The Importance of Vermouth

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The Importance of Vermouth (1941)

by B.B. Turner

General Manager, Roma Wine Co.

Vermouth today is the fastest growing item in the United States wine trade. It is also the one item about which less is known than any other, and upon which there is a great demand for information. It is a mystery to the average dealer and consumer. And to the wine industry it is vastly important because it has a future market noncompetitive with, but potentially as important as our standard Clarets, Sauternes, Ports, Sherries, Tokays and Muscatels.

The United States has never, until very recently, been introduced properly to Vermouth. It has long been just one of the mysterious ingredients mixed into cocktails, like bitters, seldom or never tasted straight. Americans don’t know whether Vermouth is a wine, a cordial, a liqueur, or distilled spirit or a brew.

Yet the fact is that Americans like the flavor of this temperate beverage, once they taste it. They like it equally well, whether as a minor ingredient in a Martini or Manhattan, or straight, or as the major ingredient in such mixtures as Vermouth cocktails and highballs. The mixing of Martinis and Manhattans still consumes most of the average 1,600,000-gallon annual U.S. Vermouth sales volume. But coming into popularity are the chilled glass of Vermouth straight at luncheon or at appetizer time, and the dozen other beverages in which Vermouth predominates.

Every present indication is that Vermouth consumption in America may soon become larger than at any time in history. The strange phase of this event is that it has been brought about by cutting of the supply of nearly nine-tenths of all the Vermouth this country formerly consumed—the Vermouth of Europe.

By introducing U.S. Vermouths to Americans, and Americans to our own country’s Vermouths, we are discovering a new mutual attraction, that many soon ripen into enthusiastic acceptance. Many wine producers and distributors who never tried to sell Vermouth before are becoming interested. They see Vermouths of this country, principally California, as quickly occupying the former market, and are showing signs of developing a greater market than foreign Vermouths ever had here.

Why has California not produced much Vermouth before, when it supplied nearly 90 per cent of all the other wine used in America? The fact is that California has produced Vermouth for many years, but in limited quantities for discriminating tastes that recognized the special qualities of the California product. We have never produced it extensively because the market was not important enough. Furthermore, until very recently, United States tax laws discriminated against Vermouths produced in this country by imposing a triple tax on them, as against a single tax on the foreign product. One of the Federal taxes was eliminated in 1936, and another in 1940, thus equalizing the tax on foreign and U.S. Vermouths. Today our good California Vermouths not only equal the average foreign product, for are individual—and to most American tastes, preferable to anything from other countries.

Most people ask us, “What is Vermouth?” The simple answer is, Aromatized Wine. It is imply wine flavored with infusions of various aromatic herbs, roots, flowers, seeds.

What kinds of herbs, roots and seeds? Any number, is the answer. Usually 25 to 30 different kinds are used. Roma Wine Company has nearly 100 kinds in its various Vermouth formulae. They range through the alphabet from Angelica root to Yarrow, and in between come dozens of rare, rhapsodical items like Blessed thistle, Cinchona bark, Peach leaves, Cordiander, Elder flowers, Rosemary, Thume, Hyssop, Marjoram, Valerian.

What kinds of wine? Pure wines, carefully selected wine of neutral or delicate flavors, mellowness, balance, clarity and strength selected to blend perfectly with the aromatic herbs an individual winery uses. The formula is always the secret of the individual producer. Seldom indeed does more than one use the same. The exception to this rule is when synthetic Vermouths are made from alcohol instead of wine.

We are asked so many questions about Vermouth generally, and Roma Vermouths in particular, that we much conclude the public wants to know at least briefly how it is produced.

Of first importance, usually, is the wine. Only a few wines will make satisfactory Vermouth. The best Vermouths are made with wine for which the grape varieties have been carefully selected years before they ever come into contact with the herbs. The wines much be comparatively neutral …

(I don’t have all of this one because it was attached to another article which I had requested. There are other articles that chronicle vermouth production at the Roma Wine Co. and this article has its own entry in Amerine’s bibliography)

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Vermouth: Its Production & Future

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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.

