Vermouth as every article states was a way for pissed up monks to cover their poor wine making skills. Herbs, spices and fruit was added to cover off tastes in white wines and over the centuries it has evolved from health giving tonic to slightly naff cocktail ingredient.
So I have decided to get with the monks and make some vermouth but hopefully it can be a decent drink on its own rather than an additive, though I am sure it will get added to a few cocktails as Ms Gazette and I chill out in the garden. Lets face it it has taken us 4 years to grow a lawn so lets celebrate it.
Vermouth is as much an idea as a thing. There are no standard recipes only guide lines. Generally it is usually 16-18% ABV but can be between 14.5 to 22% according to EU law. To get this ABV a base wine is fortified, then flavours added that are many and varied with no set recipe. Wormwood though is considered essential as this derived the name coming form “Wermut” in German.
Looking for recipes was difficult but here are a few that seemed well researched:
So just like regular wine there are sweet and dry vermouths. Sweet can be very sweet with caramelised sugar being added to take the gravity up to 1.10 which is stronger than an unfermented fruit wine – probably 1.25 kg of sugar to a 4.5 litre demijohn! As I want an aperitif I am going for a dry which can be up to 1.03 gravity. My base wine will be a Strawberry wine that is 5 months in age. this is because Strawberry wine is both delicious and capable of being dry.
Vermouth can be fortified with brandy, eau d’ vie (no idea), cognac, grappa, sherry or even port. I was trying to decided on two differing fortifications using grappa or white port but decided the herbs and spices would be motre interesting to alter. Usually dry vermouth is oaked but I think this will fight the strawberry taste so I am skipping this step. Here is a guide to oak chips for anyone that is interested though: OAK CHIPS
The botanicals can be divided up a number of ways so here is my totally unscientific taste selection. There may well be a million more too. Send some details if you have ever made one!
wormwood – essential for classic vermouth, gentian, mugwort, chichona bark (often illegal to buy in many countries as it is potentially toxic), angelica, orang peel, dandelion root, coriander, hops, quinine (sounds dangerous but some swear by it), pumpkin seed, sloe stones, peach stone
cloves, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, coriander (slight bitter too), saffron, vanilla bean, cardamom, fennel seeds, fenugreek, nutmeg, peppercorn, cassia bark
citrus peel, berries, juniper, rose petals, elder flowers, raspberry juice, rhubarb juice
Oregano, sage, basil, thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, chamomile (slightly bitter), marjoram, dill, lavender
Not all of these are necessarily suitable for strawberry so I decided to make three differing recipes that erred to certain flavours as experiments. All had the basic base of 250ml of white port, 500ml of strawberry wine and 50g of white sugar. Ms Gazette and I then started to mix and match various pots making the following:
1g angelica root
2 cardamom pods
2 twists black peppercorn
0.2g of sage oregano and thyme
1/2g gentian root
tiny drop of rose water
1 point of star anise
1/2g coriander seed
1g lemon zest
1 small pinch orange blossom
1 small bay leaf
1 sloe stone
1 cherry stone
1 juniper berry
1/2g lemon zest
1/2g orange zest
0.2g gentian root
0.2g black horehound
0.2g angelica root
2 cardamom pods
2 strands safron
Many of the above can be pilfered from your local spice draw, the camomile was liberated from a tea bag. I had some elderflowers in the freezer as well as a few sloes from foraging. Some ingredients are a little more specialist so going to specialist herbalists or mail order was necessary.
Infusing the ingredients can be done in a number of ways making individual pots of each flavour and combining like some kind of demented apothecarist like Grenouille from sexy murder book “Perfume,” adding to a bag and dropping into the base wine or as I have decided, simmering in the fortifying drink then filtering out and dissolving the sugar. Once cooled it can be added to the wine, mixed a little and then bottled.
Use a set of micro scales to measure the ingredients. If you just ordered that set of scales online, congratulations – MI5 are probably tracking you as drug dealer. As this is to your own taste, keep tasting as you simmer the ingredients, add a little more of this or that as you go. If one taste dominates simply add more of the fortifier and the receding ingredients to bring back to a palatable combination.
Once cooled add to the base wine and voilà – ready to drink straight away, though they mix and age a little over a few days. It should be polished off within 3 months and once a bottle is opened kept in the fridge where it will be happy for a month or so.
Having sampled the three neat and added to gin I am more than a little pleased with the results. The spiced version seems the most well rounded though all taste good. They are punchier than a bog standard supermarket vermouth with more flavours that hit the tongue immediately or as after tastes. Adding the floral and spiced together seems to really work.
Perhaps adding a fresh strawberry sugar syrup could make a sweet vermouth and I could use a very light elderflower or even quince wine as a base for the dryer version next time – I have enough of the specialist ingredients now!
The base alcohol may change as I am interested to see if grappa or sherry change the tastes and I may well play about with a true caramel sugar too or add some vanilla. The bittering agents are perhaps the most complex element I will try to develop using a range of ingredients trying not to get one dominant punch that over powers and certainly pacing the steeping process so they are added later with the more floral and herbal elements at the start. The sloe and cherry stones I may use more of to get a rounder warmer taste and also adding 1g of ginger will add to all of the recipes. The floral was a little too lavender-centric so that can be pared down a little next time.
Hopefully over a few months or years I can really get to understand the components and make a bespoke vermouth. Any ideas or advice I’d be more than happy to hear so drop me a line but for now if you don’t mind, Ms Gazette is waiting in the garden.