Imagine Turin, in the 18th century. The capital of the Savoy kingdom, enjoying its greatest splendor with distinguished ladies and gentlemen, shortly before dinner, sipping an aperitif in one of the many café-salons in the city. In these elegant and cultured environments, the aperitif was certainly not left to chance: the preferred beverage was vermouth. Its origins stretch all the way back to the Chinese Empire: between 1250 and 1000 BCE, they used to drink an herb-based wine for medicinal purposes. But the most famous version, the one that made it a beloved beverage around the world, was created in this very city, where Antonio Benedetto Carpano - an Italian distiller that became so famous to give name to a popular drinking brand - decided to flavor good fortified wine. With what? Spices, roots, and herbs, of various types in various amounts.
In truth, the making of vermouth moves through a number of specific phases, which we'll try to summarize below, so you can even make it at home. There are many good reasons to try it: the first is that it's an exquisite beverage that everyone likes to some extent. The second is that, by making your own, you can flavor it however you like best. And what's more, because after nearly thirty years of anonymity, vermouth is very much back in style, both alone or as a base for cocktails.
HOW TO MAKE VERMOUTH AT HOME
As we said, to make vermouth you start with wine. White wine, to be precise, and best one made from grapes such as Catarratto, Clairette blanche, Piquepoul, or Trebbiano. There are in fact red and rosé vermouths, but we prefer to remain faithful to the tradition. These wines have a low alcohol content, so a small percentage of grappa is generally added to bring it up to about 14-16 proof. So, to make our vermouth we need: a liter of wine, 200 ml of grappa, 100-150 grams of sugar, three star anise, and a handful of Artemisia Vulgaris leaves. This last ingredient is an herb that now grows naturally around the world, but if you can't find it, you can visit an herbalist's shop. Put the wine and the Artemisia leaves into a jar, seal it, and leave it to macerate for a week. Next, filter the liquid as you pour it into another jar, to which you'll add the sugar, grappa, and anise. Stir gently, and then seal the jar, leave it to macerate for at least ten days, in a cool dark place. Finally, filter and transfer the liquid to a glass bottle and store it in the refrigerator.
VERMOUTH COCKTAIL RECIPES
This, as we said, is basic white vermouth. You can enjoy it as it is, cold in a wide-mouth glass, or you can use it as a base for cocktails. Clearly the most famous is the Martini, made of 2/10 vermouth and 8/10 gin, mixed in a shaker that has been chilled in the freezer. But if you like vermouth you can try also a Palm Beach (gin, grapefruit juice, white vermouth) or an Affinity Orange (Scotch Whisky, white vermouth, dry vermouth, orange bitter). If you hear connoisseurs talking about “dry vermouth”, don't be alarmed or be caught off guard. It's a French variant of this drink, in which the wine is left open to the air for a few days. In truth, you can simply use an aged wine to achieve the same results. Finally, don't ignore vermouth's potential in the kitchen: that would be an unpardonable offence! Its best use is in roasts and braises: add it during cooking and let it cook down to bring a characteristic flavor to your dishes. You can also add it to creamy desserts to give them a more homemade taste. So now, while you let your wine macerate, start thinking about a few appetizers to put together for your next classy aperitifs based on vermouth!