Despite the improved quality and availability of citrus in winter, colder months always seem better suited for spirit-driven cocktails. Whiskey usually comes to mind, but other spirits also fill the need. Many classics also include vermouth, and the most typical recipes seem to start with the letter M, such as the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Martinez. Setting gin and whiskey aside for the moment, there is another classic cocktail in this family that contains rum.
Most folks have never even heard of the Palmetto cocktail, not because it isn't any good, but because it contains vermouth. You see, vermouth has been mistreated over the years, often banished to the back of the cabinet only to collect dust. People claim they dislike the taste of it. We find this hard to believe—if such claims are made honestly, they are likely in reference to old, oxidized vermouth that has been kept well beyond its usability. Vermouth is aromatized wine after all, and who drinks wine that has been left out for weeks, months, or even years? Unless you are refrigerating your vermouth, it will quickly turn on you. We believe this is the source of vermouth's bad reputation and we challenge anyone to pick up a fresh bottle and try it side-by-side with an old one.
1.5 oz aged rum
1.5 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon or orange twist.
We've seen references to the Palmetto made with dry, white, French vermouth, but this drink works best with red. Pickup a bottle of Carpano Antica Formula, an Italian sweet vermouth that will blow your mind. Carpano is good enough to sip straight—like a fine port or sherry. Cocchi Di Torino is another favorite, but this time we chose to use Cinzano, an inexpensive vermouth which is sometimes called "poor man's Carpano". Spending a little more will go a long way toward making a delicious drink, but Cinzano is a great value and you won't feel bad about dumping it if it gets too old.
For the rum, you want an aged variety. We used Mount Gay Extra Old which is very nice, but others may work well too. Like a Manhattan, this is a cocktail that requires repeating using various combinations of brands. The orange bitters helps bring the flavors together along with a healthy squeeze of oils from the peel. We like using an orange twist, but lemon makes a nice alternative. Either garnish gives you the chance to put that fine seasonal citrus to good use.