Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Vermouth Comeback: What You Need To Know

Bartenders are a little like train spotters or twitchers - we just had Tom Cruise to give us a little credibility back in the 1980s.

While some people get their kicks from sitting in the drizzle at Nuneaton station waiting for the 10:16 to Euston, we like to gather in closed bars huddled around the latest release of vermouth and speculate as to which gin to use with it for the next Martini.

This week I have been lucky enough to try not one but two excellent new ranges, La Quintinye and Mancino. While this is not a product review, the release of two brilliant craft ranges is the next step in the increasing resurgence of vermouth and aperitif-style fortified wines, set to continue moving from strength to strength this year.

So, whaddaya know about Vermouth? 

The name itself is a bastardised version of the German word ‘Wermut’ meaning wormwood, one of the obligatory ingredients.  Along with other botanicals (often as many as twenty), this wine, fortified with spirit, is crafted much like gin; blending complex spices, herbs, roots, peels, berries and blossoms to create three distinct styles.

These range from the dry white, softer bianco style through to rich spicy, sweet red vermouths. In former days, it was the drink of choice of the bohemians of Paris and Rome, and vermouth flowed from every bar. Then, like the Roman empire, it faded almost to obscurity (martini and lemonade down The Dog & Duck aside) until the last few years, when it finally started its recovery.

The main reason for its decline could be the appalling way that you would often find vermouth stored, even in the more credible establishments. Imagine a six month old dusty bottle, pour spout in, with spot lamp burning down in a thirty degree Saturday rush. Sound familiar? If it were a bottle of wine you wouldn’t go near it. Wine is indeed what vermouth is and it should be treated as such: although the shelf life is a little longer, it should still be stoppered and refrigerated away from direct light.

The Vermouth Comeback
Photo from LawPireR's photostream
under the CCL

For the last few years those in and around the industry have not so subtly been championing this comeback. And with so many new brands on the market there has never been a better time to get into the category. As recently as a few years ago Martini was about as good as you could hope for. Now the conversation doesn’t end with which gin you want in your Negroni or rye in your Manhattan, but also which vermouth to craft the perfect flavour profile.

Rather than the dash here, splash there, and that ridiculous trend of 'coating the ice' before discarding when making a Martini, bartenders are re-discovering the classics in a big way.  Pre-Prohibition, vermouth was used in a variety of stirred and shaken drinks, and often in equal proportions to the base spirit.  People have started to realise the merits of this forgotten category and use it to mix with again.

And why wouldn’t you? Vermouth can be as complex and intricate as a fine wine, has a low enough ABV to enjoy throughout the day and is a key component to some of the best and most iconic drinks from history.

Where To Buy

 In the same way gin was out of favour in the early nineties and has blossomed into the vogue spirit of the Facebook generation, vermouth has all the potential with a much lower cost. You can pick up a bottle of Punt e Mes, a beautiful spicy sweet vermouth perfect for mixing, for as little as £10.67 at The Drink Shop.

There are plenty others to choose from, but I personally think you can't go wrong with Dolin Dry for your martini (£15.15, The Whisky Exchange) and Cocchi Americano Bianco (£19.25, also Whisky Exchange)to drink, sip and enjoy.  As for the sweet, the Punt e Mes and Cocchi Torino (£19.35, The Whisky Exchange) are fantastic.  As long as it's fresh, you will be amazed how your perception might change.  But you knew that, right?

A Good Place To Start: The Americano

While it may not have taken mainstream bars by storm in the way the Aperol Spritz has, there has definitely been a real upturn in the profile of fortified wines. Personally, I prefer the Americano to the Aperol Spritz anyway: the Campari brings bitterness and complexity, and it's a great low-alcohol thirst quencher.
Photo from Krista's photostream under the CCL


Build over ice:
20ml Punt e Mes
20ml Campari
Top Soda
Big Wedge of orange.

Slide on the Gucci specs and pretend you’re on the set of Roman Holiday...

There'll be another super vermouth cocktail for you to try on Friday, so you have plenty of time to buy a bottle...

Top image from BitBoy's photostream under the Creative Commons License

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