The Tribuno Papers

This document, which was about 14 typewriter pages, was written to the IRS by the executor of Mario P. Tribuno’s estate. The document was given to me by the executor of the son, John L. Tribuno’s estate. The story of the company and its founder are told as well as all liabilities explained in the hopes that this artisan company will be valuated lower for tax purposes while it is transferred from father to son in 1962. This paper was financially very important so it is very well organized and persuasive especially when it comes to the liabilities. I do not think much is exaggerated because eventually in the 1970′s domestic vermouths were being out advertised 20 to 1 by Italian companies.

Tribuno was at one point in time the biggest American vermouth company and had about a quarter of the domestic vermouth market. Their vermouth was considered by some to be the greatest ever made. The company ended up being sold to Coca-Cola in 1970′s where it is now just a shadow of its former self. The paper ultimately describes the company as a “one man organization” and after two generations there was a particularly rocky market and no one to pass the torch to. Coca-cola just couldn’t man up.

The Tribuno family started a fellowship at UC Davis in Mario P. Tribuno’s name to study vermouth and commissioned Maynard Amerine to create the Annotated Bibliography of Vermouth, which after being re-popularized on this very blog!, has launched quite a few ships. Sadly, with the declining popularity of vermouth, someone shortsightedly redirected the fellowship to the study of wine aroma.

This document is followup to a project I tackled more than five years ago. I had not searched for anything related to Tribuno in a while. At the bottom, below the document, are some links and one lists many of the botanicals in the Tribuno formula.

••••

Mario P. Tribuno was born in 1882 in Torino, Italy. His father was a vineyardist and other members of the family were in the wine business.  Thus Mr. Tribuno had an early introduction to the business that as to become his life’s work.

In 1903, by arrangement with an uncle in California who was president of Italian Swiss Colony, a large wine producing organization, Mr. Tribuno came to the United States for the purpose of learning American methods of grape growing and wine making. He spent four years in California at the Italian Swiss Colony vineyards and plants. In 1907 he came East to serve the company as their eastern sales representative.

In 1909 Mr. Tribuno severed his connection with Italian Swiss Colony and went into business for himself as an importer of wines. Thereafter, he bought a California vineyard and continued in business until the event of prohibition as both an importer and domestic wine producer.

Shortly after the event of prohibition, in 1921, Mr. Tribuno organized California Grape Products, a California corporation. This company produced grape concentrate from its own vineyards as well as from purchased grapes. Mr. Tribuno continued in this business until the early 1930s, at which time he liquidated his interest. During 1926 Mr. Tribuno played a prominent part in the formation of Fruit Industries, now known as the California Wine Association, one of the largest wine cooperatives now in existence.

In 1935, shortly after repeal, Mr. Tribuno organized Vermouth Industries of America, Inc., a predecessor of the present Vermouth Industries of America, Inc. This venture, because of a 50% reduction of import duties, became economically untenable and the company was liquidated in 1939. The present Vermouth Industries of America, Inc. was incorporated in October 7, 1940.

Mr. Tribuno spent his entire business lifetime in various phases of the wine business. He was an expert on all phases of grape growing and wine and vermouth manufacture. His expertness was well known and widely recognized in the trade.

Today approximately 37% of all vermouth consumed in this country is imported from Europe and the balance, approximately 63%, is of domestic manufacture. Prior to prohibition practically all vermouth was imported. Only 5% of the total consumption was then manufactured domestically and that principally in California for local consumption within the state. In the early post-prohibition period, domestic wineries attempted to produce and sell vermouth. However, they met with little success in competing with the imported product. For the first six years after prohibition the consumption of domestic produced vermouth was not in excess of 15% of the total consumption.

With the event of World War II, foreign imports gradually dried up, and in the course of time there were no importations of vermouth from Europe whatsoever. Several Italian companies during the war years did establish vermouth making plants in Argentina and succeeded in importing Argentine manufactured vermouth into the U.S. However, this vermouth was of poor quality and did not meet with public acceptance.

During the World War II years the manufacture of domestic vermouth was greatly expanded to meet the demand created by the lack of importations. After the conclusion of the war, foreign shippers again brought their merchandise into the United States markets. With respect to more recent trends, the available statistics indicate that the total vermouth market during the period from 1949 through 1955, increased 88.9% whereas the United States vermouth increased 53%  and foreign vermouth increased 106.4% During this period the United States vermouth declined from 70% to 63% of the total market. The statistics reveal that a definite shift in favor of foreign vermouths is taking place.

At the present time hearings are pending before the United States Tariff Commission with regard to the reduction of duties on imported vermouths. The domestic vermouth industry is opposing such reduction. The outcome at this point is uncertain. However, any reduction that may be made in the present duties will result in immediate unfavorable financial consequences to the domestic vermouth industry and could possibly recreate the economic situation that led to the dissolution of the predecessor Vermouth Industries of America, Inc. in 1939.

Competition among vermouth producers is very keen. There are over 300 brands of imported vermouth and over 200 brands of domestic vermouth distributed in New York State. Martini & Rossi and Cinzano imported from Italy, and Noilly Prat imported from France account for approximately 70% of all foreign vermouth sold in the United States. Some other imported brands are: From Italy – Gancia and Cora, and from France – Broissoire. Many better hotels and restaurants and private clubs feature and serve imported vermouths exclusively. Some of these establishments, to name a few, are as follows: St. Regis Hotel, Longchamps Restaurant chain, Schrafft’s Restaurant chain, Yale Club, Racquet & Tennis Club, and such New York famous restaurants as Pavillon, Chateau Briand and Voison. Some popular brands of domestic vermouth made in the United State are: Gallo, G & D, Lejon, Hublein, and Roma.

Purchasers of vermouth fall into two categories: First, those individual consumers who purchase from retail outlets individual bottles for home consumption, and second, sales to restaurants, hotels, bars and to others who are in the business of vending food and drink. Both the individual buyer and the business buyer, because of the many brands available, are extremely price conscious, and the meeting of price competition is an important factor in the operation of the vermouth manufacturer.

Prior to World War II, domestically produced vermouths were made and distributed by relatively small organizations engaged solely in the wine business. Almost invariably these companies were inadequately financed and had no funds available for the exploitation of their product through nationwide advertising channels. With the event of World War II, the large liquor companies, in an effort to replace lost whisky volume, acquired wineries and thus established themselves in the wine and vermouth business. In 1942 Schenley acquired the Roma Wine Company, and the Roma brand of vermouth; in 1941 Hublein Brothers came on the market with a Hublein brand vermouth; in 1945 Hiram Walker acquired Valliant Vineyards, Inc. and marketed a Valliant brand vermouth. Only some six months ago Seagram-Distillers Corporation acquired Fromm & Sichel, and have brought onto the market a vermouth under the very popular label of Christian Brothers. Two of the large wine companies, Gallo Wine Company, with Gallo vermouth, and Italian Swiss Colony with the Lejon and G & D brands, have, in the last two years, begun to extensively feature and advertise their vermouth line.

The entry of the large corporation in to the wine and vermouth business has forced out of the industry many of the small independents, in many instances by the bankruptcy route. The large companies operating on substantial advertising budgets are exploiting wines and vermouths on a national basis via the radio, television, newspaper and magazine media. Their willingness and capacity to spend advertising dollars dwarfs the advertising budget of an independent such as Vermouth Industries of America, Inc., which company has never spent more than $50,000 a year on all forms of advertising. Vermouth Industries of America, Inc. is faced with the bleak prospect that in the course of time the greater advertising expenditures by larger and wealthier competitors will result in a serious loss of business.

Vermouth Industries of America, Inc. occupies approximately 20,000 square feet of space on the street floor and basement floors at 420 West 45 Street, New York City. The space is rented at an annual rental of $17,000. The office as well as the manufacturing facilities are located on these premises. The company has no other facilities elsewhere.

The company’s cooperage capacity is 195,000 gallons, consisting of approximately 80 tanks of varying capacity. Approximately 40% of the cooperage was erected fifteen years ago with the balance being added through the intervening years. The cost of new cooperage is today some 18¢ a gallon. However, the resale value is only 1¢ a gallon because the principal cost of cooperage is the labor coast of erecting the tanks. The principal mechanical equipment in use in the winery is the bottling line. The company owns one bottling line, the value of which in new condition is approximately $12,000. The companies does not own any plant assets which any substantial appreciation over book values and in general, the balance sheet of the company reflects a fair approximation of the in-place value of the plant and equipment.

The company does not own its own vineyards and therefore all of its base wines must be purchased. It has been the custom of the company to contract each year with two California wineries for its needs. From time to time additional spot purchases of wine are made as conditions dictate. Wine supplies are purchased for one to two years’ needs. There have been marked fluctuations in the cost of wine, which is one of the principal cost ingredients of vermouth. The manufacturer of vermouth must invariably shoulder the brunt of increased costs, although he may also profit in a reverse situation. The inability of the finished product to readily reflect changes in basic costs makes the vermouth manufacturing business highly speculative.

The quality of vermouth is a factor ranking equally in importance with that of price. Vermouth is a wine flavored with herbs and roots. It originated in Italy some two hundred years ago. It was first used as an aperitif and drunk straight and is still so consumed today in European and Latin speaking countries. However, is today used in the United States principally as an cocktail ingredient. The sweet type or Italian type is used in the marking of Manhattan cocktails, and the dry or French type is used for the Martini and dry Manhattan cocktails.

Some thirty odd herbs and roots gathered from every continent of the world are used to make the extract which is used to flavor the wine. The extract is made by macerating several hundred pounds of herbs and roots and soaking them in wine for several months. At the end of the soaking period the wine, which is now called extract, is drained off and is aged for a period of six months or more. Approximately 1% of the extract is added to the base wine along with sugar, citric acid, caramel and other ingredients, varied as required, to make either the sweet or dry vermouth. After a period of aging, the vermouth is then filtered and bottled.

The flavor and character of the vermouth is imparted to the product by the extract. The United States Government requires that the vermouth producer file with the Government a list of all the herbs and roots which go to make the extract. However, the Government does not require that the formula show the relative quantities of the various botanicals used. This is the vermouth makers secret. Only minute quantities of some herbs are used and there are but two herbs that are common to both the sweet and dry type of vermouth.

The formulas used by the company for dry and sweet vermouth were developed by Mr. Mario P. Tribuno, the decedent, and label on each bottle of vermouth bears the legend that “This vermouth is made solely from selected California wines and imported herbs according to the original formulas of Mr. M. P. Tribuno.” At the present time the formulas are known only to Mr. John Tribuno, son of Mario. To provide for emergencies and to permit continued production of the vermouth, the formulas have been placed by Mr. John Tribuno in a vault, access to which is available on his death to his heirs.

