Chow Town

Departing friend’s gift of vermouth leads to discovery of cocktail

When a friend moving to California asked if I wanted the remnants of her well-stocked bar I immediately had visions of vodka and tequila, whiskey and rum. Instead, she presented me with two bottles of vermouth — one dry white and one sweet red.

I accepted both bottles with equal amounts of intrigue and apprehension. I was intrigued by the challenge of a liquor I soon realized I knew nothing about, but was apprehensive to take on something I was afraid would collect dust and go to waste.

Amy Stewart’s book “The Drunken Botanist” quickly taught me vermouth is wine fortified with alcohol, herbs including wormwood and chamomile, and spices such as clove. Vermouth is made from white wine and considered an aromatized wine, or wine characterized by the addition of herbs, fruit and other flavors that’s sometimes fortified with additional alcohol.

Even red vermouth starts with white wine, and gets its color and sweetness from the addition of caramel. Because it’s wine, it should be stored in the refrigerator after opening and is best served fresh.

Stewart’s book, with a focus on the plants used to make the booze, is more field guide than cocktail cookbook. And her recipes for classic cocktails emphasize proper ingredients and technique that highlight those plants.

Her recipe for a Vermouth Cocktail caught my eye not because she described it as “a template for experimentation with aromatized wines,” but because the recipe called for exactly what I had on hand - both sweet and dry vermouth.

I poured equal parts dry white vermouth and sweet red vermouth with a couple dashes of orange bitters over ice, gave it a quick stir, and added lemon peel and a splash of soda water. My first sip immediately transported me to a sun-drenched patio at dusk where I sipped what happens to be my favorite summertime drink Lillet Blanc, a French aperitif wine frequently served on ice with an orange peel. The flashback came as no surprise once I realized Lillet is also categorized an aromatized wine.

My friend may have left darker days and colder nights for sunny California, but I’ll be right there with her soaking in the sun with every sip of my Vermouth Cocktail.

Vermouth Cocktail 1 ounce dry white vermouth
1 ounce sweet red vermouth Dash of Angostura bitters Dash of orange bitters Lemon peel Soda water (optional)

Shake the white and red vermouth and bitters over ice and strain into a cocktail glass, or serve over ice topped with soda water. Garnish with the lemon peel.


“The Drunken Botanist”

by Amy Stewart, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2013.

Raised by generations of cooks, farmers and green thumbs, Andrea Shores is an enthusiastic eater and curious cook. She loves sharing her passion for local food by telling farmers’ and food purveyors’ stories.
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