Several months ago I had to drop off some equipment at a colleague’s house not far from where I live in Long Beach. It was late in the afternoon when I arrived, and after transferring the goods into my co-worker’s truck, he and his wife invited me to join them on their poolside patio for a glass of wine. I had a funeral I was supposed to be getting dressed for, but I couldn’t turn down an offer like that. Once inside Tom’s kitchen he asked me if I would like red wine or some vermouth on the rocks. He informed me that his family is of French descent and that they always drink vermouth on the rocks. He also let me know that the last time he was over there in the old country visiting his family he had made a habit out of drinking the stuff as well.
I politely declined the vermouth and opted for the red wine.
Since that day I’ve been asking myself why I didn’t go for the vermouth. Was it because I like to stick to the tried and true, or was it because I’d been brain washed by our “vermouth=the devil” cocktail culture. I’ve always heard vermouth referred to like a toxic substance or something to be used so sparingly in drinks that one could hardly taste it. Why would I want to drink a whole glass of something like that, and what is it anyway?
Turns out vermouth isn’t so scary after all, and is actually quite drinkable once you open your mind to it. The sweet (and original) version of vermouth is an aromatized wine which was developed by an Italian named Antonio Benedetto Carpano in the late 1700’s. It was named after the word “wermut”, which in modern German means both vermouth and wormwood. Sweet vermouth was originally produced by infusing any number of herbs and botanicals in a fortified white wine and adding sugar to sweeten it up and counteract the bitter flavor.
Not long after sweet vermouth came along, dry vermouth followed. It was invented by the French about 14 years later, utilized their dry white wines, and rarely had any sugar added. This is the primary vermouth used to make martinis these days.
The following recipe creates a fairly dry vermouth. If you wish to create a sweet vermouth simply caramelize some sugar until deep brown and add it to the vermouth once all is said and done. Add a little at a time until you reach your desired sweetness.
- 5 pinches coriander
- 1 pinch spearmint
- 1 pinch sage
- 2 pinches burdock root
- 3 juniper berries
- 3 pinches dried orange peel (bitter preferred)
- 1 pinch scullcap
- 2 pinches Pau d’Arco bark
- 1 pinch oregano
- 2 pinch dandelion root
- 1/2 stick cinnamon
- 1 star anise
- 1 pinch cardamom seeds
- 2 pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 pinch sweet basil
- 1 pinch rosemary
- 2 pinches chamomile
- 1 pinch angelica root
- 1 piece gentian root
- 1 small pinch quinine
- 1 pinch Marjoram
- 2 pinches fennel seeds
- 2 pinches ground ginger
- 1 pinch bay leaf
- 4 cloves
- 1 pinch saffron
- 1 red chili berry
- 3 black pepper corns
- 5 drops wormwood extract
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 2 tsp. white sugar
- 1 bottle dry white wine
- 150 ml. Cognac, or cheap brandy depending on your budget
- Extra 750 ml. bottle with screw cap
- cheese cloth or coffee filter or tee shirt
- Measure out all the herbs and the sugar into a small sauce pan.
- Open the bottle of white wine.
- Cover the herbs in white wine, about 200 ml.
- Simmer for about 10 minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally, then let cool.
- Add 140 ml. of Cognac to the empty bottle.
- Add the remaining wine to the new bottle leaving a couple of inches at the top for the infusion.
- Fit your filter material into your funnel and filter the cooled infusion. Make sure to squeeze out all of the juice.
- Add the wormwood extract to the filtered infusion.
- Add half of the infusion to the new bottle and shake it up to mix thoroughly.
- Taste the concoction to see if it’s strong enough. If it’s not, add the rest of the infusion to the mixture.
- If you think it needs more of a certain herb, simply add some more of that herb to the sauce pan, cover it with a dose of the vermouth mixture, boil, filter, add back to bottle.
- Refrigerate the bottle after you’ve finished taste testing and adjusting the vermouth to your personal tastes.
- Any mixture of herbs and botanicals can be used. The ones I listed are just suggestions, most of which are easily available at Whole Foods or similar stores. You may need to mail order herbs like: gentian, angelica root, and quinine from a place like this.
- This (or any alcoholic) beverage shouldn’t be consumed by lactating or pregnant mothers.
- Thank you Darcy at The Art of Drink for giving me some guidance and inspiration on this project.