Why Vermouth Cocktails Are at the Heart of Perfect Pairings
June 20, 2018
Why Vermouth Cocktails Are at the Heart of Perfect Pairings

Part of what makes Heartwood so special is the fundamental pairing program in place here. Since the beginning, Chef Varin Keokitvon and Beverage Director Amanda Reed have worked closely together to develop dishes and drinks that riff off each other—it’s food with drink, not food and drink.
With a program like this, Reed has had to work hard both to find ingredients that elevate ordinary cocktails, and also to discover ways to keep alcohol in check. She wants you to taste the drink and taste its pairing, not just the alcohol in a cocktail. She wants her cocktails to accentuate Chef Varin’s creations. And, she wants guests to be able to enjoy multiple pairings in a night. All of which is part of why Reed has developed a passion for vermouth over the years—and why so many vermouth cocktails grace our menu.

The Making of a House Blend

Dating back to the 18th century, vermouth is an aromatized wine—a wine infused with botanical—that has been fortified with a neutral spirit, which often grape-based. It also tends to blend into cocktails nicely and be low proof. It quickly became obvious to Reed that vermouth could be a star in her pairing cocktails.
A few years back she got the idea of creating a house blended vermouth. She landed on an interesting combination: two parts Dolin Rouge, one part Punt e Mes, and one part Mancino Rosso Amaranto. The Dolin Rouge, which is lighter and not particularly bitter, brings a nice floral note and acts as a lengthener. The Punt e Mes, brings the bitterness, as a well as dark chocolate, chocolate covered cherries, and a dried herbaceousness. Then, there’s the Mancino Rosso—a modern vermouth created by Giancarlo Mancino, an Italian bartender, which offers length, complexity, and spice characteristics. Combined, the three make an incredibly balanced and unique vermouth that struts in Manhattans.

Why Heartwood Loves Vermouth Cocktails

A house blend was just the beginning, however. Reed went about amassing what may be the largest collection of vermouths in all of Seattle. Having so many to play with gives her a range of options. She can go bitter when needed, floral when wanted, or just rely on vermouth for texture and mouthfeel. Now, every menu she creates includes a heavy vermouth presence, for good reason.
“Almost every pairing cocktail has some fortified, wine-based ingredient,” says Reed. “It bridges the gap of flavors and helps me keep the ABV [alcohol by volume] in check.”
On our house cocktail menu, The Khaleesi’s Reign, a Heartwood Classic, highlights Brovo “Pretty” Vermouth. This blanc style vermouth recipe was created by Reed and her former Tavern Law colleague, George Engelstad. The recipe includes: chamomile, rosemary, thyme, elderflower, comfrey, vanilla and black pepper. Brovo, a local Seattle based sprits company, offers a variety of Amari and Vermouth products that were conceptualized by bartenders throughout the country. “Pretty” is sold and poured throughout the country, including at Starbuck’s Roastery and Reserve locations.

Want to taste the difference between a dry, blanc, amber and red vermouth, or a traditional vermouth vs. something modern? With 20 vermouths on the shelf at our downtown Seattle restaurant—and tons of new vermouth cocktails appearing regularly—Reed is happy to oblige. And, for those playing Manhattan master at home, she agreed to share her secret vermouth recipe, as well.

Amanda Reed’s House Blended Vermouth Top-(Not-So)-Secret Vermouth Blend

2 parts Dolin Rouge
1 part Mancino Rosso
1 part Punt e Mes