Beginner’s guide to vermouth

No longer relegated to the dusty depths of your grandparents’ liquor cabinet, vermouth is back in vogue.

We asked Shaun Byrne, one half of local producer Maidenii, to tell us all about this ancient tincture.

What is vermouth?
Vermouth is basically a fortified wine aromatised with various botanicals. Traditionally, it was a clever way to use up grapes left over from winemaking, but these days it’s a more thoughtful process. Grape varietals are specifically selected and, in Maidenii’s case, local botanicals infused to impart a distinct terroir.

The number one thing to know?
It must be refrigerated once opened – it’s a wine, so it will oxidise and lose aroma otherwise. Don’t worry if you can’t see vermouth on a back shelf in a cocktail bar – it will just be tucked away in the fridge.

What’s its history?
Vermouth was created for medicinal purposes, but soon found its true niche as an aperitivo. The body responds to the bitter taste by speeding up the metabolism in case it’s poison, which in turn facilitates digestion.

There are two distinct versions of vermouth: one pale and dry (commonly used in Martinis), and the other red and sweeter (good to deglaze meats or simply served over ice with a slice of orange and an olive).

To this day, it’s still common in Italy to end the work day with a stop at the il solito posto (your usual place) for a vermouth with friends.

How is it made?
It starts with a base of neutral grapes, alcohol (such as brandy) and botanicals are added to give it flavour. After the wine is aromatised and fortified, it’s sweetened with either cane sugar or caramelised sugar, depending on the style.

Novel fact?
You can’t get a hangover from it. It's medicinal! Yes, you can quote me on that.

Some fun ways to drink it?
As the Spanish do! Spend a relaxing afternoon with friends over a bottle with some soda water (or soda syphon for a European touch), a bucket of ice, a selection of citrus, and some salty snacks on the side.

Maidenii has recently released a pre-mix spritz and is releasing Nocturne (its small batch passion project) in December. Last year’s Nocturne release sold out in an hour. This year’s release is infused with truffle. Don’t miss out.

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