Pay attention, class! We’re making homemade vermouth. (and if you want to do something easier, scroll down for a very quick ratafia recipe)
The ingredient list is endless (but I will supply one in a minute)–what we need to cover first is the technique!
Start with 2 bottles 750 ml bottle of dry white or rose wine. (Surprise! Even sweet, red vermouth isn’t made with red wine.)
Add something a little boozier. Brandy, grape eau-de-vie, cognac, grappa, even port or sherry. Vermouth is usually 16-18% alcohol, so we need something to proof this up.
Now, are you using any fruit or fruit peel? Berries, peaches, apples, citrus peel? Soak that in about a 1/2 cup of brandy/other higher-proof spirit for 2 days. At the end of 2 days, take your brandy/fruit mixture and strain it. You can toss the fruits. Keep the booze.
Then take half a bottle of wine, add your herbs and spices, and bring it to a boil. Turn it off and let it sit.
Okay, this gets tricky and is easiest done in a copper pot. If you want a dry vermouth, skip this step. If you’re going for a sweet vermouth, you need to caramelize some sugar. The best way to do this is to call over a friend of yours who is a pastry chef and ask them to do it.
Failing that, take 1 cup of sugar and just 1-2 teaspoons of water. Slowly heat until the sugar is a warm brown color, but not burned.
Take it off the heat and SLOWLY dribble in your infused brandy mixture. Mix until everything is combined into one happy syrup.
Now, into one big jar or oversized bottle (like a double-sized wine bottle), combine your herb/spice mixture with the remaining half a bottle of wine. Add the sugar mixture, but if you’re not sure how sweet you want it, hold half of it back. Put the bottle in the fridge until it gets cold.
When it’s cold, take it out and strain a little bit into a glass. How does it taste? To make it sweeter, add more of your brandy/sugar mixture. To make it drier or less intense, open that second bottle of wine and add some.
Once you like the balance of sweet to dry, strain it with a cheesecloth to get all the herbs and spices out, and enjoy!
Experiment! It’s just herbs and fruit mixed with wine! It’s supposed to be fun!
Spice shop ingredients: Gentian root, Angelica root, Cardamom pods, star anise, vanilla bean
Garden ingredients: Oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, coriander (cilantro seed), Wormwood (Artemesia absinthum)
Dried citrus peel
But what about ratafia?
“Ratafia” is one of those old words that referred to some kind of mixture of booze and fruit, but there are all kinds of variations on this recipe. Some people infuse fruits and spices in cognac and call that a ratafia. But what I’m talking about is an old recipe for aromatized, fortified wine. This is all it is:
Take a bottle of dry white wine. Pour it in a jar or larger bottle with 1/4 cup brandy, cognac, or some kind of higher-proof, fruit-based spirit. Add 1/4 cup sugar. Add some fruit and dried herbs and spices (maybe cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, and orange peel?) A vanilla pod is often added, but I find it can get overwhelming. Let it sit for 2 months, shaking regularly. Strain it and drink it. Do not keep this around forever–it’s not a family heirloom, it’s a seasonal drink. So drink it this season.