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Ice Wine Grenadine

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For a while I’ve been fascinated by the idea of concentrating liquids in the absence of heat. Heat tends to augment/destroy certain delicate flavors. It was explained to me that you can’t make strawberry eau-de-vie you can only make cooked strawberry eau-de-vie. The same is true of the pomegranate and is why I was thwarted in making my pomegranate triple-sec (the fruit expression sucked). Ideas sat in my head for a while and I was further dazzled by a honey called Melata di Bosco made, not from blossoms, but Alpine Spruce trees that get attacked by aphids. The bees collect the excess aphid secretions and you experience the concentrated soul of the tree without heat interfering. (maple syrup is created by reducing maple sap significantly. heats evaporates lots of flavor but also creates new ones) The honey is epic with the ironous, blood and spruce pineyness making you feel the trees’ sorrow.

All this time I’ve been waiting for pomegranate season to see if I could really find their soul. All the pomegranate juice you buy is pasteurized, cooking the flavor into a vegetal stew-y mess that also destroys the seductive fuchsia color. In making grenadine most people also concentrate the extract of their juice by reducing it with heat. Like maple syrup, flavors are lost and flavors are created, but I’d say more is lost.

My plan was to use the Ice Wine Technique to concentrate the flavor. I was going to simply juice fresh pomegranates, freeze concentrate the juice one iteration, hopefully increasing extract potency by at least 50% and finally sugar to approximately 400 g/L. (a 400 g/L syrup is a great contrast for an equal volume of lemon or lime juice)

A friend told me that I could simply quarter the fruit and put it through a lemon juicer. It worked pretty well but I deviated slightly by using the “flat on flat” adapter on my orange x brand juicer instead of the usual cone in a cup mechanism. The fruit I got was smaller than normal and I was still able to extract 2 oz. of juice per pomegranate. I froze the juice in half quart containers then let 50% of the juice thaw (I poked holes in the container) into a one cup sized container (the frozen juice separates from the thawed juice through the holes or by just opening the lid and dumping into the new container what thaws). What was separated was mostly a plug of clear slush from juice that tasted significantly more concentrated. I forgot to test the starting sugar content but my post thaw sugar content was 19.5 brix. (I think pomegranate juice is usually in the low teens) I brought it up slowly to 32 brix (400 g/L) by stirring in white sugar and remeasuring. (It took less than 5 minutes to hit my mark perfectly)

(I tested the end results of my second batch and the 50% I kept had a brix of 22 while the 50% I discarded had a brix of 3.5 which mean I probably started at 12 brix. A killer boost of concentration for one iteration! sugar doesn’t mean much when I’m really looking for extract but I think I can assume it follows suit)

I didn’t have any fresh eggs but wanted to make something pink lady esque for my first drink.

.75 oz. lemon juice
.75 oz. Ice Wine Grenadine
.5 oz. cognac
1.5 oz. tanqueray gin

For starters the color is mind blowing. I’ve never witnessed a drink with a prettier hue. The tonal qualities of the grenadine are amazing. The simple familiar contrast of the gin and cognac really elevate the unique fruit expression. The sugar ethic is perfect as well to maximize flavor enlivenment. Delightful.

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Revolution in Vermouth

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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.

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Vermouth… Some Practical Hints

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This is a reproduction of a 1945 Wines & Vines article. It may be under copyright but I’m reproducing it anyhow to make the information more available and give the wonderful people at inter library loan a break. Hopefully this great body of work can help rejuvenate interest in aromatized wines.

by George V. Carson

As an old hand in making both dry and sweet vermouth, I have read with great interest H. Otto Sichel’s excellent article about vermouth in the March issue of Wines & Vines. There is no doubt in my mind that domestic vermouth is going to stay, especially as it is quite feasible to produce vermouth in this country on a par with the best French and Italian products. Some herbs now obtainable are not so intensive as those formerly imported from Europe, but in the not too distant future we may expect to import these again which will greatly ease the work of the vermouth producers.

There are a few points in Mr. Sichel’s article which might be elucidated with advantage. Speaking from many years’ practice, I would like to give a few hints as to the best way of producing both dry and sweet vermouth under present conditions of government regulations and market conditions.

There have been published innumerable vermouth formulas, both in Europe and in this country—some fantastic, some misleading, but hardly a single one of them can be used with good practical results. European houses try to keep their formulas secret and it is not likely that the published formulas actually are those being used in a recognized winery. Nevertheless, after many years of research and experimenting I can say that, with eight extract of herbs for dry vermouth and six extracts for sweet, it is possible to produce qualities as good as any manufactured in France or Italy.

