It’s an industry that hasn’t seen a huge amount of innovation, and something exciting to be dabbling in. Basically, the thinking is all turned around from winemaking.
For a start, it will not often be drunk by itself. People will add ice, a garnish, mixers, or use it in a cocktail and once they do that, the range of different elements and techniques that they could be using make it hard to determine what people will actually be seeing in your vermouth. Even the simple act of dilution is massive, a couple of drops of water changes everything. We’re really sending a vermouth out into the world where it will be forever out of our control.
So, we go to basics.
Here’s what makes vermouth:
1: Base wine; most specifically it’s quality and how it’ll work with the common flavour profiles it’ll end up with in cocktails. Also weight and texture.
2: Ethanol addition. We’re still working with suppliers on a long-term solution, but the gist is that you just want something neutral, and you need to land the end abv somewhere near 17%, lower and you probably need to add a lot of sulphur, higher and you lose flavour profile, as alcohol has a way of locking it up. A vermouth also tends to play a diluting effect on the alcohol content of cocktails, if you’re mixing something at 17.5% with something 40%, you’re opening the drink up a lot. Low alcohol content is crucial for good vermouth, but in order to make a stable product, I’ve had to make some compromises here (so please, add ice or a few drops of water and you’ll see so much more).
3: Wormwood. Honestly, you pretty much have to use wormwood, but I don’t mind that because I freaking love what it does for vermouth. The tannin extraction is spectacular, and its bittering effect on the vermouth is brilliant. It does turn out that you can’t get high on it though, which was a bit of a bummer.
4: Bittering agents. At the moment I think we’re using Angelica root, Cassia bark, a combination of different tea leaves, and probably some other elements too, we’re also playing with Cinchona, which is used so extensively in vermouth (and heavily in Quinquinas), that surely there must be something to it. I think it’s an issue of scale though that is making it not work for us, but it’ll find it’s way in over time.
5: Aromatics. Citrus, flowers, and other such things. Basically the vermouth has to be quite bitter, and using such robust base wine (compared to the neutral over-cropped Trebbiano almost everyone else is using), we’re building a bit of a beast in order to keep it all in balance, and frankly it’s undrinkable before you add these more refreshing elements. The goal is counterbalance, and creating depth and complexity.
6: Sugar. Again, it’s a thing of balance: bitter and sweet playing back against each other. It’s also a thing of weight and texture, and because of this we’re playing around a lot with exactly how to add the sugar, and it’ll change a lot in time (you’ll only consciously notice it if you’re a geek for these things, otherwise it’ll be a subtle change over time).
7: Texture. This is of enormous importance and partly coming from the wine but bark and tea leaves are spectacular to extract tannic grip from, this is all about balance. A powerful flavour profile needs appropriate weight and texture, or it’ll seem out of whack.
I guess the other thing to touch on is how to drink it, and honestly, I don’t care. It’s there to be tasty, that’s it. Personally I mostly drink vermouth on the rocks with no garnish, so I can see the flavour profile with small but increasing levels of dilution, but put this in an Americano or a Negroni and you’ve got a pretty unique and cool drink, honestly, we’ve done everything we can to make this a smashable and accessible drink without sacrificing quality. Just get some friends together and wing it.