What has happened to Vermouth?

Sophisticated, stylish, elegant. They said it was all we needed - Isn’t it amazing how life changes and we quickly forget. 

[Cue music] –
‘Any time, any place, anywhere,...it’s the right time ...for Martini! 

- ha ha are you singing along like me? 

Along with the glamour of those adverts do you remember those marvellous ones in the 70’s & 80’s where Leonard Rossiter made a very good living, mostly by ‘spilling’ Cinzano Bianco down the front of a marvellously dressed and coiffured Joan Collins? Didn’t you always, but always catch your breath 

A vermouth, is what we call ‘an Aperitif’ and made from a fortified and aromatized wine that is flavoured with various ‘botanicals’ [roots, barks, flowers, herbs and such]. It appeared first in Turin in the late 18th Century where it was served around the clock in the bars and cafés of smart society. By the 19th Century vermouth had become popular with many bartenders who used them as a key ingredient of cocktails with many becoming classics that have survived today. Even if you don’t drink, most of us will know of the Martini, Negroni and of course the Manhattan to name but three. 

The original company of Martini, Sola & Cia was founded 1863 in Turin and by 1879 the name changed to Martini & Rossi as it is still known today. To me a ‘Martini’ is actually a cocktail made using gin and Noilly Prat a dry French vermouth, but as time moved on the marketing boys cleverly made their company name THE big brand and Martini as we know it today became famous for its range of Italian vermouths. Whilst the original company is still in Turin it is made under licence all over the world. 

Noilly Prat comes from near to Marseille and is one of the earliest vermouths starting off in 1850. It is made in a slightly different way in that its base wine starts off by being stored in large Canadian Oak casks for 8 months when it is transferred outside to smaller barrels for a year. Here they are exposed to the sun, wind and low winter temperatures. 

Back inside the warehouse and over a period of 3 weeks, the now dry wine is blended with mistelle [grape juice] and at the same time the maceration with botanicals takes place. 

Another French vermouth, Lillet Blanc was briefly brought back to popularity when Daniel Craig became ‘James Bond’ and stated that his Dry Martini was to be made using Lillet. Sales instantly rocketed as you might guess (LOL). The red style is quite superb in a Manhattan too!! Mind do use it cautiously as these lovely drinks are ‘lethal’ – ha ha ha. 

Today a very popular Vermouth is Aperol and at just 11%, mostly served with ice and is regularly used with Prosecco and or soda for an ‘Aperol Spritz’. Made from Italian aperitif made of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona among other ingredients it is made by the Campari company with many similarities but a much lower alcohol 

One last things to mention is the alcoholic strength of Vermouths. Most are made and served at between 16% and 18% but here in UK the ‘popular’ brands were reduced to 14.5% to lower the Excise Duty. This has the effect of making it more like a ‘fuller flavoured wine’ than almost a spirit as it is intended. But there we are, what do I know – not a lot... 

Have fun folks, try some cocktails of your own but do it responsibly please. Andrew [andrewh@georgehill.co.uk