COURTESY PHOTO | A bartender at the Experimental Cocktail Club on Manhattan’s Lower East Side adds an orange peel to a white negroni made with Atsby vermouth.
Atsby. Among those with literary leanings, the name, lacking just one key letter, is explicably linked to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic hero, Jay Gatsby.
Atsby Vermouth, however, is far from a lamentable case. The Mattituck distillery, which opened last fall and makes its eponymous product with locally sourced chardonnay, Finger Lakes apple brandy and exotic botanicals, was recently selected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be featured at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic May 17-21.
Jill Filipovic, Atsby’s social media manager, recently sat down with The Suffolk Times to talk hooch history, how to make the perfect Manhattan and what’s next for the brand.
Q: How did Atsby originate?
A: Our owner, Adam Ford, went on the Tour de Mont Blanc and tried a lot of vermouths in Italy. He decided to come home and essentially play “mad scientist” in his Tribeca kitchen and worked with a certified sommelier to invent a delicious vermouth.
Q: The company’s tagline is ‘Bringing Vermouth Home.’ What does that mean?
A: Vermouth in New York has an incredibly long and rich history. Around the turn of the century, vermouth was “the cool thing” to drink. Atsby’s name is actually a loose acronym of the Assembly Theater on lower Broadway, which spurred cocktail culture in Manhattan. Vermouth fell out of fashion in the 1960s and ’70s, so what we’re trying to do is remind New York that vermouth is very much a part of our local culture.
Q: How was Mattituck chosen as a production site?
A: Adam Ford went to a variety of winemaking facilities. Making vermouth is quite a process, and Premium Wine Group was incredibly accommodating and came up with a lot of creative solutions to make sure everything we were doing was done the right way.
Q: Vermouth production has traditionally been the domain of European countries. How does the West compete?
A: We definitely took a very New World approach to this product. We looked at the way vermouth has been made for centuries and applied the local craft distillery ideals to those processes. Instead of using a base wine, we tested out a bunch of different vintages to see what worked best. We also sourced our botanicals from all over the world so we were getting the best of each thing. Instead of using simple syrup or sugar to sweeten the vermouth, we used raw summer honey in our Amberthorn and then Indian Muscovado sugar that we spin into a caramel for our Armadillo Cake. We’re very inspired by the French and Italian vermouths but wanted to take a very New York perspective on the product. New York is a great melting pot. We feel the product is as well.
Q: Any tips for making an exceptional cocktail?
A: The key is to use really good products. Cocktails tend not to have a ton of ingredients so whatever you’re putting in them really matters. If you’re cutting corners on the drink, you’re going to taste that.
Q: What’s your favorite cocktail recipe?
A: My personal favorite is just the Manhattan. It’s classic and really easy to make. Make it with Armadillo Cake and Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey. The vermouth really stands up to the whiskey. Normally with a Manhattan you’d add bitters to it, but this vermouth is so herbal you don’t need to add them at all. Combine equal parts vermouth and whiskey, shake and enjoy.
Q: What foods should be paired with Atsby vermouths?
A: Amberthorn is crisp and bright, so I love it with oysters on the half shell. Armadillo is really nice as an after-dinner drink or with a really stinky cheese.
Q: This is Atsby’s first time at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. How do you feel?
A: We’re incredibly excited. We just launched at the end of 2012 so we’re very new to the scene, but the Cocktail Classic has so many amazing bartenders and industry people. We’re excited to see all the great things people in Manhattan and around New York State are doing.
Q: Anything new on the horizon?
A: Right now we’re focusing specifically on these two vermouths but in the coming months we’ll start making our second batch, which we’re excited about. And, since vermouth is similar to wine, every batch will be slightly different. It’ll probably be ready to go to market late this fall.