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Jan 7, 2014 07:05 AM

Carpano Classico Vermouth and Buying Booze in Europe

Just got back from visiting the in-laws just outside of Pisa Italy. The food as usual was awesome. The booze situation is quite interesting...

If I ever move to Italy I am going to open a chain of Liquor and wine stores, because the selection in any given location is so spotty. Even the local IperCoop only has some things.

You really have to seek out some of the specialty wine/gourmet shops to get the really good stuff. I found one place in Lucca that had all sorts of exotic rum bottlings that I had never even seen here in the states... very pricey, but some very exotic bottlings from small and large producers. The 15 year El Dorado that I pay $35 for here was 50 Euro...

I'm not a fan of Carpano Antico Vermouth, too bitter for me. But scored a bottle of the Carpano Classico, which is not available in the USA for 8 Euro. All of the wonderful richness and complexity of Carpano Antico, without the (to me) overwhelming bitter notes. Great stuff and made a GREAT Manhattan with some Evan Williams...

Fernet Branca for 8.99 Euro. Same for Branca Menta.

Scored a nice bottle of Fabbri Orzata (hello Mai tai) for 4 Euro.

Cointreau was 9. Why do we have to pay $30 plus for Fernet and Cointreau here in the USA?

My father in law also got me a barrel aged grappa, and two really nice Italian Brandies.

The great cocktails with these new ingredients are just starting to flow.

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  1. I guess it depends on where you are and what you're looking for. On my recent trip, everything across the board seemed to be 50%+ more expensive in Sweden. A bit less expensive in the Netherlands but still pricey, even for stuff they make there (Bols genever, at the official Bols store, was 25% more expensive than I can find it for here.)

    I don't understand how the economics of liquor works but I think it's all arbitrary and based on factors such as centralized distribution, perception, and taxation. Were our system, especially in MA, changed to support competition amongst distributors, it might be an entirely different story... (I guess?)

    Anyway, thanks for the report on the Carpano Classico. Get a chance to try the Bianco as well?

    1 Reply
    1. re: davis_sq_pro

      Hey Davis...

      As I understand it Northern Europe tends to have VERY high taxes in Liquor, Sweden, Norway, Denmark being the worst, thus the high expense. Italy and Spain have almost no booze tax at all and thus great prices... Spain is also a GREAT place to buy Cuban cigars... they actually cost less in stores than at the duty free at the airport.

      Did not get a chance to try the Carpano Bianco...

    2. Wait, you object to the *bitterness* of CAF? I thought you objected to the vanilla and botanical aromatic flavors.

      Then I assume you didn't buy the Fernet (which is 3x here in Boston).

      Did you happen to notice Campari? In Boston its $30-ish, but in other states <$20. Grrr

      3 Replies
      1. re: EvergreenDan

        The CAF is mostly just too bitter for a Manhattan for me. If I put in ANY appreciable amount of CAF, it is all I taste, no bourbon (or Rye) just CAF.

        The Classico is less bitter, and about 70% as potent as the CAF and thus blends into a Manhattan MUCH better than the CAF IMHO.

        I like CAF, but the only use I have for it is sipped straight, I don't like it in a Manhattan. I could see it used sparingly in different cocktails. Likewise with Fernet Branca, love it straight, in cocktails, not so much. Did you guys know that Branca owns Carpano? They apparently bought the company 30-40 years ago.

        Crap, I should have picked up a bottle of Campari as well which is 8 Euro or so. I'll ask the in-laws to bring some when they come this spring.

        1. re: StriperGuy

          Interesting, I don't get much bitterness at all from the CAF - that's what Punt e Mes is for :-)

          1. re: StriperGuy

            $10.88 US at today's rate for Campari. Double grrrr.

        2. Not for the OP specifically but, why is vermouth even covered in the Spirits section here?
          It is not a spirit but rather an aromatized wine. Port, sherry, etc are all covered under the wine board so it doesn't make sense - what is the line of thinking that allows people to categorize aromatized wines as spirits but allows wines with added spirits to remain classified as wine?

          5 Replies
          1. re: caganer

            Probably because vermouth is much more often than not paired with spirits, not sipped straight. (Not that it can't be, and some of the upscale ones are excellent straight up.)

            1. re: caganer

              We don't categorize aromatized wines as spirits, but we discuss them in a cocktail context, as we do, say, lime juice or olives.

              I assume the moderators would happily allow a discussion of, say, Imbue Petal & Thorn in the wine forum, and even might allow you to add a spirit to it before moving it here.

              As someone who has categorized every ingredient added by users to Kindred Cocktails into a hierarchy, I now know that many ingredients don't fit neatly and need multiple entries or alternative categorizations. Same for discussions, no?


              1. re: EvergreenDan

                I think you're right, for the most part, but I have seen other discussions of drinking vermouth straight in the spirits forum here so it's not discussed exclusively as a cocktail ingredient and I've never seen anyone flinch at those discussions(and I'd bet you'll see a lot more straight vermouth drinking in the coming years).

                I guess in the end what I really meant is that I think dividing spirits, wine and beer is unnecessary because the lines are so difficult to draw. But this isn't the forum for that (and as someone who has spend a decent amount of my life working with and marketing websites I'm certain the forum fragmentation on chowhound is not a good thing for discussions or site traffic - it might be interesting for spirits dorks and wine geeks to get together and share thoughts)

              2. re: caganer

                I feel that it can be covered here in spirits, as well as in wines. Besides being an aromatized wine, it's also a fortified wine from the addition of neutral spirits to it. Although port and sherry are fortified as well.

              3. I'm almost out and looking to see where I can buy more Branca Menta in the greater Boston area....anyone seen any around?

                I'll post on the Boston board too.

                1. Striperguy - what would you recommend as an alternative to Carpano Classico? I am looking for something similar for a cocktail and its not available in Canada. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: millygirl

                    I don't object to any of the other vermouths that are available in the US and Canada, even Martini, Stock, Dolin, Noilly Prat, etc. All make a perfectly fine Manhattan, etc.