The making of vermouth is therefore an art rather than a science. There is no stability or consistency in the botanicals used. Because of changing climatic and soil conditions each harvest produces roots and herbs somewhat different in character from previous crops. It is the vemrouth-makers art to blend with each batch of extract manufactured the 30-odd herbs and roots in such quantities so that the end result will yield a vermouth of a standard and uniform quality. Mr. Mario P. Tribuno, the decedent, during all of his years as president of Vermouth Industries of America, Inc. personally made and supervised the making of the vermouth extract and the finished vermouth according to his own secret formulas. The only person to whom the decedent had imparted his formulas and methods is his son, John Tribuno, who today is head of the company and is carrying on the work of his father. The real test of whether or not the art of vermouth making has successfully been imparted from father to son will soon come with the exhaustion of the supplies of extract manufactured under the aegis of the decedent. The drinking public is sensitive to subtle changes in taste and quality and great harm will result unless the company is able to continue to turn out a vermouth containing those characteristics of taste and quality which have created a place for Tribuno vermouth in a highly competitive market.

Vermouth Industries of America, Inc. remains a “one man” organization. John Tribuno is present, production head, general manager, “21″ Brands liaison man and general factotum. The company has in its employ no other persons capable of continuing the work of John Tribuno and should he resign, become incapacitated, die or for any reason whatsoever be unavailable, the company would be unable to maintain the continuity of product quality, and generally financial loss would result on his removal from the Vermouth Industries picture.

The company distributes its product nationally through a sole distributor, “21″ Brands, Inc. a prominent firm in the industry, whose operation consists of handling a line of liquor and wine products on an exclusive basis. Some of the lines it handles exclusively in addition to Tribuno vermouth are Ballantine Scotch, Hine Cognac, Boca Chica Rum and Martini wines. ”21″ Brands distributes directly to retail liquor stores, restaurants, bars and grills, etc. in the borough of Manhattan. Elsewhere ”21″ Brands acts as a jobber or primary distributor and sells the Tribuno vermouth to other distributors who in turn sell to their local customers, that is, the liquor stores, restaurants, etc.

Vermouth Industries invoices all of its shipments to ”21″ Brands, Inc. and Vermouth Industries has no contact whatsoever with the customers of ”21″ Brands, Inc.

The relationship with ”21″ Brands, Inc. originated in 1941. The initial agreement was set forth in a give year written contract which was not renewed at the expiration of its original terms. Since 1946, all arrangements have been made orally and there is no written contract in existence between the parties at the present time.

In 1941, ”21″ Brands, Inc. acquired by purchase an 18% stock interest in Vermouth Industries. They own 250 shares of the total outstanding stock of 1,450 shares. As stockholders of Vermouth Industries ”21″ Brands, Inc. is represented on the Board of Directors of Vermouth Industries and of course receives all financial reports of the company.

As matters now stand, ”21″ Brands, Inc. is the sole customer of Vermouth Industries. Vermouth Industries has no access to the real distributors of the product, that is, the liquor stores, restaurants, etc. and ”21″ Brands, Inc. is under no obligation to furnish such a list to Vermouth Industries. Since there is no contract with ”21″ Brands, Inc. they may at their own pleasure terminate the existing relationship. Recent events have given the Vermouth Industries management some cause for concern. Within the last month it was announced that ”21″ Brands, Inc. had acquired a distillery in Kentucky for the purpose of manufacturing their own whiskeys for distribution under their existing brand name of Club Special. The acquisition of a distillery represents a departure on the part of ”21″ Brands, Inc. from their previous method of operation. Without question, increases costs of operation, higher salesmens’ commissions, wages, freight rates and the general price increases which have characterized our economy of recent years, has compelled ”21″ Brands, Inc.to seek increased profits through expanding their operation to include manufacturing as well as distributing with the purpose of earning for themselves the manufacturers’ as well as distributor’s profit. The extension of such thinking on the part of ”21″ Brands, Inc. could have calamitous results insofar as Vermouth Industries is concerned. Vermouth Industries, without any access to the ultimate customer, would find itself in a difficult position to continue the distribution of its product without interruption should ”21″ Brands, Inc.for one reason or another be forced to or decide to discontinue its distribution of Tribuno vermouth.

At the inception of the relationship with ”21″ Brands, Inc. the price charged by Vermouth Industries to ”21″ Brands, Inc.was a matter of arms length bargaining between the parties. However, as heretofore related, ”21″ Brands, Inc. soon became a stockholder of Vermouth Industries and thus obtained access to Vermouth Industries financial figures and its affairs generally. As a result of such information ”21″ Brands, Inc. has continually brought pressure for price adjustments and other concessions which have had the result of effectively reducing the sales price of the product by Vermouth Industries to ”21″ Brands, Inc. For example, Vermouth Industries now pays all of the advertising bills and reimburses ”21″ Brands, Inc. for all or a substantial portion of expenditures made by them in connection with the sales promotion of Tribuno vermouth. The business and future of Vermouth Industries is subject to all of the infirmities and risks that result from having but a single customer, complicated in this case by the fact that the customer has a minority interest in the supplier company.

The liquor business, of which the wine industry is one branch, is without question the most highly regulated industry of its size in our economy. There is strict regulation of the industry at all government levels, federal, state and local. The Alcohol and Tax Division of the United States as they apply to alcoholic beverages including wines and vermouths. No one may engage in the liquor business unless a basic permit is obtained from the Division. The issuance of such a permit is a permissive act and is not mandatory on the part of the authorities. The Division controls ever facet of its permittees’ business operation. It determines production standards and methods of manufacture. Its rulings, which it may make arbitrarily, may and do have financial consequences to the manufacturers. For example, about a year ago the Division issued a ruling change a traditional vermouth production practice that had been in use in the industry, with government sanction, since 1933, with the result that this change in method increased the cost to make the vermouth about 8¢ a gallon. The Division also controls selling and distribution practices. For example, no alcoholic goods may be sold on consignment. Labels must be submitted for approval. Advertising programs are subject to review by the Division, and in like manner the whole conduct of the business operation is under the scrutiny and control of the Division.

The State of New York, through the State Liquor Authority by means of permissive licensing, again duplicates all of the controls of the federal government. The State Liquor Authority of New York State also controls credit practices and wholesale and retail pricing. No person can be an officer, director or substantial stockholder of a licensed liquor manufacturer, distributor or retailer without the approval of federal and state authorities. All of the various states in which the sale of alcoholic beverages is legal have Boards similar to the New York State, State Liquor Authority.

Because of these government controls the business of Vermouth Industries may be placed in jeopardy not only because of the wrong doings of its own employees, officers, and directors, but may also be placed in jeopardy by reason of the wrong doings of its distributor “21″ Brands, Inc. over whose affairs of course Vermouth Industries has no exercise or control.

Instances of permittees who have sustained great financial loss because of the inability to secure license renewals are well known in the industry. These incidents involve permittees at all levels, manufacturers, distributors and retail liquor stores. A few years ago the State Liquor Authority of New York State refused to renew the license of International Distributors, Inc., a large New York company. This company was unsuccessful in its efforts in the courts to compel the state authorities to issue the license and the company closed its doors and went out of business. This company was the exclusive distributor of a well known scotch, Kings Ransom, and it is a safe surmise that all the suppliers of International Distributors were to some extent adversely affected and suffered financial loss as a result of the sudden cessation of the distribution of their products. Longchamps, Inc. was closed by the New York State Liquor Authority some years ago because of violation of the state’s credit regulations. Longchamps gave credit to its patrons for liquor consumed in the restaurant contrary to state regulations. As a result of this violation the bars of all the Longchamps restaurants were ordered closed, and this situation resulted in the sale of the restaurant to new owners at a price reputed to be 25% to 50% of the value of the business had Longchamps not been in violation of the State Liquor Authority regulations. Ilsa Wine and Liquor Company, a retail store, repudiately incurred legal fees in excess of $50,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to compel the issuance of it of a license by the New York State Liquor Authority which had refused to renew on the grounds of alleged violations.

The stock of publicly held liquor companies which are traded on stock exchanges, reflect in the relationships of book value to market price the uncertainties of the industry. In this day of inflated values and booming stock markets, the liquor stocks for the most part are priced below book values. Some current book values and market prices are as follows:

Book           Market
Value           Value
American Distilling                       $38.23        $23.00
Distillers-Seagram                         40.33          35.00
National Distillers                           24.93          25.00
Schenley Industries                       52.63          19.00
Brown-Forman Distilling Co.         21.39          19.00

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Talk. Visit to the Vermouth Industries of America, Inc., one of the largest vermouth-blending cellars, underneath 420 West 45 St. (between 9 and 10 Ave.) Proprietors are Mario P. and John L. Tribuno, father and son. Alcoholic content of vermouth must match label specifications. The elder Tribuno worked out the formula, more or less as a hobby, during prohibition days. The vermouth is made of white wine plus wormwood, the basic herb. They use a fortified sherry-type wine and some of the herbs used are: angelica, tonka bean, hyssop, orrisroot, rosemary, elder flower, sage, sweet marjoram, nutmeg, orange peel, and lemon peel. It is aged for about a year, and it takes a year and a half to get a batch of extract ready for mixing. – John Brooks October, 6th 1951, The New Yorker

 

For those with a Time Magazine subscription, here is a great article with John L. Tribuno from 1955.

PAR. 6. As a result of its Tribuno acquisition, New York Coca-Cola is the largest producer of vermouth in the United States. Tribuno holds a 12.3 percent share of the total vermouth market, and its share of domestically produced vermouth is 24 percent. Thus Tribuno ranks first among all domestic sellers of vermouth and second among all producers of vermouth. -FTC June 1979

[...]

Until its acquisition by Coke-New York, Tribuno had been a family-owned company in New Jersey bottling and blending vermouth under its trademark in its plant in New Jersey. Some vermouth was also botted for Tribuno by A. Perelli-Minetti & Sons, Delano, California from whom Tribuno also purchased bulk wine for its bottling plant in New Jersey

Tribuno did face a boycott at one point in time (1967) due to association with Perelli-Minetti. Mario Tribuno might have been associated with Perelli-Minetti since prohibiton where the produced grape concentrate for home wine making.

Vermouth: Its Production & Future

Another great Wines & Vines article from 1945

Vermouth: Its Production & Future

by H. Otto Sichel

The history of Vermouth in this country is colorful and interesting to follow. Before prohibition, imported Vermouths dominated the field. Small quantities of American Vermouths were produced in California as early as 1898, but could not attain prominence against the stronger imported competition.

