Why you should be drinking vermouth made in B.C.
More than 200 years ago, wine drinkers in Turin and Marseille started adding bittering and flavouring botanicals to wine fortified with spirit, to make an entirely new drink. The styles they created—a sweeter, reddish-brown style in Italy and a drier white-wine version in France—are iconic today, and collectively known as vermouth, a term that comes from the root word for wormwood, which is synonymous in many languages with “bitter.”
Now enjoying a renaissance thanks to cocktail mixology and the Spanish-driven trend for sipping them solo or as a spritz, vermouths should have a place on your back bar. (Actually, in your fridge, where a red vermouth will stay fresh for several months, and white vermouth for several weeks after opening.) Here are three new and three favourite B.C. bottlings to try.
MARKET Aromatic Wines
At MARKET at the Shangri-la Hotel in Vancouver, head bartender Gianluigi Bosco makes his own house-aromatized and fortified wines. “I’m from Italy where vermouth is quite a big thing,” Bosco says. His versions deliberately leave out the bitterness and keep the sugar levels low, for drinks that are lighter in texture but bursting with flavour. Lunessence B.C. wines form the base for MARKET’s house red and white bottlings, infused with vibrant flavours from hydrosols of single botanicals from rosemary and sage to cardamon and clove. The aromatic wines make versatile cocktail mixers or a complex base for lower-alcohol cocktails, like a killer sangria-style spritz from his citrus-aromatized rosé wine.
Just like the pioneering French and Italian vermouth makers, Shawn Dalton believes vermouth is “all about using fresh, local ingredients.” Based in Penticton, he has access to the best: Okanagan wine, aromatized with more than two dozen botanicals, most of them local (save the citrus peel and some of the exotic spices common to sweet vermouth styles). His apricot-coloured aperitif is meant to zing on its own, over a bit of ice with a slice of citrus or a tuft of mint. “It’s still great in cocktails, but just needs a bit of a heavier pour than normal in the classics, to give it a good presence in the drink,” says Dalton of the lighter style of Marrow. Dalton plans new batch releases through winter and spring/summer 2020 “as ingredients come into season again.”
Sip it: At L’Abattoir, Mackenzie Room, JuiceBar and Como in Vancouver; Micro and Raudz in Kelowna; and in Victoria at Olo, Agrius and Paul’s Diner.
Terra Dry Vermouth
Though vermouth is traditionally built on a wine base, when Christos Kalaitzis at Central City Brewers + Distillers tasted the brand’s Imperial Cider, “It was sooo good and I decided to play with it and create a vermouth.” Uncarbonated and aromatized with botanicals like thyme, turmeric, bay leaf, rosebuds, pink peppercorn and bison grass, and lightly bittered with gentian root, it’s a “proper dry Mediterranean style of vermouth,” Kalaitzis says. He suggests trying it in a wine glass over ice, spritzed with tonic water and a lemon zest; in a classic cocktail like a dry Manhattan or gin Martini or Gibson; or a rum-based El Presidente.
Try it: In a spritz.
Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth
An antique Italian sweet vermouth recipe informs this amber-coloured spice and botanical bomb, an award-winner (in 2016, for its barrel-aged iteration) that was Canada’s first craft vermouth. It’s made from B.C. wine and Odd Society’s own malted barley distilled spirit, with a West Coast spin from more than two dozen spices, flowers, plants and roots (including arbutus bark).
Try it: In The Drive cocktail
De Vine Bianca and Moderna Vermouths
Bianca, the country’s first white craft vermouth, has floral jasmine and chamomile layered on a spicy, apricot-scented base of De Vine’s clean, bright honey spirit. Its Turin-inspired cousin, Moderna, is a more robust style with over 30 botanicals, including clove and cardamon, rose and juniper, plus two bittering agents (wormwood and gentian). Bursting with local ingredients and flavours, both have been winners in the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition. devinevineyards.ca
Try it: In the distillery’s Sloe & Sophistique cocktail.
Ampersand Imperative Dry Vermouth
Ortega and Auxxerois wine from Vancouver Island’s farm-based Rathjen Cellars and wormwood grown on Ampersand Distilling’s own Duncan farm are just two of the ultra-local ingredients (many of them hand-harvested wild or organic plants) in this dry white vermouth, which debuted in 2018. Watch for a sweet vermouth from Ampersand, coming soon.
Try it: In a vermouth-heavy 50/50 Martini.
Esquimalt Rosso Vermouth
“Weird. Herbal. Bitter.” If those are the kind of descriptors that get your mouth watering for vermouth that’s worthy of aperitivo-style drinking, the founders of the Esquimalt Wine Company (Quinn and Michela Palmer, the folks behind Rootside cocktail syrups) have you covered. They use not only Venturi-Schulze Vineyards wine from Vancouver Island, but local mead and 32 herbs and spices in an Italian-style sweet vermouth that has tangy, botanical, bitter and tart notes.
Try it: Mixed with tonic made from Rootside Classic Dry Tonic syrup.
Almost a year of development went into this elegant, off-dry white vermouth, juicy with citrus and bright herbaceous flavours and lightly bitter. White wine from the James Cameron-owned Vancouver Island winery is fortified with vodka from Sheringham Distillery that’s been infused with 11 botanicals, including wormwood, rosemary, vanilla, lemon and juniper. Only 100 cases of the first batch were produced: grab a bottle now!
Try it: In so-called white versions of classic cocktails, like a Negroni or Manhattan.
—by Charlene Rooke