[Rome 2017] – My hunt for modern Italian cocktail culture took me outside of Rome’s city center to the Pigneto neighborhood. Once a rough working-class neighborhood, Pigneto has welcomed young tattooed individuals bringing in new locales along the area’s main strip, Via del Pigneto.
I visited one called MEZZO – a cocktail bar that categorizes itself as Rome’s first vermuteria – specializing in vermouths. The owners filled MEZZO’s shelves with vermouths of all kinds from makers large and small, global and local. Among the vermouths, of course, were also bottles of gins and whiskies for use in mixed drinks.
MEZZO barman Daniele explained how the typical aperitivo cocktails is simple and light, just to wet your pallet before sitting down for dinner. The most popular, as we know, are Campari & Soda and the Aperol Spritz. Daniele then discussed the growing attraction and revival of the classic vermouth as he prepared us a simple aperitivo.
Vermouth was first produced for medicinal purposes in Turin, Italy in the mid 18th century. The elixir is a product of fortified wine that is aromatized and flavored with botanicals. Vermouth is known to be an added ingredient to many popular cocktails including Martini, Manhattan and Negroni. But taking it simple, on ice, is the return to the old way of appreciating the flavor of this botanical.
TIP: To avoid loss of flavor, always store your vermouth in chilled fridge after opening.
The vermouth Daniele shared with us was made by Cocchi. Called Dopo Teatro, this bitter red vermouth, known as a vermouth amaro, is based on a century old recipe of rhubarb, chiretta flowers and quinine. Its name means “after theatre” for the Turin tradition of drinking vermouth chilled and garnished with lemon peel, just after attending a show, before moving on to dinner.
The vermouth & soda cocktail is simply equal parts vermouth and soda over ice and garnished with citrus. You can alter the vermouth to match the season. For something autumnal or winter, I prefer Daniele’s suggestion of a bitter vermouth, like Cocchi’s Dopo Teatro. For spring summer, I would substitute with a light white vermouth like Cinzano Bianco.
- MEZZO vermuteria & cocktail bar – Via del Pigneto, 19 – Rome, Italy 00176 – @mezzovermuteria
Vermouth & Soda
- 1.5 oz of Cocchi Dopo Teatro Vermouth Amaro
- soda (from syphon or bottled)
- lemon peel
- Glass: 8 oz highball or juice glass
Fill glass with ice cubes or a large long ice cube. Pour vermouth over ice. Top with soda water. (This drink is typically made with equal parts of each, but you can add more soda to lighten the taste.) Squeeze the lemon peel over drink, allowing the small spritz of juice to coat the top. Rub the peel along the lip of the glass, then twist it and place it on top of drink. Enjoy!