For all the products returned to prominence by the cocktail renaissance, vermouth still gets treated like a boring relative you must host for a family gathering - they may have to be there but there’s not a lot interesting about them.
But as the many Manhattan and Martini variants that require quality vermouth become essential drinks once again, many bartenders have turned to the broader variety of vermouths now available. For example, French brand Dolin, virtually unknown here ten years ago, is almost de rigueur now at cocktail-focused bars, and the broader the choice, the more interested drink makers become.
You can expect to see more brands, both small and large, in your salesperson’s bag. Take Ransom's Sweet and Dry Vermouths, said to be the only vermouths made with wormwood in the US. The distiller, Tad Seestedt, follows old European recipes that call for wormwood and quinate bark, and does all the wine making, distilling and infusion in house; Ransom even grows most of their own botanicals on a farm adjacent to the distillery. The sweet vermouth, starting with a blend of gewürztraminer, muscat, riesling and pinot gris, gets house-made brandy to fortify but in addition to wormwood is infused with sarsaparilla, sassafras, wild cherry bark, cinchona, dandelion root, hibiscus, cardamom, verbena - many, many more, including figs, dates, vanilla and cacao nibs. It’s less bitter and more spicy than many classic vermouths, but difference is the point, isn’t it?
Another recent introduction, La Quintinye Royal, is claimed by producers to be the only Pineau des Charentes-based vermouth, made with white wines of southwest France. Pineau des Charentes – a fortified wine made by mixing fresh grape juice and Cognac from a single estate – and a composition of botanicals including wormwood, vine flowers, angelica, iris roots, cardamom, cinnamon, cinchona, bitter orange, ginger, licorice, nutmeg and quassia amara - are the base for three vermouths in their line - Rouge, Blanc and Extra-Dry. The extra dry is lighter and less bitter than many European vermouths, minty and thyme-like, and quite refreshingly different.
The major US supplier - Martini & Rossi - has taken notice, releasing earlier this year Martini Riserva Speciale, a new crafted style of Vermouth di Torino with two expressions, Rubino and Ambrato, paying tribute to the original methods used by the first Martini master herbalist more than 150 years ago, and they include three different types of artemisia that grow in the nearby fields of Pancalieri in Piemonte. The Ambrato is quite floral and expressive, with that martini oregano character backed with a rounded citrus sweetness that makes it stand out.
Millennials especially are interested in learning while they drink, and with both international and regional vermouths becoming more widely available, it’s a good time to rethink which vermouths you serve - and how.