On a recent Friday night on the third floor of the Beaux-Arts beauty New York Public Library, small-batch distillers from New York showcased their (mostly) start-up brands for guests dressed in Gatsby-era garb. Men pulled at their suspenders, women batted their lashes, and behind a cluttered table a bartender stirred up a cocktail made specifically for the crowd at the elegant Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala, the kickoff of five days of booze-soaked events.
That cocktail, dubbed the Cunning Little Vixen, contained an unusual spirit amidst all the bourbons, vodkas, and gins being brought out for the Classic: vermouth. Atsby, a small-batch vermouth that debuted just last year, is the brainchild of Adam Ford, a New Yorker who was introduced to the spirit by his wife, an Italian who grew up drinking vermouth as an aperitif.
Vermouth, also used as a digestif and as a key component in classic cocktails like martinis (dry) and Manhattans (sweet), is definitely not as chic as small-batch gin made with wacky botanicals. But Ford’s take on it is inspired. Amberthorn is the drier of his two vermouths, with herbal notes that make it great for sipping. The Cunning Little Vixen featured the other vermouth in Atsby’s portfolio, Armadillo Cake, which is slightly sweeter, with a woodsy nose and traces of spice (clove, cinnamon). The cocktail pivots on fresh blackberry purée and includes bourbon and sparkling water, yet it puts vermouth in a starring role — a gutsy move, but one that paid off.
This is a cocktail you can make easily at home — especially when blackberries are in season (now). Feel free to sub out the bourbon brand and employ whatever sparkling water or soda you wish, but I urge you to try Atsby vermouth, which strives to be a truly American spirit. And succeeds.
The Cunning Little Vixen
Makes one cocktail
Courtesy of Josh Sontag, bartender at Whitehall in New York City
2 oz. Atsby Armadillo Cake
.75 oz. Hudson Baby bourbon
2 tablespoons of fresh blackberry puree
Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a lowball glass. Garnish with speared blackberry.