Vermouth makes for easy springtime entertaining

Credit: Krista Slater

Credit: Krista Slater

Editor’s note: Distilled and Fermented is a new column that focuses on wine, spirits and cocktails. Look for the column online every other Wednesday and in print alternating Thursdays in the Food section.

As the writers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s new column about wine and spirits, we thought that our first effort should cover a product with a foot in both worlds.

In the middle of the Venn diagram of people who love wine, people who love cocktails, and people who appreciate history, lies vermouth. It begins as wine, but then is fortified, usually with grape brandy, for stabilization and preservation. Vermouth also is aromatized, with herbs, fruits and other botanicals. One of those botanicals, wormwood, is a bittering agent. Wormwood’s German name is wermut, most likely where vermouth got its name.

Most Americans know vermouth for its inclusion in classic cocktails, like the martini or Manhattan. It usually is enjoyed over ice, perhaps with a peel of citrus. Sometimes, you want the complexity of a cocktail without the work or the high proof; being able to pour some vermouth, add ice and an olive, and then go back to the porch with a tray of drinks is a big springtime entertaining bonus.

Vermouth has seen a renaissance in the 21st century, with established vermouth makers updating and rebranding, and new producers offering fresh, interesting styles.

Here are some style basics:

Dry/French — clear to pale gold in color, dry; the Martini vermouth

blanc/bianco — clear, with a touch of sweetness; a must for the el presidente cocktail

sweet/Italian — red, sweet, usually with a touch of baking spices; the Manhattan vermouth

rosé/rosa/rosato — pink, like a hybrid of dry and blanc, with a pleasant gentian bitterness

Some of our current favorites, which can be found at specialty wine and spirits shops, include:

Massican dry vermouth a small-production vermouth made by outstanding California winemaker Dan Petroski. You hardly miss the gin with this vermouth; it is profoundly botanical, showing notes of fresh rosemary, oregano, bay laurel and underlying citrus. It is a touch sweeter than traditional French dry vermouths, making it delightful to sip simply chilled, or on the rocks. This is our go-to fridge vermouth. It also is outstanding in our favorite 50/50 martini, made with equal parts gin and vermouth.

Partida Creus Muz vermouth one of the more full-bodied drinking vermouths we’ve had in a while. It is intense, with warm baking spice and dark bitter cocoa powder. The natural wines of Catalonia’s Partida Creus are hard to find, but this vermouth thankfully is more available in Georgia — and comes in a liter bottle! It tastes delicious with an orange peel twist, and adds spice and vibrancy to a boulevardier cocktail.

Cocchi americano rosa has a rich color, floral botanicals and a pleasant bitterness typical of the americano category of fortified wines. A go-to bar staple in cocktails, both shaken and stirred, it deserves its moment of recognition for sipping and spritzing. Use it as an alternative to aperol, with a squeeze of lemon and generous pour of prosecco.

The Slaters are beverage industry veterans and the proprietors of the Expat and the Lark Winespace in Athens.

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