Vermouth is a drink that’s definitely on the rise. For years it’s been relegated to the sorry state of being ‘just’ a cocktail ingredient, but more recently there’s been a resurgence in vermouth being appreciated for itself. However, the most common question we get asked by people wanting to try vermouth is a seemingly simple one – how do I drink it?
At our May end-of-month tasting in our Covent Garden shop, we focused on vermouth – I asked each of the producers how they’d recommend drinking theirs.
My first stop was Lillet which, to throw a spanner in the works, isn’t a vermouth. Rather than using wormwood to add bitterness – a requirement if you want to call your drink vermouth – the producers add quinine, giving a less herbal character. The serving suggestion was simple – just add tonic water. Just as with a Spanish-style gin and tonic, use a big goblet, lots of ice and, if you are using Lillet Rosé or Blanc, lots of fruit to garnish, as if you were making a jug of Pimm’s. A fruity and refreshing long drink that’s perfect for summer barbecues.
Next up was the complete opposite to Lillet – Collector. Rather than centuries of history, it only appeared in 2012, developed by The Ethicurean restaurant in Somerset as its house vermouth. It’s a very sweet drink, with a barley-sugar nose and cherry-forward palate, but the background herbal notes are the stars and the suggested serve amplifies them – pour over ice and simply garnish with a bay leaf. If you’re a sloe gin fan, look no further – this is the after-dinner drink for you.
Continuing the contrasting styles was Vya – one of the few American-made vermouths available in the UK. While the company also makes a spicy sweet vermouth, it was the Extra Dry and lighter Whisper Dry that most impressed me. With a herbaceous nose shot through with spicy hints of German wheat beer and dry sherry, Vya’s dry vermouths are perfect apertifs. If you find fino and manzanilla sherry too dry, then grab a glass of Vya before dinner.
We’ve long been fans of the Cocchi range at TWE, with the Vermouth di Torino picking up our Spirit of the Year award for 2014-15, but again it’s the lighter entries in the range I currently find most interesting. Cocchi Americano is often given as an alternative to the long-discontinued Kina Lillet, made famous by Ian Fleming in James Bond’s Vesper Martini, but it is often overlooked as a drink in its own right. While a crisp glass of Americano straight from the fridge is excellent, it also gives a solid backbone to long drinks – the suggested serve of Bottlegreen Elderflower Cordial, Fever-Tree Tonic and Americano garnished with coriander and cucumber is a great apertif, and can be taken up another notch with a splash of Champagne or prosecco.
In stark contrast to Cocchi’s vermouths is Turin‘s Drapo range. Where Cocchi has a modern take on the category, the Drapo vermouths are very herbal and traditional. If you want to give your Martinis an extra kick of flavour, Drapo Dry is a great place to start. But if you’re looking for a classic Italian after-dinner drink, a chilled glass of Drapo Bianco with a slice of lemon will fit the bill.
The name vermouth comes from the German word for wormwood – wermut – so it makes sense that we are starting to see more releases from the country. Belsazar is the first that we’ve got at The Whisky Exchange and it’s a very exciting range. In stereotypical fashion, they are very carefully researched and put together, with a heavy focus on the wines used as a base for the drink. The whole range is intriguing, offering a wide range of flavour, but as a simple serve, Belsazar Red with tonic, garnished with an orange slice and a pinch of salt, is a winner – bittersweet and rich, with a fruity tang.
My final stop was Regal Rogue, another part of the new wave, drawing on a very non-traditional county’s ingredients – Australia. The vermouths are less sweet than others and are bottled without ageing in wood, giving them a much fresher feel. The Regal Rogue Daring Dry jumped out as a drink to serve simply – chilled with slices of apple and pear. Autumnal and dry, with the fruit adding just enough sweetness.
Vermouth continues to grow and with more than 100 types on The Whisky Exchange website, there’s sure to be something that will fit your palate. From the crisp and dry to the sweet and sticky, there’s a style for everyone – as Georgina from Lillet told me as I took my first sip of the evening, ‘Don’t be scared – just try it.’