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.
The Alchemist’s tasting panel revels in the complexities of made-in-B.C. amaros, vermouths and aperitifs
Consider them the supporting actors of the cocktail world: complex, helpful and a little bitter. Vermouths, aperitifs and amaros are typically fortified wines—though some are sweet enough to be considered liqueurs—flavoured with botanicals such as citrus peel, spices, roots and herbs. They typically have a somewhat bitter profile, hence the name “amaro,” which means bitter in Italian.
It takes a sophisticated palate to appreciate a good bitter drink, so not too surprisingly, Vancouver bartenders were eager to sample the best of B.C. amaros. We sat down with Alex Black of Tableau Bar Bistro, Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar, cocktail consultant Sabrine Dhaliwal, Robyn Gray of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and The Botanist’s Jeff Savage to get at the bitter truth.
Before the team at Botanist installed the bar top, creative beverage director Grant Sceney “bought a drink for the next generation of bartenders” by embedding a bottled cocktail, a handwritten note and a copy of the first bar menu inside the bar itself. This is the cocktail they left for the future: an updated version of the classic Vancouver cocktail. “We’ve made the Vancouver Cocktail as Vancouver as we can,” says Sceney.
We asked some top B.C. bartenders which bottle of local spirits they would put on their Christmas list
Lead Bartender, L’Abattoir Restaurant
I’d pick Okanagan Spirits Laird of Fintry Single Malt Whisky. It is a Scotch-style single malt made with 100 per cent B.C. malted barley using French and American oak, and finished in Okanagan wine barrels. The nose is unbelievable with plum, vanilla, raisins, berries, poached pears, nuts, and classic oak characteristics that continue on the palate. It has a dry finish with a hint of sweet vanilla and baking spices. I would make a twist on a Rob Roy — a Rodney’s Roy — with 2 oz. Laird of Fintry,
0.3 oz. Noilly Prat Rouge,
0.3 oz. Noilly Prat Ambre and two dashes Bittered Sling Cascade Celery Bitters.
The concept of “farm-to-table” isn’t new for B.C. restaurants. What’s served from behind the wood is now also joining the sustainable locavore movement for a more complete offering. Brad Holmes, owner and executive chef at Olo in Victoria, has long been a vocal proponent of this movement, and his cocktail program reflects that. “Our whole restaurant is seasonal; the menu changes with what’s available on any given day and season. I always wanted to bring that to the bar. And now, with all of the great gins and vermouths and other local products, we can offer something that was grown in B.C., produced in B.C. and served in B.C.”