As with so many forms of our dear friend alcohol, vermouth was originally intended as medicine. But like bitters and brandy, the fortified wine soon became a staple in Europe's bars, both as a straight tipple and as an indispensable cocktail mixer.
And now, thanks to the craft cocktail revolution, people are starting to rediscover the awesome powers of good vermouth, rather than relegate it to the back of the liquor cabinet like so many mostly full bottles of Frangelico.
Masa Urushido and Nacho Jimenez, the head bartenders at Manhattan's Saxon + Parole, recently stopped by the MUNCHIES Kitchen to show us how vermouth is made.
Good news: It's simple as hell.
In fact, if you're one of those people who gets all DIY around the holidays, you can't go wrong gifting a bottle of this. Your coworkers already have more than enough decoupaged mugs full of aromatherapeutic soaps, thank you very much. Booze is a helluva lot more useful, and fun.
Vermouth is a fortified wine, so the first ingredient is, of course, wine. Urushido and Jimenez selected a dry, high-acid Riesling to get the job done.
Then come the botanicals. As with bitters, there's no single definitive recipe for vermouth, so making some substitutions probably won't spoil your batch. For this one, Urushido and Jimenez used wormwood (for absinthe-y bitterness), lemongrass (citrus-y), angelica (sweet and anise-y), grapefruit and lemon peels (yet more citrus), licorice bark (yet more anise), and rose petals and lavender (for floral flavors).
Even if you don't have all of these herbs and flowers growing in your back yard, vermouth can still be yours. Online retailers like Mountain Rose Herbs have you covered.
Urushido gave the lemongrass a good pounding to release its delicate oils.
And then they made it rain rose petals. As you do.
After all of the herbs were artfully layered inside the jar, then came the wine. Don't cheap out on this—get the good stuff.
Now it's just a matter of waiting until the wine pulls all of those flavors from the botanicals. Two weeks, to be precise.
After those two weeks are up, you're almost done. So, what exactly makes vermouth "fortified"? Well, the bouquet of herbs impart plenty of color, aroma, and perhaps even some preservative compounds, but fortification just means more alcohol. In this case, Urushido and Jimenez added a little bit of eau de vie, a colorless brandy, to up the ABV and protect it from spoilage. A jigger's worth is all you need.
Finally, balance out the brew with some local honey and a pinch of sea salt. Suddenly, you've got your very own vermouth.
Now that you have vermouth, what should you do with it? You can use it in a litany of cocktails that call for vermouth, of course, or swap it in for the Lillet in a Vesper, perhaps.
RECIPE: Homemade Vermouth
But Jimenez gave it an even simpler treatment: served over ice, topped up with some hard cider. Presto, drink-o.
RECIPE: Cider Vermouth Cocktail
And if you still want to decoupage a mug, you can at least fill it with some DIY vermouth afterward.