Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vermouth Revolution


We are now in the midst of a vermouth revolution.  Over the years I have enjoyed my share of well made Martini’s, Manhattan’s, or the occasional Negroni, drinks that are synonymous for their use of vermouth.  For some reason this ingredient in my drink really never made me stop to take stock of how it could make/break the integrity of the cocktail.  After our recent tasting, I am humbled to say the least. 

I really owe my curiosity to Jeffery Bergman.  He and his wife had me over for dinner a few months ago and served me a light amber beverage in a small glass over ice and with a twist.  I loved it and was so intrigued by it. When he told me it was vermouth, I about fell off my chair.  We don’t know, what we don’t know and this was a beautiful illumination.  So I started collecting them with the goal to host a tasting. 

A little background and history about this beverage.  Check out http://vermouth101.com/ for more useful information!

Vermouth is a fortified, aromatized wine: the ingredients are wine, herbs and plants, grape spirit and sugar.  The practice of aromatizing wine dates back to the Ancient Greeks.  This was formerly done to mask poor wine or as later to add extra complexity to something already good.  It also proved to be an effective form of early, homeopathic medicine.   The name was derived from the German “Wermut” or Anglo-Saxon “Wermod” (wormwood), a plant with powerful medicinal and psychoactive properties.

From the time of the Romans and perhaps the Greeks wormwood infusions were used to cure intestinal worms.  Because wormwood is extremely bitter, sugar and spices were added.  In the mid 1700’s, in Northern Italy, such infusions began to be drunk as aperitifs.  The first commercial success in 1786 was credited to Carpano from Turin Italy, who began selling a specially processed infusion (his grandmother’s recipe) as vermouth.  Fourteen years later Joseph Noilly of Lyons France created French dry vermouth based on the delicate dry white of the Herault infused with wormwood and local plants such as lavender.  Right up until the 20th century, doctors regularly prescribed Vermouths and aromatized liqueurs for all manner of illness, and many people continue to take a glass per day for medicinal reasons. 

A dozen of us recently blind tasted 20 different vermouths with the categories of extra dry, dry, red, sweet, and Americano (the latter isn’t technically a vermouth but is used in bars as one) and I am working on the results so stay tuned for a  follow-up post.

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