Demystifying vermouth

The Alchemist tasting panel samples the fortified, aromatized elixir

Vermouth ranges from palest straw to deep ruby red, with flavours to match. Dan Toulgoet photo

Vermouth is not just an essential ingredient in many cocktails, it is already a cocktail, a wine fortified with spirits and flavoured with herbs, spices and other botanicals. And it’s enjoying a major comeback right now.

Five of Vancouver’s top bartenders gathered on a rainy afternoon at Tableau Bar Bistro to taste this beguiling product: Sabrine Dhaliwal, bar manager of Juke Fried Chicken and Beetbox; Adam Domet, bar manager at Pourhouse; J-S Dupuis, beverage director of Wentworth Hospitality; Robyn Gray of Elisa Steakhouse; and Katie Ingram, bar manager at Elisa Steakhouse.

They all love vermouth. “It’s rich in flavour and lower in alcohol,” Ingram said. “And we’re all flavour junkies. So we get that fix of citrus and bitterness and everything you’re looking for.” Besides, with prices as low as $12 for a litre bottle, vermouth is also a complete bargain.

The panel tasted 16 local and international vermouths. Here’s what they had to say.

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Bitter & sweet

Why you should be drinking vermouth made in B.C.

At MARKET at the Shangri-la Hotel in Vancouver, head bartender Gianluigi Bosco makes his own house-aromatized and fortified wines. Leila Kwok photo

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.

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Raise a glass to World Gin Day

We can’t imagine a better reason to celebrate (responsibly, of course) than this: June 8 is World Gin Day, and all over the world, people are raising a glass to the juniper-scented spirit.

Photo courtesy of Ampersand Distilling

The first World Gin Day was held a decade ago in Birmingham, England; last year saw events in 30 countries, with 200 million people participating on social channels. This year, dozens of gin-soaked events are being held everywhere from London to Tokyo to Sydney and perhaps to your own back yard.

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