When repeal came in 1933, it soon became obvious that mixed drinks were more popular than ever. Vermouth, being an ingredient of two of the most widely accepted cocktails, gained in importance. The market for Vermouth was then centered in the hands of a few world famous imported brands. U.S. Vermouth could not be produced at the time, as it was subject to a triple tax: on the base wine, on the finished product and a tax for fortification. This tax burden made American Vermouths non competitive in price with the well established imports.

A change in these conditions occurred when in 1936 the Liquor Administration Act was adopted which made Vermouth liable to one single tax, the one levied on dessert wines. To benefit from these new regulations, the Vermouth maker has to comply with certain restrictions. No brandy for fortification can be added in this country, and the extract can be prepared only by the use of wine with macerated herbs. Some methods, widely practiced abroad and partly responsible for the quality and character of the imports, cannot be employed in this country, among them fortification of the base wine, flavor extraction with brandy and distillation of the extract.

Since 1937 we have seen a steady and substantial growth in the production of American Vermouths, a growth remarkable for a new industry after only eight years of existence. This trend has been tremendously boosted by the precarious situation in which the imported brands found themselves since 1940 when Italy declared war on the side of the Axis and France was overrun by the Nazis. The main source of supplies for imported Vermouths was thus eliminated almost over night. Some of the most famous brands are today imported from South American countries where a great demand for Vermouth as an aperitif wine as induced locally owned wineries—many years before outbreak of the present conflict—to acquire franchises on name, label and formula from some of the leading Italian Vermouth makers. These South American Vermouths resemble very closely the original European product. However, even from South American imports are curtailed at the present time, due to difficulties in transportation and other causes.

Meanwhile the domestic Vermouth industry was growing stronger and stronger and at least during the last 3 years, as a result of war time conditions, had no longer to contend with the full competition of well established imported brands. There are principally two Vermouth producing sections in this country: One in California with 70 Vermouth producing wineries (according to latest statistics available, ending June 30, 1943); the other one in New York New Jersey with 116 Vermouth wineries. In these three states 186 Vermouth wineries are operating, out of 238 all over the United States. The remaining 52 premises are making Vermouth in 10 additional states of the Union. Productionwise, the three states, New York, New Jersey and California, produced in 1943 almost 94 per cent of the nationally made Vermouth and nearly 80 per cent of the national tax paid withdrawals.

We have seen that since repeal the Vermouth market in this country has undergone three distinct and separate stages: first from 1933 to 1937 when imports dominated the field and no Vermouth was made domestically; then from 1937 to 1940 when a domestic industry was being built up, but was not yet strong enough to give a clear picture of the competitive position with imported Vermouth; and finally from 1940 to the present day when the domestic industry grew very strong and imports were heavily curtailed. Not by any yardstick can these last years with their artificially increased buying power of the public be considered “normal” years. Only free competition after termination of present war time restrictions will give the answer to the potential of the Vermouth field in general and to the relative strength of imported versus domestic Vermouths. Undoubtedly there will be a lucrative field for both categories.

The diagram shows the apparent consumption figures for combined imported and domestic Vermouths, for fiscal years 1935 through 1943. Consumption figures for imports for last three years are not published and are estimated. It may be worthwhile to remember that these figures represent “apparent” consumption, based on tax withdrawals, not actual consumption and therefore last year’s figure may include ample stocks in distributors’ and dealers’ hands which have not yet reached the consumer. The figures show a steady increase, almost year by year. The tremendous progress made, particularly since 1940, is very satisfying. Consumption for almost 3,000,000 gallons for 1943 is more than triple the 1935 figure and represents a 40 per cent increase over the previous year, the biggest growth both in percentage and gallonage for any individual year since repeal.

Vermouth Production

The art of making Vermouth entails great experience, long research, infinite care and much patience. Vermouth production consists of three distinct separate steps: the preparation of the base wine, the extraction of the herb flavors and finally the finishing and bottling of the product.

The wine base of sweet Vermouth is a sweetened white wine. In Italy, a wine made from a mild Muscat grape, the Muscat Canelli, served as a base for the best Vermouth of this type. It is mild in character, low in alcohol, high in sugar. Grape concentrate is added to arrive at the required degree of sweetness of about 10 per cent; the color is adjusted by caramel. The wine is then fortified with brandy. Italian law prescribes that no wines younger than one year of age may be used in the making of Vermouth.

American Vermouth regulations prohibit the addition of brandy during production. The base wine for American Vermouth is, therefore, a neutral dessert wine type of 21 to 24 per cent alcohol, most frequently a blend of an Angelica or White Port type wine with Muscatel. It is sweetened with sugar or grape concentrate and blended with other wine of lower alcohol content so as to reach the desired 16 to 18 per cent of alcohol. Acidity of the blend is adjusted by citric acid. Baked Sherry wine should be avoided; its rancid flavor is undesirable in Vermouth. Wines from the east of the country must be used with caution, as the foxiness of the native grape tends to overshadow the herb flavor. The more neutral California wines are generally favored.

Base wine for American dry Vermouths are similarly blended from white table wines and fortified Sauterne type wines of about 24 per cent, thereby arriving at a blend of about 18 to 19 per cent alcohol. In France, the neutral light colored wines from the department Herault, well aged for two or three years, are considered the most desirable. They are often blended with a slightly sweeter and fuller wine made from the Grenache grape. These blends are then fortified with brandy to about 18 per cent; their sweetness is adjusted by adding “mistelles” (fortified grape juice). It appears that both in France and Italy considerably more time is allowed for the aging of the base wine than is usual in this country.

Flavor and aroma of Vermouth is derived from a carefully selected variety of herbs, seeds, flowers, fruits, barks, and peels. The herb formulas used show great individual differences as to quantity and composition. The origin, right selection, relative quantities and absolute purity of the herbs is of utmost importance to the quality of the finished product. Most herbs are imported in dried form. Their storage should be given great attention since many of them easily acquire a certain mustiness if stored in an insufficiently ventilated warehouse, whereas too much ventilation results in loss of flavor-giving properties.

About 60 to 80 herbs and other ingredients are known to be part of the numerous herb formulas. An individual herb mixture for sweet Vermouth has anywhere between 10 and 30 different herbs, whereas recipes for dry Vermouths consist of scarcely more than 20 different ingredients, The exact composition of the herb mixture used is a jealously guarded secret of the producers, though some of the older recipes, mainly of European origin, have been published. The occasional stories of a herb formula consisting of 100 and more ingredients, belong to the realm of fancy.

Another point of great variance is the quantity of herb mixture necessary to produce one gallon of Vermouth. Quantities as low as ½ ounce and as high as 4 ounces have been suggested. Average figures in this country are in the neighborhood of 1 to 1.2 ounce of herbs per gallon sweet Vermouth and .5 to .7 ounce per gallon of dry Vermouth.

In the following are listed those herbs and parts of the plants which we most frequently encounter in Vermouth formulas:

Coriander (seed)

Bitter Orange (fruit peel)

Angelica (root and seed)

Calamus (root)

Chincona (bark)

Clove (flower)

Elecampane (root)

Cinnamon (bark)

European Centaury (plant)

Roman Wormwood (plant)

Gentian (root)

Elder (flowers)

Blessed Thistle (plant) is mainly used for dry Vermouth, though occasionally we may find it also in herb mixtures for sweet Vermouths. Coriander and Cloves are more important for production of sweet Vermouth and only infrequently found in recipes for dry Vermouth. Other ingredients such as Lesser Cardamon (fruit), Anise (seed), Tonca (beans), Vanilla (beans), Quassia (wood), Dittany of Crete (aerial portion and flowers), Germander (plant) and many other may be part of the herb formula. This list is far from complete.

An important ingredient in some of the original Italian sweet Vermouth formulas and in most of the older French herb mixtures for dry Vermouth was the wormwood herb (artemisia absinthium) which contains the glucoside absinthe. The use of this herb is prohibited today, in this country as well as in most foreign countries, as absinthe is classed as a habit forming drug, impairing the public health. Another member of the artemisia family, however, artemisia pontica or Roman wormwood, is harmless and frequently used in herb-mixtures for sweet Vermouths.

Whereas flavor and aroma of Vermouth are quite characteristic, the composition of the herb mixture varies widely. It is typical for the great variety of herbs used, that of 12 Vermouth formulas before us, not one single herb is a component of all of these 12 herb recipes.

Before the outbreak of the present war, most herbs were imported to this country; some from Europe and many from the Far East, the traditional treasure house for spices and herbs since time immemorial. Wartime restrictions have led to a great shortage of many of these herbs. Successful attempts have been made in many instances to either substitute such herbs for similar ones available here or to grow formerly imported herbs in the Western Hemisphere. The flavor of such “home grown” herbs is satisfactory, but its intensity is frequently less pronounced than in the imported varieties. To counteract the diminished pungency, a slightly increased quantity per gallon of Vermouth is often advisable.

To impart the herb flower to the base wine is a delicate operation. The herb mixture is either allowed to macerate directly in the wine or a concentrated extract is prepared which is later blended with the base wine. In certain proportions. The herb flavor is most frequently extracted with wine or alcohol; boiling water is occasionally used. The usual method of flavor extraction for production of dry Vermouth in France is by infusion in the wine base. In Italy, the herbs macerate for one week in spirits of about 170 proof; the extract is then mixed with some more alcohol and white wine. This blend is sometime concentrated by distillation to about half its original volume and after several weeks of rest is blended with the base wine.

Extraction of herbs with spirits of brandy is prohibited in this country. Preparation of an extract by maceration is the most generally accepted method and is favored over direction infusion in the wine since it guarantees a more uniform quality of the finished product. The herbs stay in the wine for one to three weeks during which time they are constantly stirred. If they are left in contact with the wine for too extended a period, an undesirable bitterness of flavor may result. Occasionally percolation instead of the simpler method of maceration is used. Some herbs and barks, known to cause cloudiness in Vermouth, are subjected to individual extraction and separate treatment of the infusion from such components is advisable to avoid sediment in the Vermouth later on.

The extract should be allowed to age till the varied flavor components are well “married” and no one herb dominates over others. The herb concentrate is then blended with the base wine in predetermined proportions. Further aging over several months is highly recommended to improve the quality. The finishing methods usually employed for treatment of dessert wine are applied. Refrigeration at low temperatures is frequently a necessary step to precipitate certain chemical substances derived from the herbs which, if not eliminated, may lead to cloudiness. The Vermouth should be fined and filtered and then is ready for bottling. Aging in the bottle for more than two months is unnecessary, as it will not improve the quality of the product.

