After months of rumors, Carpano has finally released smaller sized bottles of its ambrosial sweet vermouth, Antica Formula.
When Antica Formula’s public relations team first told me about this back in October, I was ecstatic. I’ve written about this problem before: for the way many of us in North America drink vermouth—in cocktails, not on its own—the bottles are too big. It’s been marketed more as an aperitif than a vermouth for so long that it appears no one thought to offer it in smaller bottles in the U.S.
Antica Formula, arguably the best sweet vermouth on the market (it makes fantastic Manhattans and Rob Roys), has until now only been available in huge 1-liter bottles (pictured here with the tin it’s often sold in). There are roughly 34 ounces in a liter. When you’re adding as little as a half ounce of vermouth to a cocktail, it can take a while to get through that big bottle. During that time, the flavor changes with exposure to oxygen (Antica is 16% abv, not high enough to preserve it completely). Add to that the price of a liter of Carpano Antica—as much as $36 some places (and as little as $26 in others). It’s a shame to waste.
The new, smaller bottles, which sell for between $14 and $16, are 375ml or about 12 ounces. Much more manageable for the home bartender. That’ll give me, say, eight Manhattans and four ounces to drink straight or on the rocks. And Carpano Antica is good enough to drink straight.
What distinguishes this vermouth from others is its silky off-dry herbal flavor with a hint of vanilla. It’s not quite like any other sweet vermouth. The “ancient formula,” as the name translates, goes back to 1786 with Antonio Benedetto Carpano in Turin, Italy. He may or may not be the man who invented vermouth. (Carpano also makes what we’d now call “traditional” vermouths and another product popular among bartenders, Punt e Mes.)
Try Antica Formula in your next Manhattan. Or try it in a Rob Roy: it’s especially good mixed with Famous Grouse as I’ve found at a bar in my neighborhood. It’s also a great way to modify a Negroni. But do as the Italians do and try it straight, chilled or over ice. Yes, it’s mildly bitter, but it’s also sweet and herbal with vanilla, orange and a bewitching melange of other flavors.