I do not favor the addition of herbs directly to the wine. It is much better to macerate these herbs in fortified white wine of 21 per cent alcohol, in separate containers, stirring them daily for two to three weeks. Of these macerated herbs, one-half of 1 percent of some, and up to 5 per cent of others, are added to the fortified white wine, together with other wines or sweetening material to turn it into vermouth.

The maceration in white fortified wine or unbaked sherry material is quite as effective as any method used in Europe. There, brandy or neutral spirits, cut down to 20 to 25 per cent by volume, is being used in the process of maceration, with the cutting down being effective in some cases by water at or near the boiling point. It is new to me “that in Italy herbs are being macerated in spirits of about 170 proof” which is equal to 85 per cent by volume –a procedure which, in my opinion is more likely to kill the aroma than to bring it out.

According to article 86-A, regulations No. 7, approved October 6, 1937, amended-distilled spirits may be used for manufacturing essences “to extract and hold in solution the flavoring materials” for vermouth. However, as the distilled spirits for such essences have to be taxpaid, the above method, while being quite as effective, is more economical.

It is advisable, after the herbs have been macerated sufficiently, to make a trial blend in a small quantity to ascertain whether the combination is according to the quality desired or whether adjustments are necessary.

This trial blend should be observed for at least three weeks, so as to be sure that there is no excessive bitterness in the finished product. Artemesia and some other herbs have the tendency sometimes to develop an excessively bitter taste after some weeks, but it is a taste which cannot be detected immediately. However, if the trial blend is satisfactory after about three weeks in storage, the big blend can be produced in safety.

Speaking about herba absinthii or artemisia I would like to point out that, as far as I am aware, no law in this or any other country prohibits the use of these herbs for maceration, the product of which is harmless. The distillation of these herbs, however, is outlawed in most countries because the end product is absinth, a liquor that is considered harmful. As for the basic material to be used for dry and sweet vermouth, any sound, neutral white wine with a high total of fixed acidity fortified to 21 per cent for dry and 24 per cent for sweet vermouth can be employed. As the white wines with the necessary fixed acidity are scarce in California the addition of citric or tartaric acid as suggested by Mr. Sichel is indicated.

The same wines should be used for the maceration of the herbs.

For sweet vermouth the addition, beside sugar, of about 10 per cent of a good muscatel with greatly improve the quality, while dry vermouth needs only a very slight addition of sugar or sweet wine, refrigeration of the finished product is highly advisable.

It would greatly facilitate the production of vermouth if fortification of white wine, sweetening material and extracts of herbs were to be permitted in the fortifying room of a winery, as suggested in my article, “some suggestion to simplify regulations concerning the production of dessert wines,” published in no. 5 of Wines and Vines in may, 1943.


This article seems to be a reply to another article in Wine & Vines by a Mr. Sichel. I do have a request in for Sichel’s article with inter library loan and hopefully will have it soon. One of the important things to take away from the article is Carson’s take on vermouth’s high art style of exclusivity. He theorizes that many of the available vermouth recipes might even be intentionally misleading. He is confident that 8 botanicals can make a vermouth though I think it would create flavors fun but less refined as in Carpano’s Antica. Carson’s maceration technique is notable. He infuses at the minimum of alcohol that can keep the wine stable so as not to over extract the botanicals. Carson claims the European’s do the same but differs in that he primarily uses wine as the base instead of water and a distillate. He claims it is for tax purposes but it also has the effect of preserving the natural acidity in the wine which is pointed out as a problem in California wines. (though its noted you can just add acid powder)

Carson’s maceration advice would probably help in production of cocktail bitters. I’ve tasted too many lately that were ruthlessly bitter in a negative way. In my opinion, bitters do not have to be bitter. They are merely a set of extracts that borrowed the name “bitters” from their previously medicinal heritage. To make them non potable the TCB should focus, not on making them objectionably “bitter” but rather on having a sufficiently high extract. extract. Being over a certain level probably sufficiently leads to non potability.

Interestingly, Carson explains vermouth’s take on wormwood. It is not illegal until its distilled and it comes across as the less it is talked about, the better (to avoid scrutiny). Carson never really talks about the analytical technique of constructing a formula and over all seems like he is making budget vermouth and not high art stuff. Amerine’s bibliography of vermouth has another article by Carson in it that is mainly about proposals for the tax code and the abstract notes that all of his suggestions were adopted.

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