The Future of Vermouth

During the last 10 years we have seen an astonishing growth of Vermouth sales from a yearly figure of less than ½ million cases to well over 1 million in 1943. The figure for 1943 alone constitutes a 40 per cent increase over the previous year. A similar growth is not expected in 1944; the consumption figure for this year is anticipated to be about the same as in 1943.

To what, then, can we look forward in Vermouth sales when, after termination of the war, more normal conditions prevail on the market again? The whiskey shortage of the last two years is certainly responsible in part for the increased consumption. Many bars and restaurants, being short of whiskey and gin, tried to stretch existing stocks by boosting mixed drinks, such as Manhattans and Martinis. A more ample whiskey supply and reduced earning power of the public are likely to reduce consumption of mixed drinks to a normal level after return of pre-war conditions. It is our opinion that additional promotional efforts to increase the consumption of these cocktails will be of little avail: The drinks are too well known to respond casily to further sales promotion. Their peace time consumption is nearing the saturation point.

More promising is the field of lesser-known mixed drinks made with Vermouth. In this category we mention the great favorite of pre-war France, Vermouth Cassis. This delightful drink, if promoted by smart sales efforts, may become a summer favorite and thereby create a new outlet for Vermouth.

However, any further substantial expansion of the Vermouth business beyond its present level depends on successful education of the public towards consumption of straight Vermouth. It is so used in Italy and France almost exclusively. Too many consumer in this country, when using Vermouth think of it only as an ingredient for mixed drinks. They are unaware that Vermouth is in itself a fully finished product, a “herb cocktail” that can stand on its own merits. It may be taken either straight, slightly chilled with a piece of lemon peel twisted over it, as an appetizer, or as a long drink, a Vermouth highball. Great efforts should be made to make the consuming public understand that Vermouth is a wine and a most enjoyable one at that. Good progress has been made in this direction during the last two years. It is in the sphere of straight Vermouth consumption that we see a great potential for further expansion of the Vermouth business in this country.

Revolution in Vermouth

Another mid century Wines & Vines article. From an anonymous author. Hopefully I can post some comments soon. A chart comparing foreign and domestically produced vermouth sales throughout the 1940′s accompanies the article. Basically, before the war foreign vermouth outsold American significantly then due to the war, American vermouth sales rose significantly and stayed that way, even after the war.

Revolution in Vermouth

How and why U.S. Vermouths, once a poor second in quality and sales to foreign Vermouths, took over the market

Essentially, vermouth is a wine which has soaked up the essences of certain herbs to give it a particular flavor.

Its tough to describe this flavor. Even the government, in spite of having at its command all the men who know all the words, can only say that vermouth is a wine which looks and tastes like vermouth.

To get that look and taste is a kind of art. Sometimes twenty-five different herbs, roots, and flowers are used, sometimes more. Each winery has its own vermouth formula and it’s quite unlikely that any two wineries use the exact same formula in making their vermouths.

Since that is the case, it’s almost a miracle how close to each other in color, bouquet and taste the various top quality vermouths come.

Vermouths made in the United States are called “Italian” or “French” without actually being labeled as such—not that anybody wants to fool the consumer, but because the terms have become descriptive of the type of vermouth.

The Italians originated the spiced wine which we now call vermouth. The French tried to copy it but their light wines could not produce the same type. Eventually, a world market was built up for both vermouth types; and the term “Italian” (sweet) or “French” (dry) is almost always used as a descriptive word.

In Europe, vermouth is often consumed alone as an apertif—an appetizer wine. In this country we use it mainly to dress up gin or whiskey so that we can call it a Martini or a Manhattan. Fifteen years ago when a U.S. Taxpayer bought a bottle of “Italian” vermouth, he got stuff made in Italy; and when he put down his money for “French” vermouth it was a cinch the contents of the bottle was produced in France. Today most vermouths sold over U.S. Retail store counters are made, spiced, and bottled right in this country.

This reversal practically constitutes a revolution—but a legal revolution, because a change in Federal law made it possible.

Previous to 1936 a U.S. Winery which made vermouth was only kidding itself that it was going to sell it. Vermouth production was handicapped, not only by lack of experienced vermouth men, but by the fact that the Treasury Department figured the spiced wine was good for double taxes.

One tax was collected on the beverage when it was turned from grape juice to wine. The second—and bigger—tax was collected when the wine was given its herbal tastes. This, our government said, was rectification and the maker should pay the same tax rate as for rectified brandy or whiskey, or what-not.

With a deal like that, it was almost impossible for a U.S. Winery to make and sell a vermouth to the public at a price in line with what the market would bear. U.S. vermouth production was practically non-existent.

But the 1936 change in the law removed the rectification tax and made it possible to produce vermouth in this country at a reasonable cost.

A number of our wineries went into the business, but it would be nothing more than charity to call their first efforts a success, either from a taste viewpoint or from a sales outlook.

But out citizens are stubborn. They don’t know when they’re licked. The industry stuck to it, learned something about vermouth production, and even imported a few European vermouth experts to take over.

The product got better, but it still was a long way from matching the imported varieties either in quality or sales.

Then came World War II. The flow of imported vermouth from Europe slowed down as gradually as a automobile which as smashed into a telephone pole. The tiny stock of European vermouth in U.S. Warehouses became smaller and smaller, while demand for vermouth obstinately got bigger and bigger.

The U.S. wine industry bugged its eyes at what was happening.

“Look,” said many a vintner to himself, “Here’s a thirsty, ready-made market for vermouth, and nobody to feed it but little old me?”

He jumped in along with many, many others. They made “Italian” vermouth and “French” vermouth, hurried it to market and sat back to await results.

The U.S. vermouths sold—but only few of them were good, and fewer excellent. However, the public needed vermouth. Practically the only vermouth to be had was that made in the U.S. and so the stuff sold.

Up to here the story of U.S. vermouth was a sad one. From this point on, it became a happier tale.

The producers got mad about not being able to make good vermouth. They brought in more experts, studied their methods, made extensive experiments, worked harder and harder, and gradually the quality of U.S. vermouth moved out of the poor range into the “fair” out of the “fair” and into the “good”–and in a few cases, even into the “excellent.” U.S. vermouths were going places.

The producers were happy, but in their hearts they knew that the real test of the future would come only after the war, when European vermouths once again got their one-way tickets to the U.S. Could our products hold their own?

In 1946, the testing period began. Vermouths began to pour into our customs houses from dollar-hungry France and Italy. Once again the store shelves carried noted foreign vermouth labels, but this time they had plenty of company from U.S. producers.

The public looked, pondered and tested, trying to make up its mind. Finally, the decision became clear. European vermouths were generally excellent; they had their place in our market. But U.S. vermouths also ranged from good to excellent, and they didn’t coast as much.

From that point on, the U.S. product was assured of its place as the big vermouth seller. Taking 1949 as an example, our consumption of U.S. vermouth and other appetizer wines was 2,385,000 gallons; of foreign vermouth, 1,021,000 gallons a ratio of 2/1/4 to 1 in our favor. (A decade ago, the ration was 7 to 1 in favor of foreign vermouths.)

In those same ten years, U.S. consumption of vermouth has increased 25 per cent—a sign of public satisfaction.

The U.S. industry has come a long way in ten years. It hopes to go farther.

Gold Medal Sweet Vermouth

I had requested an article from inter library loan to try and learn more about vermouth production. The article was from the 1948 Wines & Vines publication which is really hard to come across. Hopefully some day they will all be digitized and archived on the web but until then I might just have to type them up and break some copyright laws. Tragically, the article is not overly useful and has a secretive tone. I got the reference to the article from Maynard Amerine’s Vermouth: an annotated bibliography and it seemed like the most promising place to start.

I’m going to plagiarize the entire article and retype the scanning that was sent to me for the sake of education.

Bo, M. J., and M.J. Filice

1948. Gold medal sweet vermouth. Wines & vines 29 (8):27.

From Amerine’s abstract:

“The author’s describe their method of flavoring the sweet vermouth that won the Gold Medal at the 1947 California State Fair: acceptable wine base, herbs (from a secret Italian recipe of 1924), and the process (details given). The authors controlled the plant part used, its source, and the effect of plant particle size. Experiments showed that source of herbs was important. Some herbs gave better results when granulated, other when powdered and others at specific particle size. Their process involved leaving the wine in contact with herbs (starting at 60 degrees C and leaving for 24 hours). The finished vermouth was then allowed a further aging period in small cooperage in order to effect a complete “marriage” of the various individual flavoring and aromatic components.”

The article:

Gold Medal Sweet Vermouth by Michael J. BO and Michael J. Filice San Martin Vineyards Company

In this article we wish to present the inside story of San Martin Sweet Vermouth, Gold Medal winner in competition at the California, 1947, State Fair, and to discuss the basic principles adhered to in its preparation.

THE WINE BASE

In selecting our wine base we turn to well-aged special dessert type wines only, which are stable, clean and clear. Samples of these wines are taken to the laboratory where a series of small scale blends are conducted. Blending is carried on until a base, balanced as closely as possible in total acidity, volatile acidity, and alcohol, is obtained–and one which is consistent, in flavor and aroma with previous wines used.

We want our wine base to possess a certain delicate aroma and flavor, because we have found that it is complementary to our particular formula. It forms a harmonious blend with the herbs employed both in aroma and flavor. It gives a finished product possessing the characteristics strived for.

Experimentation with several other wine bases obtained through various blends and the use a a neutral wine base in conjunction with our particular formula have failed to give us the same quality and desirable characteristics.

From this we concluded that, in order to bring out the best qualities of a combination of herbs used in any particular formula, the wine base used was definitely an essential factor. Every effort was made to find one that would do most to enhance our herb recipe.

THE HERBS

The selection and combination of the herbs used in developing a vermouth formula is almost unlimited.

The plant portions utilized are the seeds, flowers, barks, stems, leaves and roots. Each of these portions taken from the same herb plant, in most cases, will produce from shades to marked differences in flavor and aroma.

During the many years required to develop our formula to its present composition, we had as a basis for our work a secret Italian recipe, obtained through family sources in Italy about 1924. The combination of herbs contained therein gave us to a close degree the characteristics we desired, but not exactly what we wanted.

We sought, therefore, to change the imported recipe to an extent necessary to make it conform exactly with what we had in mind. Through the long experimental process of adding other herbs to the formula, substituting and eliminating, we found that herb recipe that met with our satisfaction.

