Our Notes from the Field: We spend a good amount of time out in the market; it’s one of the perks of the job! We’ll be writing about what we’re seeing in the industry, both on the store shelves and in our bars and restaurants. This is the first issue!
Vermouth on the Rise
We’re seeing a much wider range of vermouth and bitters on the back bars, both from artisan producers in the US, and new imports from Europe and beyond. Bars and restaurants are emphasizing these exciting new products, and we’re seeing lots of lighter, aperitif-style cocktails popping up. It continues to be an exciting time for us cocktail nerds, and this style of drink is great for spring and summer, when you want to drink lighter.
Vermouth arose as an appetite stimulating tonic containing wormwood (the German word for wormwood is wermut, and is source of the name). From the very birth of classic cocktails, vermouth was embraced as a cocktail ingredient – it contributes bitter, herbal and sweet notes, and aids in reducing a drink to a more civilized proof. Without it, a Martini is simply gin (or vodka).
Typically, vermouth begins as wine. The winemaker infuses the wine with herbs, fruits and spices, including wormwood, and then adds a bit of higher proof spirit to raise the proof. Finally, some sugar is added – the amount varies depending on the style vermouth, and can range from a very small amount to a goodly quantity.
Styles of Vermouth
There are two common styles seen in the US, and a third that is worth exploring:
- Dry vermouth is prized for its bitter notes, and has a minimal amount of sugar added. This is what you use for your Martinis.
- Sweet vermouth is known for its herbal complexity and sweetness – quite a bit more sugar is added, and richer, deeper spices are often used. This is what you’d use for a great Manhattan.
- Lesser known in the US is the white vermouth style, which is different from dry. This style is often referred to as blanc or bianco style, and is actually the most popular style in Europe. These vermouths have more sugar than dry vermouths, but less than a sweet vermouth, with rich, herbal complexity. They are great in cocktails, but many are delicious to sip alone over ice.
Each producer puts his or her own stamp on vermouth, and some areas have regional styles of production as well. If you haven’t done so already, you really should try a range of vermouths – they really do taste different between the brands and some of them are incredible.
New Vermouths on the Scene
Many of the newer vermouths are more distinctive in flavor, and many older brands are releasing classic formulas that have been off the market, and which have a bit more personality, with round bitter bite, or soaring floral notes. Some are made by established wineries, while others are made by entrepreneurs who have a passion for vermouth.
Treat it Right
Don’t forget, vermouth has a relatively short shelf life. It most certainly has gotten a bad rap because many are kept for months (or longer!), and have gone bad. Keep yours in the fridge after you open it, and plan to use it within a month! Take a page out of our book and go on a Martini mission (done over the course of several nights/weeks) – find the perfect Martini recipe using a specific gin and a specific vermouth combination. Go crazy and try it 2:1 (gin to vermouth), all the way to 8:1 and see where it’s best!