Drinking Modifiers Is Mod

Cocktail modifiers might not just be for cocktails anymore. Lately, many bars have taken to serving mixers, such as  vermouth or bitters, by themselves, without any hard liquor to accompany them. This has apparently been a large part of drinking culture in various parts of Europe, but the US is only recently catching on.

One of Providence’s cocktail bars, Courtland Club, is one such joint that serves these unconventional drinks. Their menu features several vermouths, usually priced very inexpensively. I spoke to Jesse Hedberg, beverage director at Courtland Club, about the popularity of these drinks.

“The response to our vermouth selection has surprised me,” Hedberg says. “Most people still pass by the vermouth section on the menu looking for the bourbons or the cocktails, but more people are trying the stuff than I would have ever thought.”

Vermouth itself is a type of white or red aromatic wine. It’s meant to lower the bite of the alcohol it is mixed with, and provides an accent in these cocktails. Surprisingly, it’s actually really good on its own.

Initially, I assumed that this selection of drinks was a fad that the hipper bars were taking on; however, Hedberg informed me otherwise. This isn’t just a passing trend, but rather something that’s always been around and will continue to be. He compares it to coffee, which, as we all know, is far from a trend in our culture.

“I think people are enjoying vermouth for a few reasons,” Hedberg continues. “First of all it’s unbelievably delicious. And there’s a bunch of really well-made brands out there. Second of all, it’s cheap! Most of our vermouths at the club go for $6 to $8.”

Bartenders at places like Courtland Club take excellent care when it comes to their modifiers. The drinks are well-refrigerated and maintained, and bartenders take note of their freshness to sell them at peak. Hedberg states that bartenders at the club “move through product because [they] know how to talk about it.” So it seems like the public is really catching on.

So what kinds of vermouth can you find at Courtland Club, for instance? Popular drinks include the Miro Rojo, served on ice and with a side of potato chips (just like it’s served in Barcelona, I’m told), and the Atxa Blanco, which includes an orange slice, castelvetrano olive and lemon zest. The latter is popular for its taste, similar to bubblegum.

Maybe the titular character in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch was onto something when she sang about drinking her vermouth on the rocks. We as Americans have become obsessed with trying authentic cuisine from all cultures, and drinking these modifiers solo seems to be one of those things. Keep an eye out — perhaps these drinks will go beyond the clubs and become a staple in our country’s bar culture.

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