Fortify Your Soul, Pt. 2: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth


Piazza Castelo in Torino, where Carpano’s Herbarium was located.

    In our last post, we discussed more esoteric aspects of vermouth’s main ingredient, wormwood. With this latest installment, we are going to fast-forward out of the Classical Greco-Roman world all the way into the Enlightenment, to where the story of modern vermouth begins: in the year 1786, in the city of Torino (Turin). 

     The legend goes a little something like this: A local resident and herbalist named Antonio Benedetto Carpano began mixing botanical ingredients with local moscatel wines–a common practice designed to make herbal medicines and remedies more palatable. He worked and worked in his little shop, until one day, he came up with a winning formula. His herbarium/wine shop happened to have been located on the Piazza Castelo in Torino, near the palace of King Vittorio Amedeo III, and so Carpano sent a case of his newly christened “vermut” to the king. The king found Carpano’s vermouth to be so excellent he decreed that the customary rosolio (rose petal-infused wine) be replaced with Carpano’s vermouth, thus making it the official “royal drink” of Torino.


         It’s a very fanciful story. What is interesting, though, is how Carpano decided to brand his concoction; “vermouth” is not an Italian word, it is based on the Germanic word wermut for “wormwood.” During the time period that Carpano was perfecting his recipe, the famous Prussian author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was touring Italy, both compiling information on his first, and landmark, scientific work The Metamorphosis of Plants and sight-seeing ancient Greco-Roman architectural sites. As Goethe walked among the ruins of ancient Rome—that first unifying European empire, he searched for the equivalent in the plant world. 


Goethe in Italy.

        Though Goethe did not find the primordial ancestor to contemporary plant life (his research came 80 years before Darwin’s Origin of Species) while in Italy, he may have found an acolyte in the herbalist Antonio Carpano. It is interesting to me that, as noted above, Carpano chose to use the German name for wormwood—the main botanical ingredient in his beverage—as its official title. The fortified wine, as we know, was most likely invented by those same Romans who left such monumental marks on the Italian landscape. Perhaps naming his fortified wine “vermut” was Carpano’s ode to the millennia-old interaction between Italo-Roman and Germanic peoples and a celebration of Goethe’s visit and research. Maybe it was love and admiration at first sip for the herbalist and botanist? 


          Okay, okay . . . enough of the old stories. Let’s talk about some of the tasting notes of Carpano’s vermouth. For the sake of blog post length, we are going to focus on the main brand of Carpano, the one you will most likely find behind your local bar: Carpano Antica Formula. The Carpano website claims that the Antica Formula is the “original recipe” but I think that there are some doubts about that. Either way, the Antica Formula has a light brown or amber color, with vanilla, spiced citrus, clove, raisin, and saffron on the nose. It is rich on the palate with a rounded herbal caramel flavor. Such complexity makes it quite lovely to sip on on the rocks, and it also lends itself as an ideal mixer in spirit-forward cocktails, where one may want to play up subtle notes in say, whiskey or gin, while gently lowering the proof of the cocktail.

           The next time you find yourself at a bar, ask to try this vermouth. It may be familiar to you if you’ve had any of the following cocktails! If you buy a bottle for home use, please remember to keep it refrigerated after you open it, there is a limited shelf life to vermouths. In the recipes below, I have used Carpano Antica in place of traditional, lighter bodied sweet vermouths.


“Classic Manhattan”

2 oz bourbon, rye, or whiskey

1 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

Stir with plenty of ice, and double strain

into martini (or coupe) glass; or into a

rocks glass with a large ice cube. Express

an orange peel around the rim of the

glass. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry if



1 oz London dry gin

1 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

1 oz Campari

Stir with plenty of ice and double strain

into a rocks glass, over a large cube of ice.

Garnish with half of an orange slice.

“Hanky Panky”

1.5 oz London dry gin

1.5 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

2 or 3 dashes Fernet Branca

Stir with plenty of ice, and double strain into

a martini glass or coupe glass. Express an orange

peel around the rim of the glass, and garnish

an orange peel.


1 oz Campari

1 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

1 oz club soda

You can build this simple cocktail right in the glass.

Garnish with an orange slice.




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