The Vichy Cycle cocktail is a sophisticated collaboration of French vermouth and German kümmel with a clever name. Have you ever noticed that some of the best cocktails have clever names? I suppose that’s because it’s easy to be clever when you’re drinking.
I first encountered this drink several years ago at the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle on a rainy evening just before the holidays. I was researching drinks for my book Savory Cocktails and was smart enough to know that Zig Zag Cafe needed to be part of my research. Zig Zag Cafe is my kind of bar – first, because it’s so hard to find, and second, because once you find it you’ll never forget it. At least I didn’t. Nor did I forget the perfectly savory notes of the Vichy Cycle cocktail served to me by Erik Hakkinen. I even included the drink as conceived by Erik in my book.
The drink is defined by the super savory caraway and cumin seed kümmel liqueur. It’s a bold spirit and might be a bit challenging to many palates, but cocktail geeks love it. The past several years have seen an explosion in the popularity of funky herbal liqueurs such as Cynar, Fernet-Branca, and kümmel. They’re all relics of a time when spirits were made by monks and aristocrats and were thought to have medicinal properties.
If you’re scratching your head at every mention I make of kümmel, don’t worry. Kümmel was practically unheard of in North America until this latest cocktail revolution. However, the Brits have always enjoyed it, especially among the “upper-crust”. It seems kümmel is particularly popular with anyone who grew up in a stodgy boarding-school. It crops up in David Niven’s autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon and Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. It even makes an appearance in Ian Fleming’s novel Goldfinger, when “tough cheery men” quaff double kümmels after lunch. GREG