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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Amour for amaro

The Alchemist’s tasting panel revels in the complexities of made-in-B.C. amaros, vermouths and aperitifs

The lineup (l to r): Long Table Distillery’s Linnaeus Amaro No. 1, de Vine’s Moderna Vermouth, The Woods Spirit Co’s Pacific Northwest Amaro, Goodrich and Williams’ Bitterhouse Rubato, Bitterhouse DaMan and Bitterhouse LaDame aperitifs, Legend Distilling’s Naramaro amaro, Odd Society’s Mia Amata amaro and Bittersweet Vermouth. Dan Toulgoet photo

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.

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Local Negroni

Rob Scope’s Local Negroni uses four distillled-in-BC products. Lou Lou Child photo

• 0.25oz Sheringham Seaside Gin
• 0.5oz Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth
• 0.5oz deVine Moderna Vermouth
• 0.75oz The Woods Amaro

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DEVINE Spirits

This Saanich-based distillery is proud to use local fruits, honey and grains in their spirits. Also a winery, they use their own grapes as the base for their Vin Gin.

6181B Old West Saanich Rd., Saanichton

Read more about de Vine Spirits:

A decade of great Canadian whisky: B.C. distillers scored big at the 10th annual Canadian Whisky Awards in Victoria last night.

Bitter & sweet: Why you should be drinking vermouth made in B.C.

Recipe: Sloe & Sophistique

Amour for amaro: The Alchemist’s tasting panel revels in the complexities of made-in-B.C. amaros, vermouths and aperitifs

Vancouver Island at-whisky takes its place in Jim Murray’s whisky bible

Recipe: Apple Flip

Recipe: Local Negroni

Through the grapevine: How a vintner became one of B.C.’s leading distillers


• Genever Gin
• Dutch Courage Barrel-Aged Genever
• Vin Gin
• Sloe Gin
• Glen Saanich Single Malt Whisky
• Ancient Grains Alternative Whisky
• Honey Shine Silver
• Honey Shine Amber
• Black Bear Spiced Honey Rum
• Slivovitz Plum Brandy
• Bianca Vermouth
• Moderna Vermouth


Honey Shine Beekeeper’s Reserve

FRAGRANCE: Waxy, floral notes.
FLAVOUR: Vanilla, marzipan.
FEEL: Thinner than expected, still pleasant.
FINISH: Slightly bitter, spice, honey sweetness still comes through.
BEST ENJOYED: Bees Knees Cocktail.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Good buy for an interesting B.C. spirit. —Shaun Layton, April 2016

Vin Gin

FRAGRANCE: Citrus and spice.
FLAVOUR: Juniper forward, spice.
FEEL: Clean and crisp.
FINISH: Sweet lemon.
BEST ENJOYED: In a Pegu Club cocktail.
THE BOTTOM LINE: At 45 per cent ABV it allows the botanicals to shine in balance with a fruity sweet backbone of grape spirit made of Pinot Noir and Gruner Vetlinger. —Robyn Gray, July 2016

Moderna Vermouth

FRAGRANCE: Dark stone fruit, baked plums, vanilla.
FLAVOUR: Fruit forward up front, leading to bitter clove and citrus peels.
FEEL: A little thin for a vermouth of this complexity.
FINISH: Bitterness and clove stays around forever.
BEST ENJOYED: Makes a great Americano.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Not bad for a B.C. vermouth; the Italians have been doing it for hundreds of years. —Shaun Layton, February 2017

Genever Gin

FRAGRANCE: Pungent, green cardamom, toasted spice.
FLAVOUR: Fennel, cardamom, clove.
FEEL: Not subtle.
FINISH: Dry and hot.
BEST ENJOYED: As a bold Gin & Tonic. Or find a Rembrandt recipe with dry vermouth and Drambuie.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A fun cocktail ingredient. —Josh Pape, July 2017