pink negroni at little fox photo by izaiah johnson

How St. Louis bartenders are using vermouth right now

Vermouth is one of the keystones of the beverage world. A key component in iconic cocktails like the martini and its cousin, the Manhattan, this venerable potable can be enjoyed solo or with a bit of bubbles as an aperitif or digestif. There are more vermouths available to the modern drinker than ever before, and local mixologists are making the most of the bounty.

Vermouth is part of the larger class of aromatized wines, vino-based concoctions flavored with all manner of flowers, barks, herbs and more. What sets vermouth apart from other entries in this category is wormwood; the term vermouth itself derives from the German word for the herb. In the European Union, vermouth must include at least one type of wormwood and be at least 75% wine and fortified with some type of distilled spirit to be classified as such. The final product is categorized as either sweet, dry or blanc (in French) or bianco (in Italian), a sort of semisweet option.

“Vermouths have such depth, complexity and nuance,” according to Bridger Dale, bar manager at Little Fox. “The category is so broad.”

photo by izaiah johnson

Dale keeps a handful of vermouth-centric cocktails on his menu at any one time, like the Pink Negroni, which features Yzaguirre rosé vermouth.

“I absolutely love what [vermouths] do for drinks,” said Michael Fricker, owner of Grand Spirits Bottle Co. and partner at The Gin Room. “I like the way you can play with their natural sweetness.”

“We use vermouths or some sort of fortified wines in most of our cocktails,” said Tim Wiggins, co-owner of On Point Hospitality, which includes restaurants Yellowbelly, Lazy Tiger and Retreat Gastropub. “I love the depth and richness they add without adding proof and heat to the cocktail,” he added.

Wiggins said he likes infusing vermouths instead of spirits because of the fortified wine’s lower proof, which gives him more control over the final product. Similarly, he can use healthy amounts of an infused vermouth to impart maximum flavor to a drink without the alcohol punch of a distilled spirit taking over. Examples of Wiggins’ vermouth experiments are on the menu at Lazy Tiger: Check out the Thirstbucket cocktail featuring Bordiga dry vermouth infused with strawberry and dill seed, or the STL Catholic, made with Yzaguirre rojo vermouth infused with charred poblano peppers.

pink negroni at little fox // photo by izaiah johnson

While vermouth shines as a co-star in mixed drinks, it also makes a great stand-alone tipple. Coming in between 14% and 18% ABV, vermouths make ideal session sippers. Local bar programs are doing their part to increase drinkers’ awareness of vermouth’s potential as a solo performer. Dale has 15 vermouths available on his menu at Little Fox, including most of the highly revered Bordiga line. He encourages curious-but-cautious drinkers to try vermouth via the highball route, topping it with club soda or sparkling mineral water and a twist of citrus.

Fricker has upward of 30 vermouths available for purchase at Grand Spirits and about 12 to 15 available for individual tastes or as part of tasting flights. He also enjoys educating his guests on the finer points of vermouth, from regional differences to advice on home use. His top pro tip: Refrigerate that bottle of vermouth. It is wine, after all!

Tags : Cocktails