Get your mouth round some ver­mouth

The Guardian - Feast - - Feast - Fiona Beck­ett

One of the fe­lic­i­tous byprod­ucts of the on­go­ing gin craze is that it has given a boost to drinks that go with it, es­pe­cially tonic and ver­mouth, which is a for­ti­fied wine flavoured with botan­i­cals (most char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally worm­wood) in much the same way as gin.

Not that ver­mouth has ever en­tirely gone away – it’s long been the sta­ple of ev­ery self-re­spect­ing mixol­o­gist’s back bar, the un­sung hero of clas­sic cock­tails such as the mar­tini and ne­groni. In fact, its ori­gins go way back, ac­cord­ing to drinks writer Kate Hawk­ings’ en­ter­tain­ing book Aper­i­tif, which is a bit like a Hor­ri­ble His­tory of booze. Her pacey ac­count traces ver­mouth back to the Ro­mans (“dread­ful show-offs”), who necked worm­wood-in­fused wines to coun­ter­act the ef­fects of their “pre­pos­ter­ously lav­ish ban­quets”, through the “un­re­lent­ing mis­ery of the mid­dle ages, where herbal­ism as medicine was prac­tised by monas­tic or­ders and warty-nosed crones”.

It was first sold com­mer­cially in the late 18th cen­tury, when what we would now recog­nise as ver­mouth took off in Turin. Italy still pro­vides some of the best ver­mouths and amari (bit­ters), which, of course, in­clude Cam­pari (in­ci­den­tally, there is a new in­car­na­tion of that called Cask Tales, which is fin­ished in bour­bon bar­rels; you may come across it in air­port re­tail).

The beauty of ver­mouth is that it’s made in a wide range of styles that can be drunk long or short. At around 17-18%, it’s much the same strength as sherry. My pref­er­ence when drink­ing it neat is the ex­tra-dry style, which is sim­i­lar to Cham­béry, made just over the bor­der in France. The bianco type (those of a cer­tain age will re­mem­ber Cin­zano) is slightly sweeter and best di­luted with soda.

Coc­chi’s Amer­i­cano, which con­tains cin­chona, is now most bar­men’s aper­i­tif of choice in a ves­per (which fea­tured in Ian Flem­ing’s Casino Royale). Sweet rosso ver­mouth, mean­while, is more of­ten in­cor­po­rated in cock­tails such as the man­hat­tan and the hanky panky, though, again, it can equally well be drunk on the rocks. Then there are more ox­ida­tive styles, which are more for ver­mouth afi­ciona­dos: Carpano’s An­tica For­mula, which is tra­di­tion­ally used to make the mar­tinez, be­ing a clas­sic ex­am­ple.

Like sherry, ver­mouth should be kept in the fridge and drunk within a month. Which means a cou­ple of weeks of ne­gro­nis after you’ve opened a bot­tle – no great hard­ship at this end. In a botan­i­cal calamity, Ma­tri­caria dis­coidea, com­monly known as pineap­ple­weed or wild chamomile, es­caped from Kew Gar­dens in 1871. Now, 147 years later, it has found its way into a glass with limon­cello and pros­ecco. You will find this plant al­most ev­ery­where, but do con­sult a for­ag­ing guide (you could do a lot worse than Richard Mabey’s Food for Free). The flower heads have a pineap­ple and herbal aroma that adds a trop­i­cal note to the bit­ter­sweet lemons and fizz. Al­ter­na­tively, use a cou­ple of thyme sprigs.

Put the pineap­ple­weed flower heads in the limon­cello and leave to steep for a few hours. Strain, di­vide the limon­cello be­tween two flutes and top with pros­ecco.

Jack Be­van, drinks writer

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