Blanc vermouth, or bianco, as it’s called in Italy, is a powerhouse—a world-leading style, according to François Monti, a Madrid-based spirits expert. So why isn’t it a bigger deal in the U.S.? Monti moderated a session at Tales of the Cocktail in July to help bring white vermouth out of the shadows.
Blanc vermouth was invented in the late 19th century in Chambéry, France, some 200 years ago. Though the blanc came before the Italian biancos of Torino, Monti noted that the initial vermouth-producing regions of France and Italy were part of the same country at that time.
The leading markets for blanc vermouth are Russia, France and Germany, and there’s an increasing presence in the U.S. But consumers tend to be confused about white vermouth—is it a style or a color? Is it dry, semisweet or sweet?
Not all white and amber vermouths are blanc/biancos, as the ingredients, production style, color and taste profiles vary considerably. In general, the French style is more about the fruit, while Italian is more about the spices, Monti said.
As Americans, “we have to distinguish between dry and sweet vermouths, and educate the guest that those are two different products,” said panelist Karri Cormican Kiyuna, of Wildhawk in San Francisco.
There also aren’t many classic cocktails that use blanc vermouth. The El Presidente–rum, orange curaçao, dry vermouth and grenadine–is one of the few and dates back to 1915 Havana.
The Gin Blossom, a Martini riff of gin, dry vermouth, apricot eau de vie and orange bitters that Julie Reiner created for Brooklyn’s Clover Club in 2009, is considered a modern classic. But white vermouths are underused by bartenders and underappreciated by cocktail enthusiasts—even vermouth fans.
The session provided a number of reasons for using blanc/biano vermouth in drinks.
- It’s a superb base for low-ABV citrus drinks
- It usually has less sugar than red vermouth.
- It tames bitterness with out sacrificing complexity
- It works well with exotic spirits such as aquavit, pisco and cachaça, not to mention blanco tequila and rum agricole.
- It’s a solid base for creative bartenders.
So what are some bartenders making with blanc/biano vermouth? “We take vermouth and make cocktails that people are familiar with,” said Kiyuna.
Panelist Kellie Thorn of Empire State South in Atlanta said that she was using it in low-ABV cocktails, “which are having a moment now.”
Blanc/biano vermouth “loves fruit flavors,” Thorn said. “I also love mixing herbaceous spirits with vermouth.”
Here’s the recipe for a cocktail from Thorn that was served during the session:
1 ½ oz. Comoz vermouth
1 oz. Tequila blanco
¼ oz. Giffard pamplemousse liqueur
3 drops Celery bitters