The rise of vermouth
The age of vermouth is here.
Now it is entirely possible that you have had one of two reactions to that statement:
1. Isn't that the stuff my Grandma drinks?
2. Ver-what now?
But have no fear, for you are not alone. A short while ago I was having dinner in Helsinki when my dining companion suggested an aperitif. He was a local so I let him choose and followed his lead. He plumped for a vermouth. Seeing my raised eyebrows he proclaimed, very confidently, that vermouth is set to be the next big thing in the spirit market.
Apparently at recent wine and alcohol conventions vermouth was the subject on everyone's lips. And the evidence bears out the assertion. Vermouth is popping up as a feature in a number of the hottest spots opening in London today. So it is high time we all got on board here.
I am going to preface this with a confession. I was not sure about vermouth going into this, but half a glass into the first of what turned into quite a few rounds of vermouths, I was completely sold.
Vermouth is a fortified wine which has its roots back in ancient civilisations. The practice of infusing wine was common in both Ancient Greece and Chinese dynasties long beofre the advent of the AD calendar. The name comes from the French pronounciation of the German word "wermut" meaning wormwood, which was a classic infusion.
Despite initially being seen as a medicinal drink, vermouth became a popular aperitif in France and Italy until the middle of the twentieth century. But it then waned in popularity as younger drinkers discovered new and exciting spirits from around the world.
But now vermouth is mounting a comeback - and it has the current 'spirit of the moment' to thank for it. Gin has been riding a wave of popularity for a few years now. Once the preserve of older drinkers (sound familiar?) it was reborn as the chic, à la mode drink of choice for youngsters. This return is down to it possessing two qualities which young drinkers value: adaptability and artisan craftsmanship.
The popularity of gin and the search for those two ideals also created a cocktail boom, and that is where the renovation of vermouth began. It is a key ingredient in classics such as the Manhattan or the Negroni.
And now everyone is getting on board. Italian brand Bottega has launched bianco and rosso expressions, Splinter Group Spirits has teamed up with Vintage Wine Estates to join in and classic brands such as Poi Cesare and Chazalettes are now back.
There are small craft companies creating delicious limited edition runs and bigger firms pushing out specially-made new releases. And some of the bottles are truly stunning. The evident craftsmanship was what pushed gin to the fore and it appears vermouth producers have read the same handbook.
Despite all this, you might think vermouth is still small time, particularly in the UK.
That is about to change.
Vermouth is about to explode onto the London scene. Recently the Evening Standard kindly chronicled the outlets which are about to put vermouth front and centre in our revelry. Among them are Mayfair's Sabor restaurant, Sorella in Clapham and Temper at Covent Garden.
And all of these have tapped into one thing which is really important, one thing which we really look for in brands or ideas which we, as consumers, are going to get behind - an experience. The heart of vermouth is that aperitif moment. Sat with friends in a café or at a bar and sipping your vermouth and watching the world go by.
With summer on the horizon, if vermouth can make itself a part of that experience, we might just be looking at the next big thing.
And I, for one, would be very happy with that.