Saturday, November 8, 2008

sweet vermouth

The theme for this month's Mixology Monday (MxMo XXXIII) is "Made from Scratch" as chosen by Doug Winship of the Pegu Club blog (read the wrap up with the other MxMo entries here). Doug writes, "Please mix up a drink which is produced with one or more ingredients that you make yourself, be it bitters, infused liquors, liqueurs, syrups, or even the garnish! Heck, you can go all Hawkeye and Trapper and distill your own Gin if you like. Extra points are awarded for scratch ingredients that replace a specific commercial product. The point is to show how (or if) all that extra work improves your cocktail." This MxMo challenge inspired me to finally getting around to making my own vermouth. It was an idea that I have had for a while which has intensified with my growing botanical collection from my bitters projects.

As a starting point, I had conversations with a few Boston bartenders, including Ben of Drink and Tom of Craigie on Main (formerly of Eastern Standard) and with Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz about Dolan Vermouths (see notes here), in addition to a few online sources (see the bibliography below).

There seems to be about 4 ways to make vermouth which vary in temperature, time, and method for extracting the herbal components and oxidizing the wine. The first is to briefly boil all the wine with the botanicals. The second is to take about a quarter of the volume and simmer it with the herbs for a short time. The third is a longer, unheated extraction. And the fourth is to extract the botanicals separately in high proof alcohol and add them drop-wise to the wine to reach the desired effect; this fourth way is apparently how many of the larger commercial houses make it these days. The only common botanical in recipes is wormwood which is how the beverage was named after the German word for it, Wermut(h). Some recipes have only a few while others have twenty-something ingredients.

Most vermouths are made from white wine -- even the sweet vermouths, save for Punt e Mes, Carpano Antica, Barolo Chinatos, and a few others. The dark color in most sweet vermouths is not imparted from the grape skins but from caramelized sugar and the botanicals. A common wine to start from is Trebbiano.

Two last components to discuss before I launch into how I did my batch are brandy and sugar. Vermouths are fortified wines so a high proof alcohol such as brandy (although I have seen recipes that use vodka) is used to bring the alcohol content up to 15-18%. The higher alcohol content helps to stabilize the contents better over time. Vermouths are also sweetened. Dry vermouths often have under 7% residual sugar left and sweet vermouths are up to 15%. For other information about vermouth, including their history and other alternative recipes, please consult the links below.
I placed the following herbs into a pot:

• 1 tsp of each: wormwood
• 1/2 tsp of each: gentian, elder flower, chamomile, anise seed, tansy, dried orange peel
• 2 pinch of each: angelica root, fennel seed, peach leaf
• 1 pinch of each: lavender flower, betel nut, dandalion leaf, sassafras root bark, burdock root, thyme, oregano, basil, centaury
• 1/2 pinch of each: licorice root
• 1 whole clove, 1/2 small cinnamon stick

Added 200 mL of wine to the pot. The wine I used was a 750mL bottle of 2007 Cavit Pinot Grigio since I did not see any Trebbiano wines where I was shopping that day.

I brought the wine-botanical mix up to a boil and simmered it covered for 10 minutes.

I let it cool for 75 minutes, and filtered through a strainer over a coffee filter.

For the caramelized sugar, I heated up 2 oz sugar (by volume) until medium-dark brown. I added 2 oz of boiling water to the molten sugar to make a caramelized simple syrup.

To the wine bottle, I poured out some into a glass (besides the 200 mL from before) to be added later. I added 4 oz of 80° brandy (to bring the alcohol up to approximately 16%), the caramelized simple syrup, and the filtered aromatized wine concentrate. I topped off the bottle with the wine I poured off.

Lastly, I added sugar to taste: 1/2 oz by volume seemed sufficient.
Upon tasting the vermouth straight, Andrea and I found it extremely drinkable. Andrea liked the "more-than-cinnamon" taste, whereas the botanical that stood out for me was the lavender flower. Nothing seemed out of balance and overpowering. I found myself drinking it unmixed in ways that I never find myself doing with store bought brands. Appearance-wise, I was a little disappointed with the color; I should have either caramelized the sugar longer to a darker color or added more to the mix. The end result was not as dark as a sweet vermouth but not as light as a bianco (a sweet white vermouth). And finally, instead of an hour of post-simmer extraction (many recipes do not even include that much of a cooling period), I might consider letting it go over night to bring out more flavor. However, while mine was no Vya, it did turn out comparable to Noilly Prat in intensity.

With the vermouth, we made 3 cocktails:
Fourth Degree (from the Old Waldorf Bar Days book as well as Imbibe!)
• 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
• 2 oz Plymouth Gin
• 1 dash Absinthe (Le Pastis d'Autrefois)
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Twist a lemon peel over the top and discard.
This cocktail while delightful was not the best way to appreciate the vermouth since my dash of pastis was a bit too heavy handed and its flavors masked that of the vermouth's. So a few nights later we made another:

Marconi Wireless
• 2 oz Calvados or Applejack
• 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
• 1 dash Orange Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
We made it once with Calvados and once with applejack. While it was pleasing using either base spirit, the winner was the third recipe we made yet another night:
San Martin (from the Boothby's World Drinks and How to Mix Them book)
• 1/2 oz Gin (Jonge Genever)
• 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
• 1 barspoon Yellow Chartreuse
Stir with ice and strain into a small cocktail glass. Twist a lemon peel over the top and discard.
The combination of the malty genever gin and the sweet herbalness of the yellow Chartreuse complemented my vermouth in ways that brought out different botanicals well. The San Martin and drinking the vermouth alone on ice made this MxMo project all worthwhile for me. The idea of making a 2:1 rye Manhattan with a Luxardo maraschino cherry was one of my original ideas to show case this vermouth before I got distracted by gins. Fear-you-not, it is on my agenda.



Anonymous said...

Nice...I'll be making some today! Can't wait to try a negroni!

Anonymous said...

nice work. i wish more people would mess with making vermouth. a big secret about many vermouths is that besides conventional botanicals, many are aromatized with dried fruits for more flavor contrast... barolo chinato and probably carpano antica use the technique.

a great and very thorough guide to producing vermouth is in maynard amerine's "technology of wine making"


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