My Drink of Summer, a Sbagliato, and Homemade Sweet Vermouth

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I found my drink of summer during a wintry February weekend in New York City. Crazy, right?

Maybe, but crazy or not, I’m sharing it with you right now for #DRINKTHESUMMER — a collection of summer-inspired drink recipes released TODAY by some of my friends and favorite food writers across the Internets, hosted by my friend Sherrie Castellano of With Food and Love. Before we dig into all of their fabulous recipes, let’s talk about this way more refreshing take on a Negroni, and how I’ve lightened it up for summer, summer, summertime.

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The Sbagliato took a spot on my cocktail roster, thanks to an inspiring little restaurant visit. Earlier this year, I had been in touch with chef Jody Williams of Buvette and Via Carota, and so we stopped into her Italian restaurant, Via Carota, when in New York City. The cold outside was no match for the gorgeous interior; the good nature and all around happiness of the staff and its patrons; and the light, that light, that felt positioned just so to look like an Italian sunset. My husband and I curled up by the window, tossed back a Sbagliato or two, and schemed up a new way to enjoy our ever-brief New England summer. (Special Note: We’ve spent the entire summer in Vermont!)

That Buvette moment set Sbagliatos-at-home-every-Friday-night into action. You know, just one to get the weekend started. The cocktail comes together effortlessly, a combination of equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth, and prosecco, over ice. But the spring thaw found us experimenting with all types of vermouth and sparkling wines, varying the measurements to get the right bitter-sweet balance. We shared the recipe and flavor profile with our friends, letting them in on what felt like our secret drink (though we know now its popularity precedes us). And once summer hit, Sbagliatos became our anytime cocktail hour drink of choice.

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I don’t like overly sweet cocktails — chalk it up to one too many New-York-style Cosmopolitans in the earlier part of this century, when they were always gaudy and too sweet. And a little bitterness, either before dinner to whet the appetite or after dinner to aid digestion, always puts me in an agreeable (let’s say even, less bitter) mood. That said, this drink has two liqueurs in it, and both can tend to lean a little syrupy (and almost, manufactured in taste) for me. Campari felt way too daunting to recreate (I know my limits, folks), so homemade sweet vermouth recipes have been on heavy rotation around these parts.

My recipe for sweet vermouth is, as all things, a work in progress. I always adjust it to see what a few extra rose petals may do to the flavor, or maybe a few extra hops or a lot more coriander seeds. With all the ingredients that infuse in the white wine, it’s more like twigs and berries vermouth. But it’s summer, and there are plenty of twigs and berries around, ha.

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First, start with a dry, easy to drink, white wine — like a Pinot Grigio. Something a little more pronounced, like an oaky Chardonnay or a citrus-scented Sauvignon Blanc, may mask the flavor infusions.

Next, add in your bitter elements (the items that will give your vermouth a slightly bitter profile); your spices (to round out your vermouth); and your herbs and flowers (to highlight and accent the flavor). Feel free to omit or switch out anything you’d like, just keep in mind that vermouth needs a little bitterness to balance the sweetness, so try to keep most of those in.

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Purists will look for wormwood or gentian root in my ingredient list, but golly, they’re just too hard to find on a bright summer day in Vermont. If you find them, by all means, experiment with them in the mix. I felt like I got a nice bitterness from the hops and all the citrus peel. There’s a home brew store on every Vermont corner, or so it seems, so the hops were an easy find.

Lastly, you’ll see notes here for two preparation methods: on the stove top and in a sous vide. The lovely folks at Eat Nomiku let me test their sous vide system last year. To say we like it is an understatement, because we use it every single week. In fact, we wouldn’t even think to make a steak without it. But we’ve wanted to test out fast-aging cocktails and fast-infusing spirits for a while, and a summer in Vermont seemed like the perfect time to give it a go.

