“Dare to break away from dry cocktails and rediscover vermouth, the spirit that started it all”.
-Adam Ford (founder of Atsby New York Vermouth).
Are you looking for an easy to make, affordable and delicious drink to have before any meal? The one you can surprise your friends with? Yet, you won’t tell them but it took you only a few minutes to prepare and you just couldn’t fail at it.
Noilly Prat, Punt E Mes, Martini, Dolin, Cinzano… Are any of these names familiar to you? No, it’s not only your grand-father favorite drink, this is Vermouth.
What was once America’s most glamorous drink, vermouth is the next big thing in the wines & spirits world. Used in the mix of the best cocktails menus around the world, vermouth has a rich history that has to be told. But first, let’s start with the basics. What is Vermouth?
VERMOUTH IS FIRST AND FOREMOST AN APERITIF WINE
“Vermouth is one of the most versatile tools in a bartender’s palette. It can add body and complexity to spirit-based cocktails. And it can be served on its own with the addition of very little other flavors.”
-Aaron Paul, Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group beverage director, San Francisco.
This means that its main objective is “to open the appetite”.
The basic ingredient is wine. A wine that has been fortified and aromatized with a variety of herbs and spices to add flavors and color to it. Usually, vermouth producers will use spices and herbs from their own region making it a local speciality.
Fortified means that the alcohol content has been increased with the addition of a spirit, in general, a neutral grape brandy.
Aromatized means that the wine has been infused with various botanicals (bitter roots, herbs, barks and spices).
The process of making vermouth is tedious, each producer keeping secret their own recipe of herbs and botanicals.
Aperitif wines are in general a little higher in alcohol than wine and less than spirits (between 13–24% alcohol by volume).
THE FUN STORY BEHIND VERMOUTH
The word Vermouth didn’t appear out of thin air. It comes from the French pronunciation of the German “wermut” which means wormwood in English.
The consumption of fortified wines macerated with herbs and roots has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. It was believed that wormwood was excellent to heal stomach disorders.
So fortified wines with infused wormwood used to help settle the stomach are what started vermouth.
In 1786, Italian Antonio Benedetto Carpano created in Turin the first sweet vermouth.
The dry version appeared in 1800 in France, created by Joseph Noilly.
Italy and France share the tradition of producing wine and the various botanicals necessary to produce vermouth which explains the reason why the versions of vermouth as we know it today started in these parts of the world.
In the mid-1800s, vermouth started to be sold worldwide as an aperitif. The harbors of Marseilles, Genova, Venice, and even Barcelona played key roles for the importation of exotic botanicals and the export of the product to new markets, particularly the Indies (Americas).
Vermouth became popular primarily as an apéritif, eventually finding its way in the bar scene as a key cocktail ingredient around the turn of the century.
Before the Prohibition in the United States, vermouth was so popular that its sales outnumbered wine!
Vermouth is originally from France and Italy but today we can find delicious vermouth in Spain, UK and the United States.
VERMOUTH EXISTS IN FOUR DIFFERENT STYLES
· Sweet Red (mostly Italian, Red or “Rosso”)
· Dry (mostly French, white)
· Sweet White (or Bianco)
It exists a broad of styles today, and their diversity is steadily increasing.
The interest in aromatized wine and aperitifs continues to grow along with the number of producers committed to adding another different style of the drink into the mix.
For instance, Adam Ford is proud to make Atsby, a vermouth from New York state.
LET’S GET PRACTICAL
The best brands to look for when shopping
Carpano, Cinzano, Dolin, Noilly Prat, Punt e Mes (sweet), Tribuno are good brands to start with.
Most of them are in general reasonably priced ($10–25 750 ml) and you will find them near sherries and ports sections in any liquor stores.
Its variety of taste will amaze you
Its taste can be defined by different components such as bitterness, sweetness, acidity and its botanical profile.
Even in the past, at its beginning, it was rarely enjoyed straight. The addition of soda, tonic, or any other alcohols is best to enjoy it.
If you’re curious in simply enjoying Vermouth to really taste it, try it with some soda with a twist of orange or lemon.
There are countless cocktails and mixed drinks that employ vermouth such as the classic Gin Martini (with dry vermouth) and the Manhattan (sweet vermouth).
It’s easy to store it for a few months in your fridge
You can keep it for a few months, if stored in the refrigerator, away from light, using a “wine pump” or inert gas system in order to reduce the oxygen in the bottle.
Just for your to know, quinquina and americano are not a vermouth
Other wine aperitifs like “Quinquina” and “Americano” are not vermouth even if many consider them as such.
Quinquina defining flavor is quinine and Americano gentian and wormwood. Americano refers to the word “amer” (bitter).
The best place in the world to experience vermouth the right way
This is very common in the Catalan capital to « fer el vermut » in other words sipping on vermouth while nibbling on tapas with your friends.
This is a ritual, an essential part of life for the Catalans.
“La hora del vermut“ — the time for vermouth — starts in the early afternoon, around midday and is traditionally enjoyed as a pre-lunch aperitif.
You can order vermouth almost anywhere in Barcelona.
Travel to Barcelona or choose to practice at home this weekly Catalonian tradition. Enjoy with your friends and family a glass of vermouth peppered with a spray of seltzer and an olive or two.
Surprise yourself by being your own mixologist and make fancy cocktails at home
The classic Manhattan (Old Standard, c. 1884)
1½ oz straight rye or bourbon whiskey*
1½ oz red vermouth
1–2 dashes orange bitters, Angostura Bitters or Peychaud’s Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
*For best results, use a 100-proof or 101-proof whiskey.
The Rob Roy, Negroni and Martini are other famous classic cocktails that use vermouth as a key ingredient.
Vermouth is a fantastic addition to your bar, an amazing cocktail ingredient that has been ignored for too long.
Let’s stop this nonsense and start playing with discovering the many ways to enjoy it.