TASTE: Animal Spirit Vermouth
Image credit: Louise Kennelly
Until relatively recently, hearing the word ‘vermouth’ your mind would probably flick to the trio of Cinzano gathering dust on every neglected back bar from Rooty Hill RSL to the bar your dad built out of corrugated iron in the back shed. Slowly, softly, there’s been an emerging resurgence in small-batch vermouth, led hand-in-hand by the small batch gin boom. No surprise really, the two have a fair bit in common - each product boasting its proud peacock tail of botanicals. And they’re used to mingling together in cocktails - most notably the classic gin martini and, and in cahoots with Campari, in a Negroni.
So, what exactly is vermouth? Essentially, it’s a wine fortified with neutral spirit (either grain or grape) flavoured with a variety of botanicals. With regard to botanicals - wormwood is essential. Wormwood is to vermouth, as juniper is to gin. After that it’s up to the winemaker/distiller’s discretion. “You could do anything, that’s the really fun part,” says Alex Retief of Urban Winery Sydney.
Alex Retief is a winemaker who last year started up the Urban Winery Sydney - an inner-city winery and cellar-door, making and showcasing wine from grapes sourced within New South Wales. He’s long been a part of our community, and it was he who first came to Young Henrys with the idea of joining forces to make a vermouth. “Winemakers, especially, are always looking for something else to do,” Retief explains.“You know, it’s that blending, it’s looking at different aspects.” Maybe there’s some appeal in getting to play god in a field where you’re usually so at the whim of mother nature and the results of the growing season. It’s a natural progression for both parties, with Young Henrys alway keen to experiment within its distilling arm especially with a product that would complement our Noble Cut gin.
So, how do you make a vermouth? “You could do it two different ways,” Retief explains. “Sometimes during ferment you get some of the grapes and actually kind of ferment all the botanicals in there, and then fortify it. But what we did with this one - we started with a base wine that I had”. From there it was a process of taking Young Henrys neutral grain spirit and steeping 26 individual botanicals, many of which are used in the Noble Cut gin, to find the perfect blend to work with the wine.
Obviously, what works in gin, doesn’t necessarily work in vermouth. The idiosyncratic use of hops in the Noble Cut, for example, “it was too harsh for this,” Retief says. The base wine used is a Tumbarumba chardonnay. “It’s quite dry, quite high in acid, [with] that kind of lemony-citrusy flavour,” Retief explains. “So the flavours I was looking at were a lot of that cardamom, rosemary, fennel. A little bit more of that lemon myrtle but it already had enough of that citrus anyway so it didn’t need so much.”
The end result is Animal Spirit, a product of the Inner-West and a bone-dry aperitif crafted perfectly to sit alongside the Young Henrys Noble Cut Gin. We like it best stirred in a wet martini, in a 50/50 mix with Noble Cut Gin. It will also drink happily alone over ice, or as a ‘Dry & Dry’ - despite the parched-sounding name, that’s a thirst-quenching match of Animal Spirit Dry Vermouth and Dry Ginger Ale.
The plan is next to make a red, slightly sweeter vermouth, “For Negronis and things like that.” Retief laughs, a twinkle in his eye: “Then all we’d need to do is make a Campari…”
Animal Spirit Vermouth is available from Urban Winery Sydney and online soon.