Vermouths and Cocktails

Vermouth is a crucial ingredient in 2 of our favourite cocktails - the Martini and the Negroni.    Vermouth is undergoing something of a revival at the moment, with new brands launching in the UK as well as renewed interest in older styles.  Vermouth is a fortified wine, flavoured with botanicals, which makes it a great pairing for the botanicals in Gin. Firstly - there are 2 kinds of Vermouth - dry and sweet.  Normally dry Vermouths are white, and sweet ones are red. You can get sweet white Vermouths (like Cinzano), but they aren't for us I'm afraid.

For a dry Vermouth we prefer Noilly Prat - easily available in most supermarkets.   For sweet vermouths we prefer Lacuesta, which is a little harder to track down, but worth searching for.   We are also fans of Punt e Mes which is a little more bitter than a standard sweet Vermouth.

Whichever brand you choose we would recommend keeping a decent bottle ech of sweet and dry Vermouth as part of a well stocked cocktail cabinet!

It is possible to make Vermouth at home for the adventurous drinker.   Start with a not very good bottle of dry white wine - you can use an open bottle left over from a party if you are particularly frugal.   Fortify it by adding alcohol - normally Vermouth is made with grape spirit, like Brandy, but you can use vodka if you have some around, and also sugar - depending on how sweet you like you vermouth!

The next step is choosing your botanicals - Vermouth recipes use a very long list of botanicals - a more complex mix than some Gins -typically angelica root, bay leaves, black peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, coriander seed, gentian root, juniper berry, marjoram, nutmeg, orange peel, lemon peel, orris root powder, quassia bark, rosemary, sage, star anise, vanilla pods or dried fenugreek leaf.    Most traditional Vermouth recipes call for Wormwood, however this is a bit toxic, and you can use Mugwort instead.  Select a mix of botanicals reflecting the flavours you like - bitter, sweet, dry or herbal.   Be careful to choose a mix of flavours otherwise you can end up with a drink that is too dry.

There are a number of different methods of adding the botanical flavours - the easiest way is to tie them in a muslin bag, put it in a jar with the wine and spirit and leave it to infuse for a couple of weeks.   A more sophisticated way is to macerate each botanical separately for a week or two and blend each one into the wine to create your chosen flavour.   I prefer to add the botanicals into a pan with the vodka and simmer gently, with a couple of 100 grams of sugar before straining and adding to the wine.

Which ever method you chose leave the Vermouth to stand for a week or 2 to let the flavours combine.

Alongside Vermouths the other essential item in a cocktail cabinet is a bottle of bitters.   As the name suggests these are drinks with a bitter rather than a botanical flavour, and are often mixed with Vermouth in cocktails.  The most famous brands are Campari, Jagermeister and Pimms.   Our favourites are Aperol (which is a bit less bitter than Campari) and Fernet Branca, which has a strong, almost licorice taste.

When you choose which Vermouths and which bitters to combine consider how they work together - for example try making a Negroni with Aperol rather than Campari (which makes it a little less bitter) or using Punt E Mes rather than Martini Rosso.

Happy drinking!