Jennifer Queen's stoked about her vermouth. And she should be.
Queen, who's one-third of mixology team Pick & Rocks Cocktails, spent three months creating a house-made vermouth for new Little Italy restaurant Monello. Her take on the aperitif is made from 27 ingredients, many of them specially sourced from In Harmony Herbs in Ocean Beach. What those ingredients are, Queen ain't saying.
"They're vaulted away in three different parts."
Like, locked in a safe?
"Yes," she says.
If you find this a bit excessive, keep in mind that it's not unusual for liqueur recipes to be closely guarded secrets.
"When you research old-school cordials and processes, they're all controlled by monks and the church," Queen points out.
Consider, too, vermouth's recent comeback as a quality cocktail ingredient—even a standalone sipper—despite there being few really good vermouths on the market. For too long, Queen says, Americans didn't know that vermouth could taste good—they'd store it in a liquor cabinet and keep the same bottle around for a few years, unaware that it should be treated like a wine.
"The way we store [vermouth] in the states is horrible," Queen says. "We've made it taste so bad that we've started pulling it out of cocktails."
If you go to Monello (750 W. Fir St.), you must—I'm ordering you to—try Queen's vermouth on the rocks with a twist. It's complex, perfectly balanced and all-around fun to drink. Make a game out of seeing how many tastes and flavors you can identify.
There are eight cocktails on the menu that incorporate the vermouth. Try the Hat Trick, with dark rum and cinnamon grappa, or the Sbagliato, a simple blend of Campari, club soda and vermouth. If you go Tuesday through Friday, or Sunday, from 4 to 7 p.m., take advantage of aperitivo, an Italian version of happy hour. Order a cocktail, or a glass of beer or wine, and you'll get a complimentary selection of Italian small plates. Order a second cocktail (or beer or wine) and your server will bring you more small plates. And so on. Just make sure one of those drinks is a vermouth.