raise the ABV and make it a bit more stable (“fortifying” it). Rosé vermouth both looks and somehow tastes pretty, flush with fleshy red fruit and florals, complementing a kiss of sweetness and just the slightest bitter whisper.
Mixologically speaking, it can take you any direction you want to go—you can spritz it up with soda water or Champagne, sub it into a Corpse Reviver #2, stir it into a Martini, and much more—or you can give it the marquee, as in one of my favorite Valentine’s Day cocktails, the Rosé Collins. While vermouth usually serves as a supporting character in another spirit’s show, in a cocktail like the Rosé Collins it trades jobs with the gin—where once it was just a flavor accent, here it takes center stage, giving a plush generosity to the palate. It is fruity, refreshing and pink, everything a Valentine’s Day cocktail should be, slightly lower in alcohol so no one gets too drunk before dinner, the overall structure soothingly familiar but the character of it still a bit new. It’s designed to seduce you into vermouth’s charms, a seduction based on enticement, not mimicry or deception, and like all great seductions, always keeping you wanting more.
- 1.5 oz. rosé vermouth
- 0.75 oz. gin
- 0.75 oz. lemon juice
- 0.5 oz. 1:1 simple syrup
- Dash Rosewater or Orange Flower Water (optional)
- Soda Water
Add all ingredients except for soda water to a cocktail shaker, and shake on ice for 6 to 8 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a tall thin “collins” glass and top with soda water. Garnish with a lemon peel, grapefruit peel, orange slice or a rose petal, saving a few petals to lead like breadcrumbs where ever you’d like the recipient to go.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Rosé Vermouth: There aren’t a ton of brands out there. Fortunately, the ones that exist are all pretty good, especially in this cocktail. If I had my pick of the litter I’d probably go for Yzaguirre Rosé, an inexpensive Spanish bottle that is great here, gorgeous red fruit and lightly floral. Lillet Rosé as well is exceptional, a little tarter and stone-fruit driven, but still exceptional. The deeper red Cocchi Rosa is wonderful as well, both sweeter and more bitter, with a perfumed blast of baking spices (beware Cocchi if you’re sensitive to bitterness—at these quantities, Cocchi Rosa in this drink would have roughly the bitterness of an Aperol Spritz).
Gin: The gin here is more for structure and body than flavor, so it doesn’t matter so much what you use as long as it’s high enough proof (over 43 percent I’d say). Hendrick’s, with its generous rose-petals, is an absolutely lovely choice. Any of the London Dry giants, like Beefeater, Tanqueray or Bombay Dry would be a great choice. Vodka would technically work here if you can find a higher proof one, like Smirnoff 100, but it’ll still lack a bit of structure. Normal vodka, at 40 percent abv, simply doesn’t have the body to hold up the rest of the drink.
Simple Syrup: Literally the simplest syrup. Equal parts sugar and water, and stir. Hot water will dissolve the sugar faster, but it’s not that necessary. One the sugar is dissolved, will keep 1+ month in the fridge. Throw it out when it gets wispy (molding) or carbonated (fermenting).
Rosewater or Orange Flower Water: These are hydrosols, water-based essential oils. They add, as you might imagine, a floral note to cocktails, which can be absolutely incredible. It’s not all that necessary here, but if I’m not using Hendrick’s Gin (which would make flower water a bit redundant), I find a touch or rosewater is a welcome background floral hum. Pick it up in a specialty food or Middle Eastern market, and use it sparingly—a little goes a long way.