Chamberyzette: An Elusive Eccentric Vermouth

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[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.

***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!]

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Amer Picon Replica

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I received one of the last bottles of the beer Picon in Boston and thought it was pretty cool. Low alcohol, orangey, bitter and that’s about all. You can taste all the ingredients that are on the label and nothing more (gentian, quinine, orange peel). Picon’s allure is enhanced by the fact that you can’t get it, but over all its pretty peasanty stuff and never fetched much money.

Well, I have all the ingredients to construct a batch from scratch so I thought I could make a replica of the elusive, original, higher proof version (that I’ve never had). The recipe will be constructed by educated guess of what it would take to make cocktails that used it sing. Amer Picon feels like it would be the same as any other orange liqueur (brizard, cointreau, creole shrub) but just with gentian and quinine. If Amer Picon had the same alcohol content as the great orange liqueurs then it probably had the same sugar content. And probably even the same orange peel intensity. It is likely that Picon just emulated success.

I made some beautiful tinctures of gentian and quinine and added them to a bottle of creole shrub. And about .75 grams of each botanical by weight dissolved in a tincture (5ml of my proprietary tinctures deployed with a culinary, needleless syringe).

The result of this easy to construct replica is some pretty tasty stuff. Picon (from what I have tasted and what I’ve read of it) really isn’t that bitter. It is not exactly Campari. But the botanicals really lengthen the finish to something very elegant. And make the sugar content seem more pleasant. Maybe it is not peasanty. Maybe it is more like middle class sophistication (fine vermouth is my idea of upperclass tastewise sophistication).

I based my botanical intensities roughly on guidelines from Maynard Amerine’s books of the subject and those guidelines seem to meet the average of most people’s tastes. The test will really be to drink as many Picon cocktails as I can and see if the elements are all parsable and in acceptable sugar balance.

I feel like quinine is a nicer bitter than gentian and maybe I should make it more dominant. That would be my only change so far.

The first cocktail I tried was the Brut Cocktail Variation from the cocktaildb

1.5 oz. dry vermouth (M&R)
.75 oz. amer picon (replica)
dash peychauds bitters
stir!

This is beautiful and everything contributes. I even like how my replica Picon’s lack of caramel doesn’t muddy the cocktail’s color. It has this pretty pink hued tint. The acid of the vermouth is in good ratio with sugar of the Picon (justifies my sugar content?) and the bitter quotient is sublime.

My tinctures are as follows:

powdered quinine tincture.

463.3 grams of powdered quinine.

infused in 2 liters of deville brandy (80 proof) with 500ml more of jaques cardin vsop (80 proof) to bring the total to 2500ml

The idea was to terminally infuse the quinine and create a volume measurement that translates to gram of quinine. So I can have a proprietary way of using historical recipes. It didn’t quite work in the end as planned but it is still very useful.

Separating the quinine from the liquid is very difficult so I made the tincture by racking off only the clear liquid from the top. The rest will stay at the bottom and maybe make a different tincture for quinine soda that I make to taste.

The result was 1375ml of tincture (the color is the most stunning ebony!). To account for it differently and approximate the grams per ml

463.3g / 2500ml = .18532 g/ml ! but you don’t know if things are uniformly dissolved or even terminally dissolved. So if anything it would be weaker. And you don’t know anything about the relative quality of raw material anyhow. So this is rather proprietary but reproducible. (I had it all in a standard 3 liter mason jar if that helps anyone) A huge amount of liquid is still locked in the powdered quinine sludge.

gentian tincture…

93.6 grams of gentian (i only bought a quarter pound)

infused in 750ml of jaques cardin VSOP (80 proof)… (the nose of it reminds me of nuts. peanut and hazelnut with a woody aspect) ended up with a 600ml tincture once it was strained after a couple weeks… 93.6/600 = grams/ml the tincture is .156 grams per ML

This approximates direct infusion. Should you account for that 150 that was lost or not to really get to direct infusion? The big loss of volume means that my measurements are really proprietary to my tinctures.

Maybe if I finish my creole shrub project I can extrapolate how much sugar weight and orange weight goes into every liquid ounce so people can use it to construct Kina Lillet replicas based on old recipes or whatever floats their boat.

***update

So I still haven’t revisited this project but I should still add some tasting notes before I forget them. Down at the tales of the cocktails I was lucky enough to taste Jamie Boudreau’s recipe side by side with a bottle of the original formula Picon. Jamie’s replica is far closer to the original than mine but I did notice that his had too much orange which easily seems to be eliminatable from his recipe. The orange character of mine is way off but who knows how the bottle of the original has aged. The original formula has an oxidized, darker kind of orange character. I wonder if the shade of orange is augmented by the spirit base where maybe my recipe would be much better with a blend of creole shrub and grand marnier. Jamie’s recipe and the original was also far more bitter. My theory of using Amerine’s recipes as a guideline are obviously way off and the original formula anyhow, is far closer to Campari than I would have thought. Oh well, I can just add more tincture.

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Hercules: a liqueur interpretation, replica or rendering

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The bartenders at the savoy were fans of a really esoteric liqueur called Hercules which was basically an avante garde aromatized wine. Esoteric may not be the right word because it implies some kind of roots or a tradition which can’t be tracked down in this case. Hercules was probably a flash in the pan liqueur-health tonic trend akin to the same stunts we see in today’s popular culture like pomegranate juice and kombucha. Well, there is some evidence (and I forget how to reference it) that Hercules hyped the newly popular botanical yerba mate.

Yerba mate is pretty cool so it could be a great cornerstone for an aromatized wine. A good product will need a lot more details but we can use our imaginations and observe flavors mingling in the wild to get some ideas. Yerba mate is classically paired with the menthes and a good Greek menthe would be quite fitting. The two botanicals even seem to compete for attention really well on a one to one ratio. I don’t know of any other liqueur uses of menthe besides the mono creme de menthe and maybe it’s use in some obscure Italian amaros, but the savoy has some really avante garde menthe combos besides the Stinger like the:

American beauty (1 dash creme de menthe, 1/4 OJ, 1/4 grenadine, 1/4 french dry vermouth 1/4 brandy)

Caruso cocktail (1/3’s of creme de menthe, gin, and french dry vermouth)

Castle Dip (1/2 apple brandy, 1/2 creme de menthe, 3 dashes of absinthe)

Cold Deck (1/4 creme de menthe, 1/4 italian sweet vermouth, 1/2 brandy)

Ethel Cocktail (1/3 apricot brandy, 1/3 creme de menthe, 1/3 curacao).

And as I tried to collect more recipes the list just keeps going… The savoy people were menthe happy beyond the reaches of my imagination.

So if menthe was another cornerstone within Hercules, then the savoy people would know exactly what to do with it. It is possible that they even got lots of Hercules for free (like many influencer bars do today to promote products) so they had to do something with the stuff. Anyhow, my formula needs more details, true to the original or not. I like the sound of the aromatic mildly psychotropic gruit botanical, yarrow, which has this aromatic meadowy kind of character. It is definitely not as bitter as I thought which means I may have to find another bittering agent. Some star anise may also add some nice savoy style character and some potentially inebriating effects.

I thought I’d ferment my own wine for my Hercules and see what I thought. For one gallon of wine I based my must on Knudsen’s organic juices and aimed for an estimated potential alcohol of 10%. I’m going to fortify to an estimated 24% alcohol for something herculean like Campari and aim for a sugar content of 13% like many sweet vermouths according to Amerine’s Technology of Wine Making.

I’m taking botanical suggestions. My fruit wine is fermenting. And I’ll add to the final recipe as time allows. This may need to age a while so patience people!

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