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Oregon producers help boost vermouth’s revival

on 18/01/11 at 6:27 pm


Given all the wine, beer, coffee, tea, cranberry juice, hard cider and pot-stilled spirits that come out of this region, is there room for yet another homegrown artisanal beverage renaissance?

According to one local winemaker and another local mixologist, there is. Get ready for the risorgimento of vermouth.

Straddling the line between wine and spirits, vermouth cures any kind of thirst. It can be an aperitif or a digestif, a cocktail ingredient or a stand-alone sipper. Macerated with bitter herbs, sweetened with a touch of sugar and fortified with a shot of neutral spirits, it’s higher in alcohol and more stable than wine, so once opened, it stays fresh for months, as long as you keep it in a cool place (ideally, your refrigerator).

For wine drinkers, vermouth is blissfully accessible. It’s got everything wine has — acidity, fruit, sweetness and bitterness — but instead of digging deep to describe what you’re smelling and tasting (“Could that be orange peel?”), it’s all right there. The wine actually has been infused in orange peel, so there’s no doubt about it.

The names of vermouth producers Cinzano and Martini & Rossi are ubiquitous in popular “bistro” decor, but vermouth itself has been overshadowed behind the bar over the past 15 years while beverage trends have favored tequilas, brandies, gins, bitters and infusions.

Recently, however, aperitifs and digestifs have come back into vogue, and with them, an interest in the bitter flavor components that can only come from botanicals.

Believed to stimulate the appetite and aid digestion, aperitifs and digestifs began as curatives; as far back as antiquity, herb-infused wine was considered medicinal. Vermouth gets its name from wormwood — “wermut” in German — which has long been considered a panacea for digestive problems.

Today, two vermouth styles predominate: the sweet, russet-colored Italian type developed in the late 17th century by brands like Martini & Rossi and Carpano; and its dry, pale and aromatic French counterpart established by Noilly Prat shortly thereafter.

Domestically, California has turned out a few tasty artisanal vermouths — Vya in Madera, Sutton Cellars in San Francisco, King Eider in the Napa Valley — but Portland looks uniquely poised to be the hometown of the new vermouth. The raw materials are here, and so is the energy.

“There aren’t other places where it is as easy to do this as it is here; we have the wine, the distilleries, the local herbs,” says Neil Kopplin. And since vermouth is often added to gin martinis, Kopplin infused his Imbue vermouth with four of the same botanicals that Portland-based Aviation Gin uses, to “reflect the new style of gin made here in the Northwest.”

{Full story via The Oregonian}

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