Tasting Notes: Atsby Armadillo Cake

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIf I handed you an aperitif that started out with cardamom, cinnamon, and caramel notes, followed by a slightly astringent spice tea-like quality in the mid-palate, with a long, citrusy finish, would you think it was vermouth? Probably not. I’ve been testing Atsby Armadillo Cake out on friends, and not one has guessed that it was a vermouth. Which might be a good thing.

Vermouth is a tough sell for many drinkers these days. But Adam Ford, founder of Atsby, believes that fate is soon to change. He points to the inklings of a vermouth revival as the next logical step in the cocktail renaissance, as mixologists and bartenders around the country already make their own bitters, barrel-age cocktails, and generally push every other the frontier of cocktail creativity. He launched the small-batch product in fall 2012, and it is now sold in major markets around the country. The Armadillo Cake starts with a base of Long Island Chardonnay, upstate NY brandy, and locally- and internationally-sourced herbs, roots, spices, and botanicals (some very unexpected, like nigella, shiitake, and wild celery).

Ford contends that his vermouth is best sipped by itself, and I don’t disagree. What I love about the Italian/red/sweet-styled Armadillo Cake (the name refers to the unexpected bitter-sweet juxtaposition in its flavors) is that it’s not sweet like other vermouths, so it can be sipped alone, chilled. Or make a fantastic, dressed-up aperitif over ice, topped with a squirt of soda water and a thick lemon twist. It also is a fun cocktail mixer, adding new dimensions of flavors to old standards. I’ve been using Atsby Armadillo Cake in a bourbon Manhattan (2 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce Atsby Armadillo Cake, 2 dashes Angostura bitters) with great results.

Rating: Buy. For a ready-to-drink winter aperitif, Atsby Armadillo Cake has become my go-to. The warming spices and full body make it a perfect early-evening drink. In NYC, a 750 ml bottle will run you about $34.