We then decided to investigate the possibility of improving and refining that which we already had, without making any material changes in the constituent elements. This decision narrowed the avenues through which improvement might be realized to primarily the following three:

1. To conduct experiments using different portions of the same herb plant than the one called for by the formula.

2. To purchase herbs from different reliable botanical firms, both in this country and abroad, compare their qualities and note what effect each would have when exclusively used in our formula and when used in combination with herbs obtained from other firms.

3. To explore the effect of herb particle size in the extraction of desirable flavors to the elimination of those least desirable.

The first mentioned series of experiments brought about one advantageous and desirable change. The portion used, in the case of one herb, was changed from the seed to the root.

In the second series of experiments, results noted in the laboratory proved that the same herb purchased from several different botanical houses did not in all cases afford the same quality in the finished product. We therefore confined our purchasing of individual herbs to those firms whose particular product did more, in our estimation, to improve our vermouth. Such tests have been preserved as an integral part of our vermouth production.

In the third approach, extractions were made of whole, chopped, granulated and powdered portions of the different herbs used in the formula. Results of subsequent comparisons, demonstrated that certain herbs yielded a more preferred extraction when in granulated form, and others when in a powdered form. From that time forward our herbs have been ordered, specifying particle size, in conformity with the above mentioned tests, with the same desirable results in evidence.

THE PROCESS

Following the determination of the wine base blend in the laboratory, a corresponding large scale blend is made in the cellar, the total amount being based on the quantity of vermouth we have decided to produce.

Approximately 5 per cent of the prepared wine base is pumped in the vermouth processing tank and heated to 140 degrees F. The herbs, accurately weighed, are placed in the hot wine and all openings of the tank tightly closed in order not to lose any of the volatile aromatic constituents. The herbs are allowed to stay in contact with the hot wine for a period of 24 hours, after which the remainder of the wine base, at cellar temperature, is added.

The mass is allowed to stand for 24 hours more and is then circulated daily, by means of a small pump, for a period of seven days. On the seventh day, a sample is drawn and checked for flavor and aroma. This procedure is followed daily until the desired flavor and aroma have developed. Under no circumstances do we allow a complete extraction of the herbs, because with our particular formula we have found that partial extraction of the herbs gives us a much smoother vermouth, free from harsh tannins, etc.

When the maceration is completed, the sugar content is adjusted to 10 Balling by the use of concentrate and pure cane sugar. It is then filtered and, if necessary, stabilized in the usual manner.

The finished vermouth is then allowed a further aging period in small cooperage in order to effect a complete “marriage” of the various individual flavorings and aromatic components. When this condition is considered, through periodical tastings, to have been accomplished, the vermouth is bottled and held in storage as a backlog for future market requirements.

********************************************

So I see how they are very analytical and systematically tried many different options but I could have figured that out myself. I would love to find more logic to particle extraction like maybe powder things that can be fully extracted like an orange peel and go upwards in particle size as you want to minimize the extraction like your wormwood or overly bitter roots.

What I’m looking for is a language that was used to describe the shades of difference producers sorted through. How do you describe the different shades of something elemental like orange peel? and what is the difference between quality within herbs and terroir?

What are the mechanics of the wine base and how do they function relative to particular herb formulas. Perhaps formulas with less fruit modifiers rely less on a high extract wine base and neutral wine bases came to be because producers would build more fruit modifiers into their herb formulas and therefore streamline their massive productions as well as hedge against year to year variance. Does the language in these articles ever get more useful than “it forms a harmonious blend”?

Vermouth: An Annotated Bibliography

This is a book report from my collection of experimental agriculture literature put out by the University of California.

A Tale of Aromatized Wine

Vermouth is a strange topic. Almost everyone who drinks cocktails has heard of the infamous beverage, but outside the sweet type in a Manhattan, few people still consume vermouth. Many historians are aware that vermouth was wildly popular in the past but are uncertain as to why. The short-cut answer is usually that vermouth was considered medicinal, due to its botanicals, and was consumed therapeutically. An alternative, more probable answer is that the natural wines of the vermouth hay day were not very good and consumer tastes out did producer ability to make good natural wine, especially the dry white type.

Producers were held back from making good wine because yeasts got stressed by rustic techniques. Strained yeast often misfire the desired clean ethanol, instead producing higher, fusel alcohols and congeners that induce headaches if consumed in excess. Stressed out wine was likely the case with much of the world until maybe the last thirty or forty years before producers adopted tricks like maintaining low fermentation temperatures to caress the yeasts. Another case against the drinkability of common wine was the yields. If producers could not find markets able to sustain grand cru wine yields that so much of the world is able to slap a vintage on today, the wine would have a diluted taste that many a peasant’s palate would even reject.

The vermouth concept has advantages over primitive natural wine because producers do not have to stress the yeasts in the wine reducing congeners and there is the further ability to add grand cru levels of extract (and due to their good taste they did not take it much farther than that). A wine maker could go with a cleaner low alcohol wine and then fortify it to avoid vinegar spoilage, which was so common in rustic wines, by raising the alcohol content above the limits of acetic acid producing vinegar bacteria (15.5% or so). If the fruit of the wine was eroded by a bad harvest or too high a yield, flavor could be subsidized with orange peels and chamomile flowers, which are botanical anchors to near every vermouth formulation.

Now that producers actually had a stable beverage, unlike the volatile stocks of natural wine slowly turning to vinegar, vermouth makers could add even more sophisticated and amusing depth of flavor to beat the linear and monotone nature of boring ordinary wines. After the vermouth concept became popular, fewer drinkers had to vie for that coveted hillside producing the best grapes. Any imbiber could dabble in complex flavors within products meant for the masses. There are still lots of developing wine regions that have undrinkable white wines by many standards (they command very little money and you see few of them in the market today) and these are probably not coincidentally regions with high rates of vermouth consumption (anecdotally anyhow). I would take a glass of dry vermouth over so many Portuguese dry whites any day of the week. In many wine producing regions long ago, there was vermouth or blandness.

Some of the theories of why vermouth used to be so significant to daily drinking are tucked away in the abstracts of Maynard Amerine’s: Vermouth an Annotated Bibliography (you can finally buy it as an ebook!) which was published in December of 1974. Even in its strange format (literally an A to Z bibliography with short abstracts written by Amerine, the wine technology guru, a strange and interesting tale of aromatized wine is told. For starters, the work was done with funds from the Mario P. Tribuno Memorial Fund given to the University of California to “advance knowledge pertaining to vermouth” (use of the scholarship apparently has been broadened to the study of wine aroma). The Tribuno name should be vaguely familiar because it is the name of the relic of a product currently owned by The Wine Group (formerly owned by Coca Cola), who is the same conglomerate that produces Franzia (aromatized with natural flavors! unfermented peach juice supposedly). An obituary for Mario Tribuno listed him as the former president of the food company GB Raffetto which produces Giroux grenadine among various other bar mixers. Mario P. Tribuno was a pioneer of American vermouth production and led the American industry. The Tribunos were even cocktail enthusiasts. According to one entry in Amerine’s bibliography Mario’s son, John L. Tribuno, who took over Vermouth Industries of America, easily acknowledged the martini as responsible for 95% of American dry vermouth sales in the 1950′s as well as the start of the ever drier martini.

The references depicted by Amerine’s concise abstracts range from the 19th century to deep into the 20th. A big wonder of this novel collection of references is Amerine’s unique ability to handle roughly five languages that frequently appear (English, French, Italian, German, and Russian). The text really demonstrates how the University of California’s programs were able to unify the world’s wine technology. Publications like the American Wines & Vines consistently reappear with insightful articles (English language!) that draw you in to a world where many people grappled with vermouth’s secret formulations. Amerine also points out exciting Italian works from early in the 20th century which he deems to be extremely important that are far beyond the grasp of most enthusiasts language skills (1935. Il vino vermouth ed suoi componenti is listed a standard text).

One can learn a lot from the straight forward abstracts and see an interesting story unfold. Historians agree that Carpano produced the first vermouth in the late 18th century which was (and is via its popular low volatile acid replica!) kind of primitive and rustic relative to what we see today. Carpano’s intent was probably a therapeutic tonic. Afterwards the Cora’s came about in the mid 19th century which started the modern vermouth era with a likely transition from medicinal to a pursuit of the sublimely flavored and easily accessible, which was quickly followed by everyone else. An 18th century Carpano vermouth replica has become very popular in the present cocktail scene as a way to replicate the experience of mid and late 19th century cocktails, but if the Cora’s product style became the mainstream, and was structured more like what we drink today (slightly less extracted and more complex) rather than the fun, but simplistic (yet definitely amusing to drink) Carpano Antica Formula then what the early pioneering bartenders used was probably more similar to the current vermouth incarnation than the Carpano replica product.

A reliable picture of the structure of what people were drinking at the beginning of the 20th century is painted by the surprisingly sophisticated analysis summarized by the abstracts. Even a hundred years ago, vermouths were probably not clumsy and overly intense. One source, unfortunately without a relative comparison, claimed that French vermouths of the day do not really have a lot of aromatic essences and another from the 1920′s compared the intensity of vermouth’s sugar free extract to be that of a dessert wine.

The bibliography shows that vermouth production was spread across the globe with so many cultures consuming the aromatized wine, but not always of top quality (still probably more amusing than the average natural wine). Vermouth was so relied upon that many papers collected by Amerine proposed laws and methods of analysis to detect fraudulent flavors and watering down of the wine bases which really shows how serious the vermouth beverage medium was taken. Rather rigid guidelines of structure (sugar, acid, alcohol, extract) were drawn up that narrowed the ideal of the vermouth aesthetic among producers. The differentiation of current mainstream vermouth production is so narrow that many connoisseurs are unable to reliably differentiate the brands.

One of the most interesting references of the bibliography is a paper by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue. Amerine’s abstract subtly seems to leak admiration for the position of the author Peter Valaer who had access to anyone’s formula that wanted to have a government approved product in the U.S. The Treasury Department conducted thorough analysis of all taxed products and found that many American Vermouths (but definitely not all American!) used “odds and end” and defective wines that were considered high in volatile acidity (vinegar!), which showed the role of vermouth as a means to doctor the hard to swallow, though it was widely noted by the emergent vermouth connoisseurs that bad wine could not be covered up. Peter Valaer also wrote a book in Amerine’s bibliography called Wines of the World written from the same vantage point of the IRS laboratory. Valaer notes that from the producer supplied formulas, most dry vermouths contain ten or fewer botanicals compared to the twenty botanicals of typical sweet vermouths. It is also pointed out by Valaer that many producers use the same formula for their sweet and dry vermouths but with less botanical intensity in the dry.

The abstracts assert that after WWII, vermouth production continued to climb and the Americans got a big domestic sales advantage due to global conflict slowing down importation combined with a significant rise in domestic production quality. Reports criticize overall global production by citing problems like the watering down of wine (vermouth should be more than 75% natural wine) and the use of artificial flavor extracts. These concerns illustrate the fact that vermouth was still thought of as wine by conscious consumers and though enhanced, was still an attempt to celebrate viticulture. Any adulteration had to be done with a traditional minded artistic constraint. The avid straight vermouth drinker of long ago would probably put down his/her brand for a taste of today’s straight, terroir driven grape wine.

Global vermouth production was huge mid century despite sophistication (the commonly used negative application of the word) issues plaguing the market, therefore a large amount of the references are devoted to analyzing products and showing methods of detecting fraud. The market even faced aromatization issues among wines notably in the south of France that were sold as natural grape wine supporting the theory that consumer tastes could not always be met by natural wine production.

The second half of the 20th century started with continued optimism for the U.S. domestic vermouth market but was marked by changes in tastes. In 1965 John L. Tribuno predicted vermouth sales would double within a decade but noted that 1960′s tastes necessitated a lighter flavor in vermouth (lighter whiskey also became fashionable) citing that 90% of dry vermouth was used in martinis. Tribuno’s own article for Wines & Vines pointed out that martinis pre WWII were 2:1 gin to vermouth but over 20 years had evolved to 8:1 and 12:1. Around the same time, the San Francisco Wine Institute ”stresses the fact that cheap, young neutral-flavored wines are used as a vermouth base in Europe” which is a departure from the high quality distinct Muscat variety recommended earlier in the century. Whether consumers today have inherited these bland wine bases is hard to say, but Noilly Prat has recently just switched back from its leaner Americanized wine base (likely a product of the 1960′s) to something fuller bodied that the firm had maintained in the less cocktail-centric European market. Amerine actually exposes his own skepticism in an abstract from a 1963 source regarding Noilly Prat. Amerine’s parenthesized comment of “(this is surely not current practice)” refers to a basic wine book author’s claim that the firm ages 800,000 gallons of wine in the sun in 160 gallon barrels for 18 months to mature their wine base. Today it is widely believed that Noilly Prat actually uses such an elaborate process, making their dry vermouth product quite the outlier in the market.

English tastes, at the end of the 1960′s, really showed how significant the vermouth market was to a producing country. A source claims that in 1968, 70% of the Italian wine imported into England was vermouth while only 44% of Italian wine imported into North America was vermouth. If Vermouth represented small percentages of Italian wine production, these markets (especially the English) also show how disregarded (and probably not stable enough for export) the natural wine of a major vermouth producing country was.

The story told by the bibliography essentially ends with market statistics from the very late 1960′s but sourced from the 1970′s close to the bibliography’s publication date. In 1969 Cinzano and Martini & Rossi spent nearly $500,000 on spot radio advertising while Vermouth Industries of American (Tribuno brand which dominated the american market) spent only $74,000. On magazine advertising Martini & Rossi spent $800,000 of the $1.5 million spent by imported vermouth producers relative to the $113,000 of Vermouth Industries of America. Domestic vermouth producers faced an onslaught of advertising but did very little to counter it. More data shows that in 1970 Vermouth industries of America spent even less to tackle the bombardment of foreign producer ads by spending only $80,000 relative to the $1.47 million by imports.

At this point, the story told by the bibliography’s abstracts really leaves you hanging. A 1975 Consumers Union Report on Wine and Spirits still shows the top selling domestic producer Tribuno as favorable in quality but we know they are doomed to obscurity today. Eventually, Tribuno Vermouth will become merely a brand with all its sensory quality stripped away, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly when that happens. American vermouths got caught up in the Barbarians at the Gate phenomenon of the 1970′s and 80′s where brands were raided, bought up and shuffled around conglomerates. Tribuno likely got shifted to a conglomerate that could not handle its complex, artisanal nature (good vermouth is hard to make). The conservative corporate cultures could not handle the blitz of highly competitive advertising from competitors. Even if Coca-Cola had expertise battling Pepsi or if RJ Reynolds knew how to fend off Marlborough, American vermouth brands likely became insignificant divisions of giant companies and could not get significant advertising money allocated to fend off Martini and Rossi who had ads by Andy Warhol.

In the fall of domestic producers like Tribuno, it is only an assumption that quality changed along the way exacerbating their demise. At the end of the 20th century, Americans are often thought of as entering a dark age of connoisseurship with no ability to notice the shadows of their former selves that many domestic products had become. We can only hope that the foreign vermouths we are left with today have maintained most of their integrity but the 1960′s introduction of bland wine bases may have taken its toll. In the cocktail scene of the 1980′s and 90′s, Fuzzy Navels and Apple Martini’s without vermouth robbed the spotlight of the Manhattan and Martini. The cocktail market for vermouth likely dropped off a cliff while aperitif consumption faced irrelevance due to significant improvements to natural wine. Many countries subsidized modernization of wine production so stressed yeasts and a lack of markets supporting wines of noble yields became a thing of the past.

In the present, vermouth has finally become relevant again as pre-prohibition style cocktails are back in vogue and gastronomic adventurers try to drink everything. Hopefully the story of vermouth can be continued definitely beyond 1974 and its back story can be pieced together by more than just a collection of abstracts. A richer understanding of vermouth’s history could cement the relevance of the quality producers we still have today so we do not lose anymore and better understanding could also create opportunities for new producers in the future. With some work, hopefully we will see the Mario P. Tribuno Memorial Fund directed back at solely advancing knowledge pertaining to vermouth.

Deconstructing Sweet Vermouth

My aim here is to sacrifice a bottle of Stock’s sweet vermouth to learn something about it. Most importantly its official sugar content unobscured by alcohol, what can only really be found by using a still.

Before distillation and separation of the alcohol, the vermouth’s brix can be tested obscured by its alcohol content to see how much it throws off the hydrometer (11.25 brix). Most people’s understanding is that sweet vermouths are much higher in sugar so maybe the alcohol (16%) throws the hydrometer off more than I thought (I really just estimated the reading would be off one or two percentage points).

I put the vermouth into the still with an equal volume of water to essentially split it in half. The half left in the still is sugar, water, acid, and whatever aromatic compounds do not distill. What comes through is alcohol, distilled water, and what ever aromatic compounds that are volatile.

After the run and re-cutting what was left in the still to the original volume with distilled water (because a small volume escaped the system) the hydrometer shows a reading of 15.5 brix. This result seems likely because it is within Maynard Amerine’s guidelines for sweet vermouth.

Now we have something intuitive to shoot for in our home made vermouths.

During the run I was also able to taste the distillate as it came out of the the still. The results were very cool in that it smelt exactly like it does out of the bottle. You do see some of the separations of the botanicals as they move through in waves. The orange phase is the most distinct and intense showing how important shades of orange are to a sweet vermouth. I thought I noticed a whisper of vanilla along the way that I never tasted before in Stock and towards the end I noticed heavier wormwood-maybe herb-like aromas.

Now the 15.5 brix measurement of sugar can be translated to grams/liter so we can think of it in another way. With the help of the grams/liter translation, the volume the vermouth’s sugar takes up when dissolved can be found so that we can solve our two variable equation for sugaring and fortifying our wines to stock’s 16% alc. y 15.5 brix model (port often uses a 18% alc. by 6 brix model so if you substitute it for vermouth you will need to compensate with extra sugar for a drink that isn’t too dry!).

A formula that I’ve come across but never really used is weight in g/L = sg * brix * 10

brix 15.5 = SG 1.06326 so —-> g/L = 1.06326 * 15.5 * 10 = 164.8 g/L

Which is 5.81 oz. if you can’t handle metric

(what is interesting is that the tables in the back of Daniel Pambianchi’s Techniques in Home Wine Making show different results. His would be higher by more than 20 grams. So did I go wrong anywhere? I used the Circular of the National Bureau of Standards to get my specific gravity for 15.5 brix. The circulars table also computes the g/L of sucrose so it is an awesome resource to the liqueur maker.)

Now we can see what 164.8 grams of sugar looks like undissolved volumetrically in an oxo measuring cup. using whole foods organic sugar it looks like 3/4 of a cup (different sugar types will make it vary slightly).

When dissolved this will compress. but by how much? Supposedly there are wine makers tables for such things but I haven’t been able to locate any. Pambianchi does note that adding 250 g to 1 liter of water yields a new volume of approximately 1.2 liters.

A useful table may not be that important since we are primarily going to be using the same sugar content over and over. We can probably rely on a one time experiment with sugar and water.

A sugar-water solution and my scale shows that 164.8 g/L dissolves and compresses to become about 86 milli liters in volume (2.9 fluid oz.)

This gets us closer to how much we have to over fortify the wine to bring it back to 16% when sugar is added. More algebra could solve it exactly but the numbers are looking round and it should be noted that alcoholic beverage labels, even on wines, are allowed to have a one percentage point margin of error so if it was really 17% alc. but printed as 16% alc. they would be off by more than 5% and be okay. We could just fortify to 17.5% before we add our sugar and be done with it (we don’t even know how accurate the wine we use to start is anyhow!).

My understanding from Amerine’s books is that we want as little alcohol as possible so our beverage will not be hot tasting or cost us lots of tax money. Sweet vermouths commonly are 16% alc. while dry vermouths are usually 18%. Being over 16% alc. puts both over the very important acetification point (vinegar bacteria) but sweet vermouth may be able to be slightly lower because its large sugar content protects it from various other lactic bacterial spoilage thresholds (I really don’t know but 18% is a key number for those). Another reason for the differing alcohol contents could be because within a producer’s production process, both sweet and dry (before they are aromatized) come from the same fortified wine stock. The volume of the sugar in the sweet dilutes the alcohol to 16% (with an accepted one percentage point margin of error!).

An Extinct Style Of Drink?

Due to the pathetic circumstances of my life I have evolved in a vermouth drinker. Some how this stuff called vermouth went from totally being in vogue to being completely ignored and barely written about where nearly all real knowledge of it has been lost generations ago and the producers seem to be as quiet as moonshiners. No one is exactly interviewing vermouth producers for wine spectator which I’d pay to read. Luckily with all this decline of things the price, for the most part, has stayed down in two buck chuck territory as well. One reason I think all this persists in modern times anyhow, is because true connoisseurship and afficion is really challenging. Vermouth is sort of alienating because its flavors are so adult, and apparently for many people its alcohol levels are too low for most people (the lushes) to bother with which I think is really significant to its decline.

Cocktails also are a problem for vermouth. The worst vermouth cocktail ever created was the dry martini. I’m not talking about a 1/8 dry vermouth cocktail or a wave of the bottle. I’m speaking of dry vermouth and gin in any ratio with bitters or not. For some reason variations with little deviation had such a profound impact that so few people moved in other directions after its popularity began. Erosion of taste slowly stripped away all the wine and an impatient culture that needed their buzz from one glass took over.

You don’t have a real vermouth drink until you mix up some flavor contrast. And most importantly, you cannot be afraid of having two or three if a buzz is your goal. A couple evenings ago I was looking for a drink for the Cocktail Chronicle’s MxMo event. In browsing the always inspirational cocktailDB, I came across Stephen’s cocktail. I was really impressed by this forgotten Stephen’s good taste. It totally read as my style.

1 oz. sherry (I interpreted this as dry sherry to get a good balance so I used La Cigarrera’s Manzanilla)

.75 oz. dry vermouth (European Noilly Prat)

.75 oz. Benedictine (Sweet enough to need that much dry balance!)

The drink has a serious flavor to alcohol ratio and a really elegant acidity to sweetness ratio. I wish I could have a good bar experience somewhere drinking maybe five or six of these and pay beer prices because it has close to a craft beer cost basis. Another big problem for vermouth is the nature of our gouge restaurant economies. To sum it up quickly, distributors and marketers push super expensive products on the market leaving generations not even knowing that $12 liters of rye whiskey and rum are stunningly delicious, and to add insult to injury, restaurants in so many cities rather be half dead all night long, gouging guests with super expensive drinks than actually work hard, understand spirits, and use products that don’t have pharmaceutical style promotional expenses.

Is there any room in the market for this class of fortified and aromatized wine drink? In matters of taste, sherry with its intense barrel treatment is like whiskey flavored wine (I group sherry drinks with vermouth drinks). I feel like people should be able to relate to it more than they think. Vermouth and sherry are also damn cheep relative to distilled spirits. Tapas places often sell small glasses of them for $5. Additionally, restaurants are trying to get people less drunk these days in the world of liability and conservatism and many people have to work increasing hours but still need time to unwind with some adult tasting stimulus. If in Milan, the vermouth drinkers happy hour is extended well into the evening by the perfect alcohol content and affordability of aromatized wine, couldn’t this new style of drink help revive many lagging urban bar cultures?

So now your curius and want to mix up some vermouth? The king of these drinks is the Half Sinner, Half Saint:

1.5 oz. sweet vermouth

1.5 oz. dry vermouth

.5 oz. absinthe (floated)

twist of something

I still have yet to find someone that doesn’t like this drink. the sweetness to dryness ratio is perfect. This drink also makes a dramatic mockery of absinthe. The cloying versus the relief. You can’t know pleasure until you know pain. I need to give No. 9 park credit for introducing it to me. Now one or two is a daily ritual. The two mentioned cocktails illustrate some of the really simple formats but just a few of the many players. When you know their simple properties like whats sweet and whats dry, things can easily be substituted to your wildest imagination.

The players:

Sherry: sweet or dry. Oxidized to elegance with flor yeast, in love with oak like whiskey flavored wine. Fresh styles like Manzanilla are very chamomily while 30 year old sweet sherries, as made by Matuselem, are like liquid bread pudding.

Vermouth: sweet, dry, or bianco. With so many different brands having styles that are hard to nail down, but with little exception all being good. some drys have more fruit than others. Some sweets are sweeter and some are more intense. Some biancos are more bitter than others.

Played out iconic: Brand names Lillet and Dubbonet are usually sweet, usually really orangey and more or less other stuff is more fun.

Forgotten savoy: The Savoy which covers parts of southern France and northern Italy in and around the Alps is aromatized wine country. There are so many forgotten specialties like Chamberyzette which is vermouth heavy handedly aromatized with Alpine strawberries. Chocolate’s best friend is the epic Barolo Chinato which is elegantly bitter aromatized Barolo wine. This region makes aromatized wines that would remind you of a more handsome Campari or a more complex Lillet. (great ones are made by Vergano)

Americano: More intensely bitter aromatized wines that kind of overlap with the Savoy specialities. Great producers are Vergano, Gancia, and I would say Vya of California. I’ve even made my own with good success.

Aromatized cheaters: Bitter and low alcohol but do not have a wine base (to my knowledge anyhow) Cynar, Campari, Aperol, Picon Bier.

Monastic contrast: Incredibly masterful aromatized high alcohol liqueurs. Masochistic flavor contrast, the Chartreuses which are an artistic synthesis of the flavor “rocket fuel” via booze and botanicals, and Benedictine which is liquid cigar concentrate.

The wines: Passito, Botrytised, Ice Wine. Sauternes, Port, :Madeira (cercial, bual, malmsey, rainwater!) Fresh or oxidized styles, honeyed, mysterious, and made under rare circumstances.

What can be surprising is how well certain brands perform in the randomness of it all. Cribari sweet vermouth anyone? Try it with some dry sherry like La Cigarrera Manzanilla and a finger of Saint James Royal Ambre rhum. There are a million ways to mix this style of drink and a million of them are already on the books. Check it out and see how much less whiskey you end up drinking.

Noilly Prat

Down in New Orleans last week I was lucky enough to attend a tasting and presentation of Noilly Prat. Noilly was announcing the release of the their European dry vermouth formula to the United States. Apparently all these years we had been getting the touristy version. The presenter claimed American tastes are finally sophisticated enough that they don’t have to dumb the recipe down, but I think it may have to do with wormwood regulations changing. All the presenter said is that the European formula is more bitter which may be because it has more wormwood and that it is aged slightly differently. Well anyhow, the presentation was very well done and I did take some notes which I will elaborate on.

The grapes that Noilly Prat uses are Picpoul from the plains which contributes 60% of the blend and Clairette from the slopes which makes up the difference. I have no experience with Picpoul but it was described as rich in bouquette while at the same time delicate and floral, with a dried fruit character and a creaminess. Clairette was described as delicate, of aromatic character, and floral with notes of honey. I didn’t understand if they buy the wines in October or buy the grapes. I guess by October they could buy already made very young wines. The wines may ring in at 10-12% alcohol and they are immediately fortified to 16% for stability. I imagine this is done with a neutral spirit of very high proof so it takes less acidity diluting volume.

The wine is then put into 40,000 liter, 100 year old Canadian oak barrels which imparts no color on the wine and have very tight pores relative to other oaks. This adds roundness and clarity to the wine which stays there for eight months. The wine then moves outside for 12 months in L’ Enclos which is a large field of 2000 barrels exposed to the Mediterranean elements. The wine loses 6% of its volume to the angel’s share and also oxidizes to a characteristic elegance. Eventually the Picpoul and Clairette are blended with the addition of a mistelle or grape sugar concentrate containing fruit liqueurs of raspberry and lemon peel.

The dry formula contains 20 botanicals of which Noilly Prat will only disclose chamomile, elderflower, coriander, orange peel, and quinine. The wine is macerated with the botanicals in Trieste forest casks (giant Slovenian style cask) for three weeks stirring every day (the dodinage).

The rouge sees extra botanicals of which they disclose: cloves, cocoa, saffron, quinine, and caramel.

The ambre was created in 1986 to explore another direction a vermouth could take. There are forty botanicals including, orange, cinnamon, rose petal, vanilla among others.

Tasting notes.

When I sat down and tasted the dry vermouth no specific flavor stuck out besides a subtle honeyed tone which probably is the intention. It is very enigmatic. You may not be able to name specific flavors but you can verbally praise the vermouth’s beautiful nose with its subtle androgynous fruit. Everything is very integrated and the dryness of the finish is well within the average of people’s tastes. I did note that I could drink a 6 oz. glass straight and I do know people that do on a daily basis (for every one of those people I know fifty that claim no one likes vermouth on its own).

The rouge didn’t get very many notes because I was in conversation with some people at the tasting. The subtle ever so noticeable bitter is very nice. There is also a cinnamon-like tannic mouthfeel.

At first I thought the ambre was fun, but not the mind blowing product that I’ve heard hyped. I thought that its vanilla was perceivable but perfectly done and it did not act to obscure anything. During the tasting I bounced in and out of conversation with people and eventually I had a moment of clarity while drinking the ambre and I tasted the sexiest shades of chocolate and tobacco I can remember. When I finally was able to take it in I noticed a long finish that lingered with serious depth. The ambre lived up to the hype!

No Thanks, I’m Sweet Enough

I’ve always loved aromatized wines. Sweet vermouths being at the top of the list. I buy new ones when ever I see them and try to wrap my brain around describing them. Tackling a wine is no problem and I’m never at a loss for words, but vermouth’s aesthetic is tough to crack and as a liquid fine art object I’ve never found something so hard to fit into words. Maybe that is why no one tries?

As I’ve started to drink all the available brands, I have found that every single one has merits and so far I haven’t truly disliked a single sweet vermouth. I have noticed that randomly, certain brands create stuck, simplistic flavors in particular cocktails but there is very little way to predict what is going to happen besides trying many options. I used to want more intensity than I ever found in a sweet vermouth and also more bitter, but this was before I realized that that particular aesthetic was the role of the Americano which is the Campari, Aperol, Cynar, Cocchi, or Vergano product. I’ve successfully made thrilling Americanos that I’ve called vermouths, but having wormwood does not define the category.

Vermouth versus the Americano is all about the aesthetic. The name vermouth as a product category has lost its original meaning of simply being a wormwood aromatized wine to being something else and maybe with no wormwood at all. Vermouths have a relatively neutral or elder flowery moscat-like wine base. Their botanicals are so integrated nothing can be picked out or it is a flaw (many are flawed but who knows if it is a variance within a single batch). The sugars and acidity are all within certain tolerances and the bitter qualities do not protrude through the other flavors like in the Americano. In the americano, on the other hand, more or less anything goes. Americanos often have pornographic proportions of flavor and exotic bitterness is the main show. The ranges of sugar and alcohol can be as loud as the flavors. To be honest, sometimes I’d take an Americano over a vermouth and I’d probably demote Vya’s “sweet vermouth” down to an Americano. (Quady shouldn’t be offended because Americanos for some reason seem to fetch more money anyway.)

Describing the flavors is difficult and only sometimes do you have a moment of clarity where it all makes sense. At certain moments of tasting any of them I’m reminded of curry spices and then in other moments that makes no sense. One thing to look for is the length of the finish like on a fine dessert wine, but again its hard to determine because all of them are pretty long.

