As a middle child, I tend to be particularly sensitive to the overlooked, the ignored, and the forgotten. With this in mind, I will cook with fennel when I’d prefer zucchini, shop at Marshall’s when T.J. Maxx is around the corner, and most recently, jump at the opportunity to try out a new vermouth. Vermouth is often thought of as just an ingredient in a martini or Manhattan — but Adam Ford Atsby Vermouth has set out to show that vermouth is, like us middle children, so much more interesting when considered alone.
Vermouth falls somewhere in between a spirit and a wine, and it’s not exactly either. Made from fortified wine and flavored with botanicals like flowers, roots, bark, and herbs, the result is a drink that, when made correctly, is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Ford discovered vermouth while hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, one of Europe’s most popular long distance walks, traversing Switzerland, Italy, and France. The experience was so eye-opening, it inspired a company. “This event happened to coincide with a time in my life where I had drank more wine than I care to admit, and frankly, I was getting bored with it,” Ford tells us. “I really enjoy cocktails, obviously, but more times than not, I wanted a drink that was packed with enigmatic flavors but wasn’t so boozy. Having that glass of vermouth in Courmayeur [Italy] made me realize there was something more interesting to drink than anything I had ever had.”
But perhaps even more surprising than the taste of the good stuff, Ford discovered that nobody in the U.S. was making “a delicious, sippable vermouth.” And so, being the high achiever that he is (in addition to being a vermouth maker and entrepreneur, Ford is also a litigator and father), Ford decided to make his own. “The result is my two signature expressions, a dryer, floral vermouth called Amberthorn and slightly-sweeter bourbon-hued one, called Armadillo Cake.” (One sip of the Armadillo Cake straight and you’ll wonder why anyone would mix it with something else.)
Atsby Vermouth was not born in a vacuum. New York has been doing its part to put itself on the craft spirits map with distilleries opening all over the state, and vermouth has its own special history here in the city. “In the 1950s, the largest vermouth production facility in America used to be right in midtown New York,” Ford says. But while Atsby’s offices are in Manhattan’s Hudson Square, production happens in Mattituck on the picturesque North Fork of Long Island. However, Ford adds, “it has always been a company goal to one day purchase that same midtown spot and once again have our country’s largest facility there.”
It wasn’t enough for Ford, though, to make a high quality, delicious, old fashioned aperitif with aspirations of revitalizing an entire industry. Ford also respects terroir, sourcing 95 percent of his ingredients (mostly grapes) from within New York State. “We’re right in the middle of New York’s top viticultural area, and we source our grapes from a local grower out there,” Ford says. “It’s as beautiful as Napa out on the North Fork and a great place to produce vermouth.”
Spoken like a true middle child (oh yes — Ford is one too), he refuses to take all the credit for himself. “Team Atsby is made up of an entire team of great people,” he explains. “Jill Filipovic, who writes for the Guardian and Al Jazeera, and runs a political blog, and Jim Rich, a talented actor, are just two of the people who have helped make Atsby what it is today.”