Vermouth has been ubiquitous in and on cocktail bars since mixed drinks became popular more than a century ago, but many of us have no idea what it actually is, apart from being the bottle that stands at the back collecting dust. Now it’s enjoying something of a revival since the days of the ubiquitous Gin and It in London in the 1950s. The ‘It’ in this case was sweet Italian vermouth.
The modern versions of this wine were first produced in the mid- to late-18th century in Turin, Italy. It was traditionally used for medicinal purposes, being flavoured with botanicals more associated with the apothecary’s cabinet. In the late 19th century it became popular as the indispensable ingredient in many celebrated cocktails such as the classic Martini (gin and dry vermouth), the Manhattan (bourbon, rye, or whiskey, with sweet vermouth), and the Negroni (Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth).
Depth and richness
There are two main types of vermouth, sweet and dry, and then the spin-off styles of extra-dry white, sweet bianco and rosso, and rosé. Vermouth is produced from a base of a light wine with the addition of infused alcohol flavoured with aromatic herbs, roots, fruits, barks and spices. The resulting combination of wine and alcohol has the addition of either cane sugar or caramelized sugar as a sweetener, depending on the style. This gives depth and richness to the final product.
A popular ingredient is wormwood, long believed to sooth stomach disorders. The name “vermouth” is the French pronunciation of the German word Wermut which we English pronounce as wormwood. By the mid-17th century the drink was being enjoyed in England; we adopted the name “vermouth”, and so it remains.
Mele e Pere, one of my favourite restaurants in Soho, has a bespoke Vermouth bar. Yes, every bar in the capital will have a bottle or two of this fortified wine. But here it’s the main beverage. Vermouthier-in-chief Ed Scothern, who is also the enthusiastic and animated General Manager, conducts regular Vermouth masterclasses which are both popular and fun. He discusses the history and composition of this drink but he also shows how you could make Vermouth yourself. In fact that’s just what you will be doing at the end of the evening!
The chance to design your own
Ed takes you through the blending process and a tasting of a wide variety of styles, and will ply you with your favourite vermouth-based cocktails or perhaps introduce you to some new ones. You will see how Mele e Pere use different vermouths in both classic and signature house cocktails. You will be supplied with an array of small bottles of the aromatised alcohol and glasses of sweetened white wine and be given the chance to design your own unique and hopefully delicious Vermouth.
Tickets for each evening cost £25 and include some of Mele e Pere’s most popular sharing plates such as spicy Ascolana olives (to which I am addicted), deep fried squid with smoked aioli, and San Daniele ham – and, trust me, they will tempt you to return to sample the rest of the menu.
Join Mele e Pere for Vermouth Mondays. They offer 2 for 1 on all Vermouths when you order any share dish, pasta or main course; every Monday from 5pm!
You can build your own Negronis and Martinis by choosing from perhaps London’s biggest selection of Vermouths; and Mele e Pere has a diverse range of Gins and Vodkas produced by some of the UK’s most individual micro-distilleries.
To book a place at one of their masterclasses e-mail email@example.com or call 020 7096 2096.
Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street
London W1F 9TF
Restaurant and Bar review by Chrissie Walker © 2018