MY FIRST THOUGHT upon opening a certain package sent by a certain newspaper containing a certain bottle of alcohol was: What? Vermouth? I mean, if we know anything about vermouth, it’s that it serves as an enthusiastic mixer, playing secondary or even tertiary fiddle to the gins, vodkas and bourbons of the world; the background band in our Martinis and Manhattans; and perhaps, at its worst, the slightly precious-sounding nonentity in our drinking lives. But to have a fine bottle singled out for myopic examination and enjoyment and sent to northerly Maine from distant Italy via San Francisco was its own mystery and provocation: What is this stuff, really, and what do you do with it?
The label (gorgeous, in earthen tones) listed the full name of the bottle in an antique script: Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso. After a little snuffling around, I gleaned the essentials: Today, vermouth resides in that netherworld between antiquated and groovy, between the doilied parlors of old I...
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