You've heard of vermouth, but do you really know what it is?
That was the same question I asked myself when I decided to pick up the wonderful art of mixing cocktails to keep sane during the first year of the pandemic. The first drink that I wanted to make was my personal favourite – a negroni. I knew that the cocktail is made using equal parts dry gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, but it's the last liquid on the list that piqued my curiosity.
Further down the line, I was inspired to start making martinis at home after having a deliciously elegant martini by Osamu Kinugawa of Gekko. One of the two key ingredients of a martini, dry vermouth, soon became a subject of interest to me.
What is vermouth? And why are there sweet (red) and dry (white) versions? The simplest explanation is that vermouth is essentially fortified and aromatised wine that uses herbs and spices, with wormwood being a key ingredient. But that's really just scratching the surface.
Not too long ago I became acquainted with a fantastic award-winning vermouth by Cucielo and spoke to their brand spokesperson Murray Anderson to learn more about high-quality Italian vermouth as well as the wine itself.
Cucielo Vermouth bears the moniker "di Torino", which denotes that it has to be made in Italy's Piedmont region using using only Italian wines, fortified with alcohol, and have the predominant flavour of Artemisia, aka woodworm, sourced from the Piedmont region in Northern Italy, together with other herbs and spices. The final bottle strength must also be above 16% and be bottled in Piedmont.
According to Cucielo their bianco (dry) vermouth has dominant botanicals and aromas of wormwood, green apple, cardamom, pink pepper, elderflower and pomegranate. The rosso, on the other hand, features wormwood, Sicilian bitter orange, cloves, yarrow, vanilla pods and Chine gentian.
Talking Vermouth With Murray Anderson
TC: Why do you think vermouth has such an enduring appeal beyond its origins in Italy hundreds of years later?
MA: Great question. In my opinion, vermouth is an underrated product that a lot of people see as an additional ingredient in cocktails. Recently, we have seen a big shift towards low ABV and at-home consumption. This shift has definitely helped people to understand that vermouth can be used in many ways and for this reason, creates more reasons to buy!
TC: What are the defining characteristics of red and white vermouth each?
MA: Cucielo's red and white vermouth uses the same wine base and our defining characteristics are in the botanicals chosen. We choose richer, deeper flavours in the Rosso and lighter, fruitier flavours in the Bianco.
TC: Most Malaysian drinkers like myself got to know vermouth by enjoying cocktails. What cocktails would you say best showcase the qualities of rosso and bianco vermouth?
MA: If I’m honest, I enjoy drinking them neat. You really experience the fullest flavours when its simply poured over ice. If you wanted a cocktail, I would drink the bianco in a spritz style drink like our Cinque7 (Cucielo bianco, Prosecco, Angostura orange bitters, soda water), and I would enjoy Cucielo rosso in a negroni.
TC: Why should today’s modern drinker pay attention to vermouth?
MA: It’s ever-growing popularity is the key reason we should pay attention to vermouth. It’s also a fantastic modifier to most cocktails and a must have on your bar cart at home.
TC: What should one look for when drinking high-quality vermouth like Cucielo?
MA: Vermouth di Torino is the key. Cucielo Vermouth di Torino is a sign it is high quality. The Torino appellation is a stamp of quality and origin within the vermouth brand. Many rules and regulations are in place (and governed by EU Law) to ensure Vermouth di Torino is recognised as a step above regular vermouth.
TC: How has the vermouth’s image evolved over time to the present day?
MA: Vermouth was mostly enjoyed on its own when it was first invented. As time went on, people understood that it provided fantastic flavour additions in modern cocktails. Personally, I see it as that missing ingredient in cocktails. If a drink feels like it’s missing something, I always enjoy adding a splash of Cucielo bianco or rosso to the drink to round it off.
TC: What makes Cucielo’s vermouth so enjoyable to drink when compared to other long-standing brands?
MA: Cucielo's image is to bring the fun and excitement back into vermouth. For years, vermouth was seen as an old category that didn’t appeal to younger people. As time went on, we have seen a shift towards younger people enjoying quality brands and Cucielo's artistic and colourful branding creates a sense of style that a lot of older brands may not have.
TC: How has the vermouth consumption trend changed in Asia over the years?
MA: If you’ve ever been to Spain, we have bars called Vermuterias. So vermouth is a big deal in Europe. I would say in Asia, vermouth will certainly get much bigger thanks to the bar and cocktail trends. It will never be huge but certainly more common, so look out for a bottle of Cucielo at your local bar!
Cucielo Vermouth is available at: