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On The Rise
A new crop of vermouth varietals, plus how to make the liquor at home


May 2017


The vermouth section at Discount Liquor,
which boasts more than 30 varieties

Not so long ago, if the question was vermouth, the answer was sweet or dry. White or red. And chances are, there was just one green-bottled brand.

Today if you stroll the vermouth aisle of Discount Liquor, there are more than 30 different vermouths. “Vermouth is very popular,” says Paul Nash, spirits buyer for the Milwaukee store. “It’s no longer just red or white. There’s rosé. Some have (special) herbs and spices, and some are aged.”

And some vermouths are not just small batch, craft vermouths — they’re one-of-a-kind, homemade vermouths. In Milwaukee, a handful of bars make their own, but arguably the most notable is Vermutería 600, the bar attached to Hotel Madrid, which is perhaps the only place in the country that not only makes its own vermouth, but serves it on draft.

Vermouth is basically a spiced wine fortified by brandy, port or sherry, and to officially be considered a vermouth, one of the spices or herbs has to be wormwood, says Daniel Beres, beverage director for Stand Eat Drink Hospitality Group, which owns Vermutería 600. Locally, wormwood can be purchased at The Natural Food Shop on South 13th Street.

“I recommend adding the spices to the brandy, not the wine,” Beres says. “We use brandy because its higher alcohol content extracts the spices better, and you don’t have to worry about anything breaking down or not turning out as well.”

The house vermouth at Vermutería 600 contains dozens of herbs and spices, including vanilla, cocoa nibs, cinnamon (three types: Saigon, Cassia and Ceylon), green and black cardamom pods, coriander, caraway seeds and Turkish bay leaves. “If you have dark flavors like vanilla and cocoa, then you definitely want to add some lemon or orange peels to add some brightness and acidity,” Beres recommends.

To infuse the brandy — and Beres suggests using a nice, but not-too-expensive brandy — buy a whipping cream canister with a nitrogen cartridge from a kitchen supply store or online, then purchase a hops bag from a brewing supply company like Milwaukee-based Northern Brewer. Put the herbs in the bag, then put the bag and the brandy into the canister, and let it sit for 24 hours. “Then you’ll get this nice, pungent, flavorful brandy that will knock your socks off,” Beres says.

After the brandy is infused, add wine and caramelized or burnt sugar syrup. To make the burnt sugar, heat sugar in a stainless steel pot until it melts, then carefully pour in an equal amount of water. Stir, and let it cool. Then, for a red or sweet vermouth, mix together 2 parts white wine, 1 part caramelized sugar and ½ part infused brandy. “You get the color from the caramelized sugar, not the wine,” Beres explains.

For a drier vermouth, simply cut the sugar by one-third or one-half, Beres suggests. If you don’t have a whipped cream canister, you can let the herbs and spices infuse the brandy in a glass jar, shaking it once a day, and letting it infuse at room temperature for a week or two. And if you decide not to use a hops bag, strain the brandy through a cheese cloth before mixing it with the wine and sugar. “Taste it every day until you get the flavor profile you want,” Beres advises.

For a longer and deeper infusion, home enthusiasts might also consider infusing the brandy and spices in a small barrel, which Discount Liquor is now selling for people who want to make their own spirits or barrel-aged cocktails. “They come charred, and they’re in 3- or 5-liter sizes,” Nash says.

A Guide to a Good Bar

The tools every at-home bar aficionado should invest in

» A good shaker. One that fits in your hand and is easy to separate into two halves.

» A jigger with easily discernible measurements. Or a small, 4-ounce measuring cup, with discernible 2-, 1½-, ¾-, ½- and ¼-ounce markings.

 » A bar spoon.

» Strainers: hawthorne, tea and julep. Or just borrow the tea strainer from your kitchen.

» Zester and knife — or again, just borrow from your kitchen.

» Glasses: two rocks and two martini glasses to start.

 » Optional: fun, large ice cube trays.


This story ran in the May 2017 issue of: