My journey to discovering the hidden gem within the drinks world emerged from a love of gin and drinks making. Vermouth, always an essential ingredient on any bar and in many cocktails, almost omnipotent, became a favourite to enhance and deliver a mouthwatering quality to the drinks I was serving, and with that, I discovered more about this flavoursome bed partner of many classic cocktails.
What is vermouth you may ask? Vermouth's history begins somewhere in antiquity, ancient China and Greece both have written testimony of wine being flavoured with wormwood. Although today's association with vermouth, is with its appetite enhancing qualities, the inclusion of wormwood and many of the other ingredients in wine were in the name of health. These early beginnings would’ve been medicinal with vermouth's commercial success beginning around the city of Turin, sometime in the late 19th century. The availability of wine and a wide variety of botanicals ensured vermouth's success in Europe; today's market is worth billions and an estimated rise to around 19 billion USD by 2021.
After over twenty years of industry experience, I had decided to take a passion to the next level, to take my experience and knowledge to create a brand of English vermouth. In recent years, from working with gin and gin distillers I had created a handful of recipes for my own vermouth to be used to add bespoke quality to my drinks and menus. With these recipes, I started to fashion a flavour profile that would eventually become what I make today, a dry style white vermouth and a sweet vermouth, both of which have thirteen botanicals, not all being identical. As these styles developed, I tested them on my clients to find out where and how they would sit in the greater world of vermouth. I didn’t get any complaints and some of the compliments were good enough to convince me that I should push on and have a go at this.
Recipes and Botanicals
Over the past two years, I have refined these recipes, discovered new suppliers and found a winery in London to supply the English wine base on which the vermouth sits. I spend a lot of time in the Lea Valley and Epping Forest; a place I discovered has many of the botanicals I use, primarily Wormwood, more exactly, Mugwort, Artemisia Vulgaris. Apart from helping with expenses, I liked the idea that my main component was available to me just up the road, about two miles away; restocking should be only a matter of self-motivation.
Along with hand-picked Wormwood, I also hand pick Bay leaves from the Brittany coastline in northern France, a place I have spent many summer holidays, and thus I felt that it had earned a place in the list of botanicals for my vermouth.
After adding and taking away ingredients and trying fortification with brandy, vodka, barrel ageing, steeping, tincture, and other methods, I settled on one, which gave me the desired effect and kept the consistency of the product in hand. Sometimes simplicity creates its own complexity and with the methods, I had chosen this was certainly true. I didn’t want to rewrite the book I wanted to create a product which had a respect for the past and a place in the now and future.
One of the hardest parts of the process was finding a wine supplier or winemaker, who could supply me with English wine without sending the production cost into a vintage of its own, who was also happy to engage with me and in some ways be a part of the process. I am lucky enough to be buying my wine from Blackbook winery in Wandsworth, just south of the river by a spit. Here, Sergio creates his wines in the midst of the bustle of the city, using English grapes sourced from as little as 20 or 30 miles away. For me, it was an important step to be involved with a local winemaker and also to be able to say that I use English wine, not British wine or to use grapes grown from without the U.K.
Creating a brand is no mean feat and without the proper finances to fund it, its creation will depend on largely who you know and what or how can they help. I am incredibly lucky to know some very talented people without whom I couldn’t have hoped to get this far. This help has come in the form of graphic design, accountancy, photography and some film and web work. I have been able to create, in part, some of the brand and run enough tester batches for professional tasting to know I have something really worth pushing to the next level.
The name Bitter & Sweet UK came from the main flavour profiles of the drinks I make and the style of drink vermouth and aperitif are the combinations of bitter and sweet flavours. I decided on using the number of botanicals as a name of sorts, to indicate the brand of vermouth.
13 Botanicals Dry Vermouth is made to enhance a martini, increase appetite before dinner and be the perfect accompaniment to tapas, fish and refreshing small plates. Having burnt lemon zest, bay leaf, tarragon and of course wormwood among its botanicals, with a sweet refreshing citrusy yet bitter profile.
13 Botanicals Sweet Vermouth has a cherried bitterness for the perfect finish in a Manhattan or any classic vermouth cocktail. With spicy cherry and orange notes, it's bittersweetness gives way to a herbal finish that leaves the palate wanting more.
To take the brand to the next level, having it ready for sale to the public and to trade, I am looking for £20,000. This will cover setting up a production site, the initial cost of set up, equipment and stock to produce the first batches of vermouth, along with a second batch to keep a momentum. This will be small batch vermouth and with this, I hope to trade consistently.