Vermouth: The enlightened side of drinking

03 January, 2019

BIRTHRIGHT

France has as legitimate a claim to birthing vermouth as Italy. Vermouth was born in the Duchy of Savoy, which straddled France and Italy and counted both Italy’s Turin and France’s Chambery as its twin capitals. The dominant French vermouth brand in the World’s 50 Best Bars is unquestionably the Chambery-based Dolin. Managing director Pierre-Olivier Rousseaux confirms sales are surging in the EU, UK and US, but identifies Asia, and especially China, as its fastest-growing market.

Rousseaux says: “I would say 70% [is consumed] in cocktails and 30% straight or with ice, and for that 30% a lot will be in traditional countries such as France and Spain. In China, cocktail culture is just starting – with great potential.”

These numbers and sentiment are echoed by ex-bartender Giancarlo Mancino when he talks about his eponymous brand. Hong Kong-based Mancino distributes his Italian-made vermouth range across Asia. Grazia di Franco, Mancino’s brand ambassador in Asia, credits its success to an on-trade focus, and being responsive to suggestions. Mancino recently introduced a limited-edition sakura (cherry-blossom) infused vermouth, initially exclusively for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo, and now on wider release.

Di Franco notes the power of the spritz serve to convert consumers to craft vermouth. Australian brand Regal Rogue doubles down still further on the spritz trend, with founder Mark Ward crediting the bulk of its growth (and recent Waitrose listing) to the UK’s move towards such vermouth Highballs as a sessionable alternative to the G&T.

VERMOUTH EFFECT

Back in traditional Mediterranean territory, many a producer has cast an eye over their other fortified and aromatised wines and wondered if they too could benefit from the “vermouth effect”. Quinquinas seem a logical choice – there is very little to choose between a quinquina which also contains wormwood, and a vermouth which also contains cinchona, both of which are common occurrences.

One such French quinquina brand, St Raphael, has a history dating to 1830, but after being bought by La Martiniquaise in 2009 the brand was revamped, with new packaging and cooperations with leading French bartenders such as Stephen Martin, who has unearthed information about French mixed drinks that even pre-date the first published use of the word ‘cocktail’ in 1803.

Although international brand manager William Ploquin-Maurell names France, the Benelux and Canada’s Quebec province as the largest current customers for St Raphael, he reports increased interest in quinquina from cocktail bars throughout Europe and the US.

Producers everywhere have taken Seth Godin’s maxim “no niche is too small if you own it” to heart. Ever more niche versions of vermouth are jostling for position in the bar world’s fridges. Cocchi has a vermouth amaro, for example, which is slightly more bitter, at heart a barolo chinato fortified with distilled spirit so that it can rightly be termed a vermouth. Cocchi also sells a barolo chinato, and Del Professore, the spirits and vermouth brand owned by Italian bartender Leonardo Leuci, produces a vermouth al barolo, which both contains the wine and is its ageing cask. Are you confused yet?

LOW-ABV TREND

The low-abv cocktail trend was a boon to vermouth brands, and as it gathers pace, a new competitor to vermouth emerges – non-alcoholic spirits such as Fluère and Seedlip. These ‘spirits’ tend to most convincingly mimic their alcoholic counterparts when combined with carbonated mixers. Craft vermouths sell for similar prices, so it’s even money as to which will get the upper hand. Or maybe vermouth could take a leaf out of Seedlip’s book? Non-alcoholic ‘vermouth’ was apparently produced during Prohibition so firms could still sell to the US, so perhaps non-alcoholic vermouth would be just a case of everything old being new again. Make mine a double.





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