Packing a Heavier Vermouth Punch: Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes

Packing a Heavier Vermouth Punch: Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes

As a person who loves the richness of the Italian Amari, it’s not surprising that I’m so drawn to the bigger Vermouths like Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes, especially in drinks with brown spirits like a Manhatten. To me, they have the right amount of substance to be on an equal playing field with rye whiskey’s boldness and spice. Although both Vermouths are produced by Carpano, there are differences in both their history and in their taste. The Antica was created by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in 1786 by infusing fortified white wine with a proprietary blend of over 30 different herbs and spices. Carpano was the first to actually come up with the name Vermouth, which originated from the German Vermut, a wine that contained wormwood. There are many tasting notes that can be found online for the Antica, some of which can be quite entertaining if you’d like to read them. I’ll give you my impressions without getting too crazy! I found the Antica to be sweet and raisiny, with some vanilla and cocoa notes thrown in, finishing up with just a touch of bitterness. In comparison to the Punt e Mes, it is the smoother of the two.

The story behind Punt e Mes goes back to an afternoon in 1870 when a stockbroker was at a bar discussing a 1½ point increase in stock prices with his colleagues. In the spirit of that discussion, he ordered his Vermouth punt e mes, or 1 point sweet, ½ point bitter. This means that he was asking the bartender to add a half shot of quina (think of the taste of quinine in tonic water) to the Vermouth. This way of ordering Vermouth became a common enough practice to prompt Carpano (the company, not the man, he’d be over 100 years old by now) to create a new product that was decidedly more bitter than the Antica formula. My reaction to the Punt e Mes was that I tasted sweetness first in the form of dried fruits (more than just raisins) and that was followed almost immediately by the same kind of bittersweet orange flavor that many of the Amari have. It finished up with more bitterness, to the point where it became almost medicinal, but not unpleasant. When compared to the Antica, I would say that the Punt e Mes is the far more bitter of the two. Speaking in terms of a Negroni, if you’d prefer it smoother then go with the Antica, but if you prefer it to be more bracing, then the Punt e Mes is the right choice for you.

I’ve used the Punt e Mes in a number of cocktails here on the blog beginning with traditional recipes for both a Manhatten, a Negroni, and a Blood and Sand. I’ve also combined it with a local single malt whiskey and a coffee syrup in The Slippage, with bourbon and Amaro Averna in You Want It Darker, and with rye whiskey and Velvet Falernum in a fall cocktail called Autumn in Manhatten. I wanted today’s focus to be on Carpano Antica and so I searched for a drink that was a variation on a dark-spirited classic, but with something other than rye whiskey or bourbon as its base spirit. With a little bit of investigation, I was able to find The Jacobean, a Scotch-based riff on the Manhatten created by John McCarthy, the former bar manager at Mary Queen of the Scots in NYC, which closed in 2012. The Scotch and the green Chartreuse in this drink are such strong-tasting spirits that anything less than a rich Vermouth would be lost here. With the Carpano Antica, the end result was a surprisingly balanced drink. I’m always happy to make a cocktail that contains Scotch whisky because it was my dad’s go-to spirit. He loved it on the rocks with just a splash of water, and I think the idea of it being used in a cocktail with other ingredients would make him shake his head and laugh!

The Jacobean from John McCarthy, Mary Queen of the Scots, NYC via SeriousEats.com

2 oz Aged Scotch Whisky (I used Balvenie 12-year-old Doublewood)
½ oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
½ oz Green Chartreuse
Lemon twist for garnishing

Combine all the ingredients except the garnish over ice and stir with a long-handled bar spoon for 30-45 seconds until very cold. Let sit for 2 minutes to allow the ice to melt just a bit and open up the Scotch and the Chartreuse. Strain using a Julep strainer into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with the lemon twist. Enjoy!

Be sure to stop back tomorrow for a Thursday Barlogue about the newly reopened Friday Saturday Sunday right here in Philadelphia.

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