Do you honestly know what vermouth is? Feel free to admit it if you don’t. Any cocktail aficionado worth his or her salt enjoys at least one drink that features vermouth as a key ingredient, but few people under the age of 35 really know what that means. To many, it’s just some kind of drink or liquor or wine or whatever from a bygone age—you know, Frank Sinatra and martinis and all that.
Well, as we have already pointed out, vermouths are making a comeback. Winemakers across the country are starting to make specialty and small batch vermouths that are highly drinkable on their own as well as components of high-end cocktails. Vermouths have a long history and tradition, and they’re well worth learning about.
We received our education from Christopher Tracy, head winemaker and partner at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, Long Island. In 2001, after a varied career as a food writer, sommelier and chef in the New York culinary scene, Christopher started making wines at Channing Daughters. Then in 2004, he began to develop the winery’s own signature vermouths.
Vermouth has been around since the 17th century where it was served mainly as a European aperitif. However, by the turn of the 20th century, it was a hugely popular drink in New York City. Vermouth is a fortified white wine. As Tracy explained to us, winemakers create a low-alcohol white wine and then add grape brandy, which raises the alcohol level to 16, 17 or 18 percent alcohol. Then, the wine is steeped in different aromatics and botanicals—basically assorted roots, vegetables, spices and flowers—and bottled.
Over the past year or two, Tracy has noticed restaurants (mainly Spanish, but certainly in others too) beginning to serve and pour vermouth by the glass. New York hot spots like Roberta’s in Brooklyn are incorporating Channing Daughters vermouth into their very own cocktail recipes. In fact, famed mixologist Jim Meehan, has included Channing Daughters vermouth into his Third Marini, which is prominently placed on the cocktail menu in the brand new Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia Airport.
At Channing Daughters, Tracy makes five different Vervino Vermouth variations. Each is flavored with 40 different botanicals, 20-30 of which are unique to a specific variation. By drinking his vermouths, Tracy wants his patrons to have the feeling of “walking through the seasons.” Variation 1 is supposed to give off the seasonal effect of spring, so the wine is steeped with parsley, rosemary, fennel, sage and rose among other aromatics and botanicals. Variations 2 and 3 should give the drinker a taste of summer, so chili peppers, beets, arugula and blueberries are among the flavors. Variations 4 and 5 will bring to mind late summer and fall.
When it comes to vermouth, there’s not one specific taste or trait to look for. As Tracy says, “It’s all about balance. Balance of alcohol, the length the flavors last in your mouth.” For new and seasoned vermouth drinkers alike, he recommends trying the wine by itself, chilled in a glass. From there, you can move on to a fuerta—vermouth poured over ice with a twist. Then you can try a few simple concoctions: vermouth and lemonade, vermouth and tonic, a reverse martini (4-5 parts vermouth and 1 part gin or vodka). The point is these vermouths are complex and with an abundance of flavors that should be on full display.
The vermouth trend is gaining steam. Why don’t you get in on the ground floor? Pick up a bottle of Channing Daughters and see exactly why this age-old drink is coming into fashion once again.