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Punt e Mes Vermouth

Carpano Punt e Mes


By Robert Plotkin

While endeavoring to add their own creative twist to an established cocktail, bartenders and mixologists typically begin the process by repeatedly tweaking the recipe, when instead they should first be looking to see if they have the right ingredients for the job. Often products are stocked behind the bar for years before someone calls into question their appropriateness for the operation's beverage program.

Vermouth is perfect example. Considering the large number of classic cocktails that call for either dry or sweet vermouth, it's unlikely that stocking one brand of each could possibly best service every application. For instance, a brand of sweet vermouth that performs seamlessly in a Manhattan may fall well short when featured in an Americano, Half & Half, Negroni, Bobby Burns or either version of the Corpse Reviver.

One brand that should definitely be a factor in this vermouth reevaluation is the altogether sensational Punt e Mes Vermouth. The venerable brand originated in 1870 at the Carpano Distillery in Turin, Italy. Today, Punt e Mes is handcrafted in Milan at the Fratelli Branca Distillerie according to the original secret recipe. The process begins with a base of white wine infused with a proprietary mix of aromatic herbs, roots and bark. After blending, the vermouth is rested to ensure that all of its constituent flavors have fully integrated. It is then bottled at 16% alcohol by volume (32 proof).

Punt e Mes is the definitive example of a vermouth amaro, an aperitif precisely balanced between bitter and sweet. It has a deep reddish brown color, a round, voluptuous body and a wafting bouquet of herbs, anise, cloves, sarsaparilla and zesty orange. Its bittersweet aromatics are perfectly intriguing. On the palate, Punt e Mes initially presents the semisweet side of its persona with citrus, red fruit, caramel, vanilla, anise and spice flavors. Those sensations gradually give way to waves of warm, herbal, bitter notes. Its finish is dry, remarkably long and singularly bitter. The effect from start to finish is memorizing.

You may be wondering about how this extraordinary vermouth got its name. The phrase, Punt e Mes, means "point and a half" in Piedmontese. As the story goes, one day in 1870 a stock exchange agent walked into a bar owned by Antonio Benedetto Carpano, the legendary vermouth maker. When the bartender approached the man he distractedly ordered a punt e mes, which was not a drink name, but rather a trading floor term. What he actually meant to order was vermouth with a half-dose of bitters, which was a popular call of the day. Thus the inspiration behind naming the bittersweet vermouth, Punt e Mes. The product's name signifies one point for sweetness and a half point for bitterness.

The vermouth's label includes the phrase, "L'Original Alternativa," which translates to the "the original alternative." Certainly the makers possessed exceptional foresight. This bittersweet marvel represents the quintessential alternative ingredient in countless cocktails and mixed drinks. Suffice to say, Punt e Mes is also marvelous sipped neat, or over ice. There's nothing remotely like it on your backbar, so enjoy.