Toby Maloney once told me that, as he saw it, I likely didn’t understand vermouth because I had likely only had crappy old vermouth. Vermouth, he said, is sensitive and has a short shelf life that shouldn’t be trifled with. I’ll admit I was dubious, vermouth being basically fortified wine and fortified wines being made specifically for the purpose of sitting on a colonial boat for something around ever while it travels around the earth, then believed to be flat.
But that was until I tasted my own homemade vermouth, fresh as a daisy in spring. And it was then that I remembered that the other thing that traveled around on those boats was hard tack. Not delicious.
Vermouth, you should know, originated as a way of recovering bad wine. And, in fact, you could likely use bad wine to make your vermouth. I sorta did. But not on purpose, only because I tend to drink that wine in a box from Target, which I started doing when I was super crazy broke a while ago and since I am still super crazy broke I still do.
Homemade vermouth can really be considered a gateway to homemade bitters. And since it is a ton easier, it can also be considered a replacement for the laborious effort of homemade bitters, which I imagine you’d only do if you were really into cocktails more than just the kind of creatively delicious cheap drinkin’ I tend to go for.
First thing first with homemade vermouth is to get a bottle (or box) of wine and add in some eau de vie. In fact, if you have eau de vie, you will likely find making your own vermouth to be an awesome way to use that eau de vie, since my bet is that you, like me, don’t actually ever figure out how to drink the stuff in any kind of quantity.
Next, you add in the herbs and spices by heating them with some of the wine. I added ginger powder, elderflowers, lime peel, a vanilla pod and some gentian. I let it steep for a week then strained it. I made the ginger powder from dried ginger, which I highly recommend, and elder flowers from elderflowers I foraged and dried. Lime peel can be dried too, and stored like you would any herb. Vanilla pods are just that and gentian can be ordered from Amazon, like everything else, but I have a lot left over if you need some and live nearby.
I make my vermouth in smallish quantities store it in the fridge, like Toby taught me. I drink it with really good gin from Leopold Brothers. Rocks — as in on the rocks. But yes, it (also) rocks.
I am not really much of a martini drinker, but I think maybe part of that is that I tend to like a vermouth-y martini, and a dirty one as well, and most of the vermouth I’ve had in my life before making my own sucked, or likely sucked.
But now I can make my own, magically turning Target Box-o-wine into a special deliciousness that makes me feel like I just might be a martini drinker after all.