Vermouth: Never Uncouth

Dependable, unassuming, and often overlooked, vermouth has a voice that produces breathtaking harmonies within a group but rarely if ever gets a solo. That’s just the way it’s been since the fortified and aromatized wine was first featured as a cocktail ingredient by Harry “The Dean” Johnson in his 1880 Bartenders’ Manual. But a funny thing happened between then and now: for some reason vermouth’s star vehicle, the martini, kept getting drier and drier—a trend succinctly illustrated by Winston Churchill, who touted his preferred martini as a tumbler of just gin stirred while simply nodding in the direction of France (the birthplace of dry vermouth).

Over the last several years, these wrongs have been largely righted, and vermouth’s role at the bar is rapidly expanding thanks in part to the rising popularity of spritzes, aperitifs, and a European-influenced style of breezy, low-ABV early-evening drinking and socializing. And, of course, that’s in addition to the pivotal part it continues to play in universally beloved classics such as the Manhattan, Negroni, and all styles of martini.

Sweet, rosé, or dry, there’s an unexpected depth and complexity to vermouth on its own—and an April in full swing when the colors and aromas start to scream spring is the perfect time to shine a spotlight on the dry variety. Much like the awakening seasonal landscape, dry vermouth is packed full of botanicals, roots, herbs, and spices, leading to flavors that are bright, floral, and well-balanced.

The three drinks within the Vermouth: Never Uncouth Box make for a swanky and sophisticated springtime affair, so join us for a closer look at this unsung beloved of the bartender. Subscribe now through March 31st to get yours—it’ll ship the week of April 1st.

While many are now or are about to be in the thick of intensive spring cleaning efforts, Stacey Swenson has instead set her sights on something else entirely—this Tidy Martini. She has a certain way with vermouth (as she does with spritzes, liqueurs, and everything European-inflected at the NYC cocktail bar Dante). This alternative martini forgoes the hard spirit, allowing crisp and delicate vermouth to take the reins while the savory elements—a tangy fennel shrub, olive bitters, and a pinch of salt—show up to dirty (in a good way) just enough of that cool cleanliness.

Stacey bartends at Dante in New York City and heads up creative drinks strategies for Simple Serve. She’s also StarChefs Rising Star bartender of 2019.

For some behind-the-scenes tidbits from Stacey on her work, vermouth, shrubs, and all about her cocktail, check out our interview.

There are hundreds of vineyards to explore in the “Oregon Wine Country” of Willamette Valley, and lately a few vermouth brands have been making some waves out of the region, too. So it makes sense that Adam Robinson—who you can find behind the bar at the inventive Deadshot in nearby Portland—has an inspired way of using this featured ingredient. His Runaway Princess unlocks and amplifies the floral notes and depth of vermouth with a jasmine-ginger syrup and bitter, tangy lemon and lime accents. But it’s the finish with a botanically-brewed soda packed with mandarin and Seville orange that brings out a not-often-seen whimsical side to vermouth, elevating this sipper to the level of royalty.

Adam has worked behind the bars of Park Kitchen, Expatriate, and the Rum Club in between stints of living and working abroad in the Caribbean and Asia. After he teamed up with friends in 2016 to launch a one-night-a-week cocktail pop-up called Deadshot, it quickly became an industry favorite, and in May 2018 they opened a new brick-and-mortar location in Southeast Portland.

For some behind-the-scenes tidbits from Adam on his work, Portland’s drinking culture, unique ingredients, and all about his cocktail, check out our interview.

The northern-Italian tradition of aperitivo is now spreading not only throughout the rest of the peninsula, but across the world. How could it not? Typically kicking off at around 19:00, it’s similar to what we call happy hour (minus the discounts, but plus free snacks) and is the perfect hour-or-two bridge between the workday and dinner. It’s a style of drinking so romantic and irresistible that for the Easy as Apple Pie cocktail we went directly to the source. Alessandro Zampieri from the canal-side cocktail bar Il Mercante in Venice has put together a light vermouth-based spritz featuring a steady presence of apple and fennel seed flavor plus a bubbly topper of tonic. It’s the perfect aid for unwinding and winding back up again!

A self-taught bartender who’s been in the industry for fifteen years now, Alessandro is the owner and bar manager at Il Mercante, where he’s lately been focusing on homemade products, bitters, syrups, infusions involving kitchen techniques, and more.

The Vermouth: Never Uncouth Box features vibrant low-ABV cocktails that show off the unexpected versatility of a barroom staple. Spring on forward and sign up for yours!

The Shaker & Spoon Team

*not vegan: nothing

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