Noilly Prat seems to have a bitter finish which I quite like and all that comes to mind from its flavors are dark shades of grey.

Boissiere seems brighter than the Noilly Prat and less bitter on the finish. The Boissiere is also far lighter in color than many which may not mean too much because all are adulterated with caramel.

Vya is very expressive on the nose and not really integrated. At first on the nose, I’m almost reminded of cola, then after revisiting the Vya, I pick out cinnamon and nutmeg with out enough tie ins to integrate them. But then when I taste the Vya again, orange peels and fruit dominate everything. Orange peel is not listed in the blend, but Quady does proudly list his wine bases as Orange Muscat, Colombard, and Valdepenas which contribute the fruit. I don’t really know anything about the Orange Muscat variety relative to Moscato d’Asti, but I wager it gets the name from its orangey character which dominates this vermouth. The intensity of the fruit protrusion is comparable to the elderflower-like character of some dry vermouths and the concord grape like character of some grossly fruity aromatized products like Wincarnis “tonic wine”. I haven’t measured the sugar of anything yet but one thing that almost feels noticeable is dryness on the finish of Vya which has a lower pH than Noilly Prat and Boissiere.

Cribari has something on the nose that I know elementally but can’t name. It is almost musty smelling then rolls into a chocolaty aromas then something like coffee but also a complete lack of fruit on the nose. When tasting the Cribari with all the others, it stands up well and is interesting, though its the least known and cheapest sweet vermouth I’ve ever come across. I feel like there is a scotchy, smoky, pinotage-like note I’m not able to pin down but after revisiting the vermouth I was totally reminded of a bad old cooked down coffee experience I had earlier in the afternoon. The strange nostalgic but not quite pleasurable flavors were that roadside truck stop shade of coffee. The pH is by far the lowest and being from New York and probably composed of New York grapes, I can see why it has a high acidity (super cool climate grapes preserve acidity). I don’t understand how the vermouth gets this strange anti fresh taste. Is the wine base to blame and is it going to change batch to batch? Were the grapes from a such a cool climate they had to add fermentable sugar and that augmented the flavor? who knows. If I had a way to move some of the product like in a dessert or an entree pairing, I’d love to see if its consistency changed.

Noilly Prat pH 3.39

Boissiere pH 3.46

Vya pH 3.21

Cribari pH 3.05

****hopefully I can update this as I sit down and taste more

****update****

so I tasted another one

As I was leaving work my boss surprised me with a bottle of carpano antica that he scored while in NYC. I didn’t get to try it in any drinks yet, but drank a couple ounces and took some notes.

The nose had a faded anise character with evident vanilla and a subtle orange peel kind of character. The nose to me, seemed to be not that complex and had stuck aromas that come into focus and don’t really leave. A coworker thought she smelt a nutmeg/mace like character that was most satisfactory. Over all, I thought it smelt rather stodgy.

On the palate you definitely get a vanilla character that you never see in other vermouths except Noilly Ambre. There is a raisinated date-like fruit character that is kind of fun. I think other vermouths would benefit from fruit character more fun than orange peel. The Antica is definitely a few shades more bitter than other vermouths in a quinine/wormwood kind of way. It is kind of buried in there but the Antica feels like it uses a rougher more grappa like and fun fortifying spirit.

Over all, I’d say that Carpano Antica is not very complex. It is not exactly over the top integrated and enigmatic like some of the others. You can recognize clear as day so many of its elements, but what Antica does have is incredible direction and the balance of its loud flavors are a huge amount of fun. I definitely wouldn’t demote the Antica to an Americano

Over all delicious. I would love it try it in some cocktails but I wouldn’t trade in my Stock, Cinzano, Boisiere, or even Cribari.

Chamberyzette: An Elusive Eccentric Vermouth

Always in search of something new to drink, I came across a specialty vermouth called Chamberyzette that is unfortunately unavailable in the U.S. I’ve never had this stuff and have only read of it. Chamberyzette is an alpine strawberry enhanced vermouth and versions have been produced by Noilly Prat and Dolin. The idea seems awesome. They ditch the sometimes gross muscat fruit character of a vermouth and trade it in for the very sensual strawberry. I would really love to make even a half assed approximation of this overlooked tradition. What I cannot figure out is if this type of vermouth is meant to be sweet or dry and which botanical formula would they use? Strawberries are in line with the acidity of dry vermouth, but I can’t imagine the flavors being vibrant without sugar. Clips of internet text (not even worth referencing) elude to Chamberyzette being sweet which as far as I’m concerned seems like the tastiest way to make it. My mother always adds a little sugar to her sliced strawberries anyhow.

So now to whip up a recipe.

We do know that Dolin’s version rings in at 16% alcohol and I lost the link, but Fragoli’s strawberry liqueur (never had it but its probably typical stuff) contains 150 grams of “real wild forest strawberries” in every bottle. These proportions may not mean much but it may be interesting to see how my recipe compares to their proportions in the end.

I started by hulling some cleaned Driscoll’s organic strawberries from wholefoods and ended up with 960 grams of product. I added two cocaine spoonfuls of pectic enzyme to attempt at a better yield of juice (who knows if this helped but fruit winemakers do it), and added 3 cups of Noilly Prat dry vermouth (dry is easier to modify). After everything was in a deep metal mixing bowl, I wrapped it very well with plastic wrap and put it on a double boiler (the heat draws out the juice from the strawberries and creates a beautiful cooked character while keeping in all the moisture). This should steam for fifteen minutes or so. What I don’t know is what the heat does to the alcohol of the vermouth. Even if the alcohol evaporates it would condense in the plastic wrap I hope.

After passing through, pressing as much juice as I could get from a bouillon strainer and then restraining the hot liquid through my metal reusable coffee filter, I ended up with 5 cups of very clear liquid with no seeds (I think it was really 1250 mL). Because there is a pretty intense nonalcoholic dilution of my vermouth I added 250 mL of gin (I used Leyden’s which is pretty bland. It was laying around). You could do the algebra to try and keep your alcohol in standard vermouth range but I didn’t.

The recipe could stop here if you want a dry Chamberyzette but I added sugar.

This could be sugared tastefully a couple of ways. Amerine claims that sweet vermouths classically range from 12% to 16% sugar by weight and I thought the low end may be appropriate for this unusual vermouth. Then I realized I never measured the sugar that was already there and I was probably really aiming for the high end so I weighed my liquid (1485 grams) and used the formula:

x / (x+1485grams) = .12, x = 202 grams of additional sugar to bring it all up another 12 percentage points or so… (you can change the “.12″ to any percentage you are shooting for)

In the end rampant estimation yielded tasty results! and I liked it at first sip. And it was fun at 2:1 cognac to chamberyzette. But this is not complete. It is really not as elegant as it could be.

I’m basically at 2 cups of strawberry juice to 3 cups of vermouth. 40% botanical dilution! Techniques of extraction efficiency are different and probably even potency of strawberry, but I used 480 grams of strawberries per 750ml or so compared to Fragoli’s 150 grams! Never having had Chamberyzette but liking beautiful examples of flavor contrast, I’d say the strawberries in the recipe are only about replacing the muscat’s flavor contribution plus just a little more therefore I should have used less. My educated guess of a recipe should probably be in the range of only 20% strawberry juice and push the minimums of sweetness (which would require measuring things better).

Since the Dolin and Noilly people are in control of all the variables they could even increase their botanical intensities to compensate for their fruit dilution. If I really wanted the intense fruit in my replica I could probably just add a little wormwood to get back to elegance.

This turned into alot of what ifs and variables, but it was easy enough to make and quite tasty. My 1.5 liters or so is already disappearing fast.

***update***

The chamberyzette was well received at work and I put it on the menu. “sophisticated enough, yet still a crowd pleaser”. I am invited to present a drink at the Taste of Cambridge so I’m using the Chamberyzette recipe to mix with my sponsor which is Hennessy cognac. 2:1 with a dash of peychaud’s bitters is a delicious drink with cognac but I think other spirits could make it taste much more interesting. Last night I used gin which wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be but I’m itching to try a single malt, reposado tequila, or a rum like Saint James.

One thing that is bothering me is a particular mouth feel that may be due to the pectin in the strawberries. Things feel gelatinous and different from sugar viscosity. I could easily be imagining this but I think i’m going to add more pectic enzyme to the recipe. Maybe aging would take it away?

***second update***

I used this chamberyzette recipe for a cocktail event where I had to make 300 or so of the same drink with it. This meant I had to follow the recipe again and improve on my previous one. For starters, I had better quality strawberries from a local grower. They were very wild looking in shape and a bit of work to hull but the flavors were potent and beautiful. I also steamed less of the vermouth with the strawberries to get the juice going. Steaming things longer also seemed to break them down even more. The juice was hard to strain really well and I eventually had to squeeze it through cloth. Using more pectic enzyme seemed to change the mouth feel to something elegant and more expected. I followed the same grams of strawberries per liter intensity from the recipe using a 5.3 times larger batch (this was determined by how much Noilly Prat I had around). My volume ended up something like 6 liters or so and then I made the rash decision to dilute the results with a 750 mL bottle of Martini & Rossi Bianco vermouth (already sugared) that was left over from a James Beard dinner I presented drinks at. This is less than 10% dilution but did wonders to move the flavor from an easy crowd pleaser to something that is really deserving of the name vermouth. Martini & Rossi’s Bianco vermouth is a really distinct product and kind of makes me rethink the entire recipe. You could easily use solely the bianco vermouth, barely add any sugar but to bring the strawberry juice and its fortifier up to the bianco’s average. This particular bianco vermouth has a briary, woodsy leaning botanical formula that is like every other part of that patch of strawberries, less the fruit. If you simply added a sugar to the Martini & Rossi dry you would not come close to the Bianco vermouth. The bitter is notable and the makers probably know it is for a niche market. Over all, it really helped my replica taste a lot better.

****update***

I may be producing this again for the restaurant. My plan is to use only Martini & Rossi bianco vermouth and to use a 96 oz. can of Oregon harvest strawberry fruit wine base. I will also maintain the specific gravity of the bianco vermouth by the addition of some alcohol (everclear) and some sugar. The only snags are that I don’t know exactly my juice yield from the pulp or how well pureed it is. Will it be easy to strain? The wine making instructions suggest using a straining bag in the fermentor. I will need a vessel to mature it in that is just the right size that things won’t oxidize. I bet this standardized approach will produce about a case of 750ml’s. can’t wait! [the Oregon harvest pulp turned out to suck!]