Vermouth: Behind the Enigma

26 March, 2014

Vermouth is an aromatised, fortified wine and some would claim it was the ‘first wine’. Yet to many, especially consumers, it is an unknown quantity. Christian Davis investigates

Vermouth is very much a bartender thing – the consumer is still unsure, so says Shaker UK’s head of training, Amit Sood.

High-profile Italian bartender and global ambassador for Martini, Giuseppe Gallo, bemoans the lack of knowledge about the vermouth category. He tells Drinks International: “It is the most undefined, unexplained category.”He points to classic cocktails such the Martini, Manhattan, Martinez and Negroni in which vermouth is a vital, integral ingredient. As anyone with a passing interest in cocktails will know, the make up of a classic dry Martini and how it came about is the subject of many discussions and arguments.

Author Somerset Maugham says “a Martini should be stirred not shaken”, while Ian Fleming had his James Bond requesting – horror of horrors – a vodka Martini and, famously, that it should be “shaken not stirred” (was there personal animosity between them?).

Ernest Hemingway wanted his gin to vermouth ratio 15:1 while US president Richard Nixon stipulated 7:1. Winston Churchill is said to have just stared at the vermouth bottle while sipping his chilled gin. Yet, despite seeming widespread ignorance about vermouth itself, Gallo and Philip Duff, the well-known Manhattan-based Irish-born beverage consultant, both believe that vermouth is hot. They did a presentation under the auspices of the Vermouth Institute at last year’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Gallo says: “It (the trend) started about two years ago but there has been a lot of interest in the past year to 18 months.”

Duff of Liquid Solutions is director of education for Tales of the Cocktail, owner of Door 74 Amsterdam (#15 in DI’s World’s 50 Best Bars 2013) and winner of World’s Best Presenter in the Spirited Awards 2012.

He says: “The Vermouth Institute is one of the most popular Powerpoint presentations I have ever uploaded to My PPTs were apparently in the top 4% of all Slideshare’s traffic for 2013. It’s been viewed almost 1,700 times since July.”

For those who wish to dig deep and understand chapter and verse about the history and production of vermouth, check out Philip Duff’s hour-plus synopsis  – I recommend it: Also worth checking out is Gallo’s:

Duff says: “Vermouth is indeed the hottest of hot topics right now, driven by the trend for historically accurate mixology, its success with bartenders; and profits for the brand owner of the game-changing Carpano Antica Formula, the craft spirits boom and the cutting-edge trend for low-octane cocktails epitomised by the multiple award-winning NoMad hotel in New York, which has a great low-alcohol cocktail range,” he says.

“I firmly believe there has never been a better time to make, mix with, or drink vermouth. It’ll take about another seven to 10 years for this to hit the high street, by which I mean the sort of wholesale adoption of vermouth cocktails, but the most important groundwork has already been done,” adds Duff.

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