Vermouth: Behind the Enigma

26 March, 2014

Vermouth continues to be significant in its traditional markets of Italy, France (the old kingdom of Savoy encompassing Chambery – an AOC for vermouth in France – and Turin is the home of vermouth) and Spain. But Gallo tells DI that Martini’s most important export market is Russia.

Well-known bartender and author Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan says: “Despite high volume in 2012 – 14,354 9-litre cases (IWSR) – the global vermouth category suffered on the main markets in the last decade from its old and dusty ‘aperitif’ image. 

“However, recently people tend to go back to the roots and we can notice a global trend on lower-alcohol beverage, on vintage products, people willing to consume less but better, hence opening the gate to a premium segment in the vermouth category. This segment drives this ancestral category into making a comeback on the markets, through classic cocktails and vintage aperitifs.

But Duff has a couple of concerns. Firstly, quality. “One disquieting development we have seen – and it’s just the same worry with modern craft spirits – is a ton of vermouths which are, to be frank, badly made. They might be locally produced and environmentally responsible and true to some (possibly apocryphal) historical tradition, but by any standard, they are poorly made. Hopefully, those will go away as the industry matures.”

The other concern is that it is obligatory for European vermouth producers to use wormwood (see panel) – after all, the word vermouth comes from the German word ‘Wermut’ (see/hear Duff and Gallo’s presentations). But that is not the case for US producer.

Duff says: “It’s a complex debate that goes deeper than you think: taste-wise you can argue you can make a vermouth taste bitter without using wormwood – but is it then ‘true’ vermouth? “Other factors muddy the waters, such as the fact that many of the new US vermouth brands are from tiny start-up companies which lack the funds for wormwood safety-testing, a US requirement that can cost $10,000. 

“Rather than choose sides, I think the industry needs a fair-minded working group to sort this out. Imagine the outrage if European gins didn’t have to contain juniper, but American-made ones did,” says Duff.

Now for what bartenders say. Asked about the importance of vermouth to bartenders, Regan replies: “Where would a great Martini be without vermouth? Vermouth benefits from a double culture: the aperitif culture, mainly located in southern Europe where vermouth is enjoyed neat on ice, and the cocktail culture established in North America, Europe and Asia.

“Fitting the innovative and growing premium segment, La Quintinye Vermouth Royal offers a highly qualitative and distinctive liquid for both aperitif drinkers and classic cocktail lovers across the globe,” he says.

Specialist approach

“Innovation is key to undust the category and therefore the premium segment emerges with crafted and qualitative products in markets such as the UK, US, Spain, France, Germany and Singapore. In Spain for instance, Vermuterias are opening through the country, offering a wide selection of vermouth to customers and educating them of the variants between brands. 

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