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Please be sure to check out all the other summer cocktails (alcoholic and non) from some of my very favorite people:

BOOZY

With Food + Love | Basil Fig Vodka Smash
A Little Saffron | Beach Bum’s Rum
Heart of a Baker | Green Tea Mint Cooler
Hungry Girl por Vida | Whisky Peach Alexander
Beard and Bonnet | Melon Mojito
The Foodie Nurse | Husk Cherry Margarita
Wicked Spatula | Coconut Gin and Tonic
Nutritionist in the Kitch | Healthy Muddled Blackberry Pina Coladas
Chocolate + Marrow | Pequito Verdecito
The Solstice Table | Jalapeno Watermelon Cooler
Seasonal Cravings | Strawberry Lime Gin Rickey
Dessert for Two | Salty Melon Slush

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NOT BOOZY

Heartbeet Kitchen | Salty Watermelon Shrub Elixir
My Heart Beets | Spiced Pistachio Shake
rooting the sun | Strawberry Fennel Soda
The Modern Proper | Vanilla Bean Plum Shrub
Gourmande in the Kitchen | Stone Fruit Thyme Shrub Soda
I am a Food Blog | Cherry Vanilla Sodas
Well and Full | Peach Bubble Tea

The entire list of all participants is on With Food and Love. Happy summer! xo

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Sbagliato Cocktail and Homemade Sweet Vermouth

My sweet vermouth recipe is adapted from this Wine Enthusiast version, though I added in a lot more stuff because, again, I like twigs and berries. In Kelly’s recipe, she notes that you can sub in dry sherry for the sweet kind listed, to get a dry vermouth.

As for the hops, some home brewers add the hops after the boil, the moment the mix of wine, bitter elements, spices, herbs, and flowers reaches that boil. I’ve tried both ways and while adding hops at the start or just after the boil will yield the same taste results, the final sweet vermouth will have a clearer appearance if the hops are added just after the boil.

I’ve been known to sometimes prefer an even lighter Sbagliato and double the pour of prosecco. You do what suits you, okay?

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

For the Sbagliato
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth, homemade (see recipe below) or store-bought
  • Ice, for serving
  • 1 3-inch piece orange rind, for garnish
  • 1 ounce prosecco or other sparkling wine
For the Homemade Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 750-ml bottle dry white wine
Bitter elements:
  • 1 tablespoon dried lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon dried orange peel
  • 1 scant teaspoon pellet hops - mild German variety like Hallertau Blanc
  • 2 4-inch strips orange rind, pith removed
  • 2 tablespoons dark toasted wood chips, optional
Spices:
  • 1 cardamom pod, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 3 to 4 juniper berries
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
Herbs and Flowers:
  • 1 tablespoon dried chamomile leaves
  • 2 to 3 dried culinary rose petal buds
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 vanilla bean pod, sliced open length-wise
  • 1 cup cream (sweet) sherry

Directions:

For a Sbagliato
  1. In a cocktail shaker, shake together the Campari and sweet vermouth. Pour into a lowball or rocks glass, over a couple ice cubes.
  2. Add the garnish and then the prosecco. Serve immediately.
For the Homemade Sweet Vermouth (on the stove top)
  1. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, pour the wine and all the bitter elements, spices, herbs, and flowers. Bring the mixture just to a boil and then turn off the heat. Place the pot on a thick towel on your countertop to cool and infuse for anywhere from 8 to 12 hours.
  2. Once infused, strain the solids from the infused wine using a strainer or a coffee filter. Toss the solids and add the infused wine to a clean jar with an airtight lid. Pour the sherry into the jar, seal, and shake.
  3. Your vermouth is ready to use immediately, and can be stored at room temperature for 2 weeks or kept in the back of your fridge for 2 months or longer.
For the Homemade Sweet Vermouth (in a sous vide)
  1. Set up your sous vide with no racks inside, and to a temperature of 71°C.
  2. Add the wine and all the bitter elements, spices, herbs, and flowers to a clean, sterilzed jar with an airtight seal. Make sure the liquid fills the jar within a 1/2 inch from the rim. Wipe the edge of the jar and seal.
  3. Place the jar in the sous vide, very carefully, and place a heavy object on top of it (like a cutting board) to hold it down. Sous vide the jar for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on the desired intensity of your infusion. Four hours is optimal.
  4. Just before the infused wine is ready, set up an ice bath nearby.
  5. When the time alloted is reached, turn off the sous vide. Remove the jar from the water, very carefully, and sit it on a thick towel on your counter for 2 or 3 minutes. Then, plunge into an ice bath to cool it quickly.
  6. Once cool, open the jar, strain it through a strainer or coffee filter, and pour into a clean glass jar. Pour the sherry into the jar. Shake and use immediately.
Photos taken by Heidi Murphy/White Loft Studio.

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