Vamping Up Vermouth

The spirit revolution has well and truly hit! Over the last decade or so, there has been a huge explosion in gin and vodka production around the world, with a huge concentration of new brands in the UK.

But what do you reach for when you fancy a change from gin or vodka? That’s easy – Vermouth! It’s the underdog of fortified wine, with a character all of its own. And there are producers all over the UK making it sexy.

I’ve recently had the chance to champion this fabulously diverse sip on ITVs ‘Love your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh’ and I wanted to share the vermouth I featured. I also wanted to let you know how I served them. So see below for my ‘Best of British’ choices and let me know if you get as much pleasure out of them as we did!

And by the way, thanks to our lovely host Alan Titchmarsh and my bar guests – Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen & Emma, Duchess of Rutland.

So, what is Vermouth? It’s basically a fortified wine that falls into a sub category called ‘aromatised wines’ because it’s flavoured with various botanicals (herbs, spices and fruits mainly).

It is thought that fortified wines date back to 1250 in China but Vermouth as we know it was first produced in the mid- to late 18th century in Turin, Italy and was traditionally used for medicinal purposes. It was later served as an apéritif, with fashionable cafés in Turin, and then used in cocktails.

Now, we know a bit more, here are my pick of the punch!

Bramley & Gage Dry Vermouth (Thornbury, South Gloucestershire – Where I was born!)

18% vol / £15 (37.5cl)

Nearly 30 years ago, Edward and Penny Kain owned a fruit farm and made a Sloe Gin.

Michael and Felicity took over their parents’ now prosperous distillery. As well as making this Vermouth, they make a sweet version, and are known for their 6 O’clock Gin.

Interestingly, they have some employees with famous names; Michael Kain, Kate Middleton, Ryan Reynolds!

This dry vermouth is the perfect example of what they should taste like.

Andy’s tasting notes:

Nose – Freshly cut grass and mixed spice and crisp green apples.

Palate – Gooseberries, spice and a white pepper pulse on the finish.

Serving: Over ice, with soda water and with a clove in the top of the glass.

Asterley Bros Estate Red Vermouth (Forrest Hill, South East London)

16% vol / £24.95 (50cl)

Asterley Bros are two brothers (Rob the & James) with a passion for botanical spirits. Each bottle takes around three months to make.

Rob (one of the brothers) married into an Sicilian family 11 years ago and the fascination with Italian drinks started there. (Italian recipes / botanicals and ingredients with English provenance / recipes from a 16th Century medical textbook)

Made in the Italian ‘rosso’ style, notes of orange, cacao, rosemary and wormwood combine to form a full-bodied vermouth. Lower in sugar than many Sweet Vermouths, this is a bright and complex aperitif with delicate tannins from the pinot noir. A great example of what Sweet Red Vermouth should taste like.

They use Pinot Noir from Gusbourne wine estate in Kent (which is delicious on its own!)

Andy’s Tasting Notes:

Nose – Burnt orange and a herbaceous Forrest floor.

Palate – Caramel, smokey orange and herbs.

Serving: Over ice, with London Essence Tonic Water and a thin slice of orange.

Nine Elms No18 Non-Alcoholic Vermouth-style drink (Vauxhall, South West London)

Around £16

This is a non-alcoholic drink designed to complement good food. It is created in a similar way to Vermouth.

Simon and Zoltan, the founders came up with the idea for Nine Elms No.18 after reading about two famous historic gardens near their development kitchen in Nine Elms. (Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and Chelsea Physic Garden)

Serving: As above (or can be sipped neat over ice, with tonic or in a cocktail)

Londinio Rosé Vermouth (Battersea, South West London)

£20 (75cl) / 16.5% vol

Launched in June 2018 by London Bartender Jake Coventry.

Jake is a one man band at Londinio and makes only 72 bottles of vermouth per batch. Originally starting out of his kitchen in Fulham everything is now produced in Battersea.

He sources British Pinot Noir for his Rosé.

Andy’s Tasting Notes:

Nose – Red berries, rose wine and rose petals. (Hibiscus)

Palate – Gentle Turkish delight. Then there’s lemon rind. Balanced floral notes with fresh acidity too.

Serving: As a gin martini with Tarquin’s Cornish Dy Gin (£35 for 70cl 42% vol) with flavours of Juniper, Violets & Orange Zest) to make a delicately fragrant pink drink decorated with Primula flowers from Maddocks Farm Organics from Devon.

Rosé Martini: 50ml Rosé Vermouth + 50ml Gin (per drink)

Still Wild Sweet Rosso Vermouth (Pembrokeshire, Wales)

£22 (50cl) / £18% vol

This is made with wine from Surrey-based wine estate Denbies. Before distilling James Harrison-Allen had a rather unhealthy obsession with foraging wild plants, and what he thought was an unrelated passion for drinks!

He felt that most wild herbs and spices had been neglected for years, as the often bitter tastes aren’t so popular with modern palates.

All the botanicals grow wild in the UK, and about 90% of them are foraged by ourselves in Pembrokeshire.

Andy’s Tasting Notes:

Nose – Caramel, cumin, cinnamon and honey.

Palate – As above with sticky dates and menthol.

Serving: On the rocks with a slice of orange.

Discarded Sweet Cascara Vermouth (Glasgow, Scotland)

£19 (50cl) / 21% vol

Joe Petch, a drinks-lover and brand ambassador, noticed the convergence of coffee and cocktails as day and night cultures increasingly started to combine.

When coffee producers extract a bean from the coffee berry they discard what’s left, the fruit. The fruit is called Cascara.

Discarded Spirits are all about reusing waste in a creative way. They try to challenge perceptions on waste. Last year they made 500 face masks for bartenders our of waste milk!

Discarded is a combination of a sherry base, cascara extract and wormwood extract. They then combine it with other botanicals to round off the flavour profile.

Andy’s Tasting Notes:

Nose – Cherries and Forrest floor leafy woodiness.

Palate – Cherry, coffe and a little burnt orange.

Ingredients: Sherry, Cascara, Wormwood (and other botanicals)

Serving: As my take on a Boulevardier. A Classic cocktail invented by an American-born writer who founded a monthly magazine in Paris. A bit like a Negroni, it is comprised of sweet Vermouth, Whisky and Campari.

• Copper Dog Whisky (£29.95 for 70cl at 40% vol) from Speyside, Scotland (a fruity and easy-drinking blend of 8 single malts)

• Aecorn non-alcoholic Bitter (£19.99 for 50cl): (Inspired by a 17th Century recipe for actors wine and made near London from Verjus from Sussex Grapes, Quassia , Italian Orange , Grapefruit, Bay, Sancho Pepper, Acorns caught before they hit the ground, English Oak)

Recipe per cocktail: Mix 75ml Vermouth / 25ml Whiskey / 25ml Bitter in a jug, put ice in a lowball glass and pour in. Garnish with orange rind.

Vault Bianco Vermouth (Brentford, Near Kew, South West London)

£29 (75cl) / 15.5% vol

The vision was to make vermouths with English wine (small producers), in a lighter (lower sugar) and lower ABV style that showcased the wine and ingredients – fresher and more vibrant.

Dan and Sharon make the vermouth themselves in small batches by hand in their little distillery. When its ready they bottle it, label it and ship it themselves.

The Bianco is herbaceous and gently honeyed. The base wine is light and fresh and has notes of elderflower, lemon, fennel and apple. We used mix of fresh and dry botanicals and each has its own rules of infusion; varying times and temperatures.

Andy’s Tasting Notes:

Nose – Honey and English garden flowers.

Palate – Cumin & Curry leaf.

Serving: Over Ice with a piece of lemon peel.


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