[11/10/15 Pamela Vandyke Price, the wine scholar, described Chamberyzette as a dry vermouth. After all these years, I’ve still never tried it.]
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.
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?
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.
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!]