Food & Wine (April 2016)
We first wrote about vermouth after our trip to Spain last year. It was the first time we'd ever seen people drinking it as a standalone beverage rather than as an ingredient in a more complicated cocktail.
We loved the vermouth we drank in Spain: Bitter and herbal and slightly sweet, it was incredibly refreshing served alone, over ice.
Back then, we predicted that vermouth might become our drink of the summer. And it sort of did: We found a D.C.-made vermouth that we really enjoy. It's called Capitoline -- we fell in love first with the label and then, in short order, with the drink itself.
When we saw a recipe in the latest Food & Wine for a make-at-home vermouth, we wanted to try it for ourselves.
First things first: Where were we going to find wormwood root?
It quickly became apparent that this wasn't going to be a cheap drink.
The alcohol alone -- three bottles of rosé wine, a bottle of brandy and a bottle of ruby port -- will set you back at least $45, probably more. (In place of the ruby port, we actually subbed in some madeira we had left over from that Knockout Punch we made a while ago. That may have been a mistake. More on that in a minute.) The other ingredients aren't thrifty either -- all those fresh fruits and herbs add up.
All in all, we spent about -- oh, Lord -- about $83 on this vermouth. And that's not even including the port or vanilla or ground ginger, all of which we had on hand (or substituted for). Granted, many of the ingredients here only call for a very small amount, but obviously it's not like you can purchase just 4 leaves of rosemary, or just 2 teaspoons of wormwood.
Oh, and where did we find that wormwood root? Amazon, which is also where we procured the gentian root and the bitter orange peel. Beyond the cost, this recipe involved two grocery stores, three liquor stores (our bodega corner liquor store was fresh out of "unaged clear Brandy, preferably French") and one Amazon order. It also takes more than two days to pull this together.
But no matter! We were excited to try our hand at vermouthing. (That's a word, right?)
We invited our friends Jason and Bob over for pre-dinner drinks last Thursday.
We poured the vermouth over ice.
We each took a sip.
It was not very good. It tasted like candy. Straight up candy. It was like drinking cherry Gatorade with some very, very slight herbal notes from the wormwood et cetera.
Jason and Bob were exceedingly polite about it. But nobody asked for a second glass.
What did we do wrong? We'll cop to a couple things that may have influenced the outcome:
-- The aforementioned maderia-swapping. True, both a maderia and a ruby port are sweet wines made in Portugal. We thought they would swap just fine, but maybe that made a difference. (On the other hand, we can't believe it made too much of a difference: A ruby port is awfully sweet as well.)
-- The rosé. We specifically bought a rosé that was mostly a Spanish Garnacha, as per the recipe's suggestion. But we didn't taste the wine before we made the vermouth. It's possible that we selected a too-sweet rosé. If you want to try making this vermouth, we suggest finding a rosé that you already know to be bone-dry.
Did either of those really make a huge difference in the finished product? Maybe so. But we have a feeling this would have been too sweet for our tastes even if we'd gone strictly by the recipe. After all, one step of this recipe is that you make a caramel using more than two cups of sugar.
We're very glad to have tried our hand at making vermouth! But next time we'll save ourselves 48 hours and about 50 bucks, and buy a bottle from the store.
Here's your assignment: we now have several large bottles of this vermouth in our fridge. How can we use so as to temper the sugar? Have a cocktail suggestion? Some other use? Let us know in the comments.
Total time: 50 mins, plus 2 days infusing time
Makes 3 quarts
NOTE FROM ZACH & CLAY OF THE BITTEN WORD: To avoid an overly sweet vermouth, make sure you choose a very dry rosé.
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 1/4 cups unaged (clear) brandy, preferably French
2 3/4 cups sugar
4 small rosemary leaves
7 small sage leaves
2 teaspoons oregano leaves
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon bitter orange peel
2 teaspoons wormwood root
1/2 teaspoon gentian root
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
One 1 1/2-inch piece of vanilla bean
Three 750-ml bottles (9 1/2 cups) rosé, preferably Spanish Garnacha
1 cup ruby port
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
In a glass jar or pitcher, cover the sliced strawberries with the brandy and let macerate for 2 days at room temperature; the strawberries should be completely submerged.
Strain the infused brandy through a cheesecloth-lined sieve; discard the strawberries.
In a large nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar with 1/4 cup of water and cook over moderately low heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and a medium-amber caramel forms, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the strawberry-infused brandy; the caramel will harden. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the caramel is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
In a nonreactive medium saucepan, combine the rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, bitter orange peel, wormwood, gentian, ginger, vanilla bean and 3 cups of the rosé. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the port.
Add the infused port and the remaining 61/2 cups of rosé to the strawberry-brandy caramel syrup. Stir in the orange zest and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
Strain the vermouth through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Pour into bottles and refrigerate. Serve the vermouth as an aperitif or over ice, or use it in a cocktail.
MAKE AHEAD The vermouth can be refrigerated for 4 months.