Liquor brands love keeping recipes in a vault. For example, Green Chartreuse is made with over 130 secret botanicals known only by the Carthusian monk order who’ve made it for centuries. Winemakers often refer to special “blends,” curiously leaving out what kind or just how much of each grape varietal is used.
The same goes for vermouth. Luckily, Nimble co-founder, Nate Caudle, has the experience and palate to recreate the flavor of a name-brand vermouth like Martini & Rossi. This may come as shocking, but you can too!
“During my time bartending I have made custom vermouths with wild profiles, but I always love a taste challenge; tinkering to get something close to a commercial product.”Nate Caudle
What is Vermouth?
Vermouth is a fortified, aromatized wine product. Fortified = booze added. Aromatized = botanicals added.
It is best known for its roles in two classic cocktails—the Martini and the Manhattan (respectively, dry and sweet vermouth).
Types of Vermouth
There are 3 classifications of Vermouth:
- Dry Vermouth – Originally from France, this type most closely resembles its base wine, and tends to be more delicate in flavor than the other two types. It contains about half the sugar as sweet vermouth. Use it in the classic Martini or sip it on ice with a twist as an aperitif.
- Bianco (Italy)/ Blanc (France) – This type is the middle ground between dry and sweet vermouth. Very versatile in cocktails.
- Sweet Vermouth (or red/rosso vermouth) – Traditionally Italian, this vermouth has the boldest profile and stands up nicely in cocktails with dark spirits (think Negronis and Manhattans). This is what you’ll learn to make through this post!
Why’s it Called Vermouth?
The word vermouth has been adapted from the German word Wermut, the name of the bittering agent classically used—wormwood. (Yes, the same herb that’s used in Absinthe, that does not make you hallucinate.)
What You’ll Need
It’s easy enough to understand what vermouth is. But what’s actually in it?!
At Nimble Bar School, we teach our students how to craft their own signature bitters. DIY vermouth may be a little more involved, but not much! Once you’ve procured the botanicals to flavor it, the rest is simple, as red vermouth really only consists of five parts.
*WARNING* – Melting sugar into a dark caramel can be extremely dangerous as the ramifications of a sugar burn are not unlike napalm. Please don’t pour cold liquids on top of hot sugar, make sure your temperatures are consistent with each other.
- Zest of 1 orange
- 750ml (1 btl) white wine, divided
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp dried chamomile
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1 star anise
- 1 tsp allspice berries
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp dried wormwood (Check your local herbalist shop)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup brandy
Sweet Vermouth Recipe
- Zest the orange, set aside.
- Next, pour half the wine (375ml) into a pot and set aside. Add all botanicals (everything except sugar, water and brandy) and cook on medium heat until it comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain out solids and return liquid to pot.
- In a separate pot, pour in the sugar and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently to caramelize it. Once sugar melts into a dark caramel, in about 5 minutes, turn off and let the caramelized sugar cool.
- Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan or kettle, then measure 1/4 cup and slowly pour it into caramelized sugar, stirring as you pour. Be careful!
- Add remaining wine to the botanical-infused mixture. Bring it to a boil, then pour it slowly into the pot of caramelized sugar, stirring frequently to integrate them. Add brandy, then let cool. Pour cooled mixture into a bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator (up to 3-4 weeks. After this, it will oxidize and lose some of its pop, but won’t be bad, per se.)
“This is a basic rosso recipe (original courtesy of SeriousEats.com) I found and tweaked, but thoroughly enjoyed. It doesn’t quite have the weight of a big juicy number like Cinzano; moreso I found it to be sort of an amber vermouth. Its texture is cleaner and lighter and would be best served chilled as an aperitif or mixed with lighter spirits, not heavy-handed whiskies.“
And voilà! You have a basic sweet vermouth. Cheers! 🍷
If you enjoyed this process, check out our post on DIY Campari.
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