Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Spirited Guide to Vermouth - Jack Adair Bevan

I've been hoping for a good book on vermouth for a while now, and been working my way through this one since the end of May. So far it's the best book on the subject that I've found - although as my search has mostly been an occasional browse in a small Waterstones the competition has been limited.

It's taken me a long time to come round to vermouth as a category to get excited about, and there are reasons for this. Vermouth generally was not fashionable 20 years ago when I started out in Wine, and neither were the drinks it goes in. It's also quite a complicated set of drinks - Vermouth means all sorts of things from sweet to dry to bitter, white through amber, rosé, and into red. Once open it also needs to be drunk reasonably quickly - you need to commit to that bottle in a way you just don't with most other things.

My preferred kitchen vermouth (something good for drinking and cooking with) is a dry white, but it turns out my preferred cocktail vermouth is a rich red (either for Manhattans or Rob Roys, also with gin as a Gin and It. It's what you want for a Negroni too, although I'm not such a fan of those). But that barely scratches the surface of possibilities out there.

Vermouth's fortunes have changed considerably over the last few years, the ever growing popularity of gin has a lot to do with that, as do changing tastes for cocktails - although it's still not the easiest thing to buy around here. Choice is slowly improving but it is slow. I personally think that a growing interest in lower alcohol drinks is what will really help the spread of vermouth across the country.

It makes a brilliant long drink with tonic, and at less than half the abv of gin it's a much lighter alternative with even more complexity of flavour. This book does an excellent job of explaining the different styles, introducing some key producers, looking at the culture and history of Vermouth, thinking about matching it with food, and giving recipes.

The recipes are for both cocktails and food - which is really useful because you want to get through a bottle within 2-4 weeks so the more ways to use it the better. There's also a recipe to make your own vermouth (tempting). Jack Adair Bevans vermouth credentials are impeccable so you're in good hands - especially when it comes to the bar craft and cocktail bits. He's also drafted in some excellent writers to contribute recipes.

The one thing the book really needs is an index. Not having one is slightly irritating especially for cross referencing products. A glossary of the vermouth's used in the cocktails (and maybe some alternatives) would also be useful. Most of the vermouth's need to be ordered online (or at least they do if you live in the midlands) and represent a reasonable investment, the obvious place to start exploring from would be the most mentioned products.

I like the mix of cocktails in here, they start at relatively simple and go up from there. I could wish that some weren't quite so product specific, but that's a personal prejudice mixed with a pedantic nature that makes me want to follow a recipe exactly, rather than a criticism.

Altogether it's an excellent book, and an excellent place to explore vermouth from.


  1. I haven't tasted Vermouth in squiddlydum years yet it was my first taste of alcohol in the 60s; it always tasted 'sophisticated' to me - does it still?

    1. Yes! Maybe more so given the current popularity of sickly sweet fruity drinks (alcopops in disguise). Vermouth thoroughly deserves the renewed interest.

  2. Thank you, I might give it another try. I have been drinking Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic Water (on its own) recently and wonder if Vermouth would be the way to go with it.

  3. I have always loved Vermouth, something I think I got from my father. Noilly Prat is a good generic staple, with Dolin and Lillet for variation. For red vermouth I favour Antica Formula Carpano, Lustau and Cocchi. Try a "blonde" Negroni made with white vermouth, gin and Suze.

    1. Agree about all the Vermouth's you list. Dolin and cocchi are my staples. Where do you get your suze? I've had trouble tracking it down.