What’s the best way to champion the vermouth category to a new audience? Make your own delicious vermouth, of course. Like Vermò.
A once sidelined drink is having a moment. New producers are emerging. Vermò is one of them. The brand’s name is a combination of the word vermouth and the Roman expression ‘Mò’, which means ‘now’ and was said as a call to take advantage of every moment to the fullest. Which is apt, because while vermouth has a rich history and is a versatile drink, it’s only recently that consumers are gradually becoming aware of its delights and potential. For the creators of Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso, Ettore Velluto and Jorge Ferrer, this was an opportunity not to be missed.
Like many drink businesses, Vermò started with friends who asked “why not?! Velluto and Ferrer became close while studying in Barcelona together, eventually becoming flatmates as Ferrer worked with Jack Daniels and Velluto plied his trade at a consulting company. But they began to notice that vermouth was becoming increasingly popular in the city. Sharing a love of the drink and a desire to found their own brand, they decided to take a leap of faith. “In the beginning, it was just for fun. We were thinking of something we could do together and we were passionate about this industry. We started dedicating our weekends to writing a business plan and trying Italian, Spanish and French vermouth,” Velluto explains.
Growing up in Spain and Italy respectively, Ferrer and Velutto recall a time when it was commonplace to see their grandparents’ generation drinking vermouth. But they both also felt that they witnessed it skip a generation. “I remember my grandmother always having either a bottle of vermouth in the house. It used to be in the culture of the Spanish people, when we said we were having an aperitivo, we meant vermouth,” says Ferrer. “In Spain, we are now seeing the revival of the category and young people are drinking vermouth more. But the first time my parents had vermouth at home was when we started the brand”. “It’s the same for Italy”, adds Velluto. “It’s a product that was rooted in tradition. My grandfather and people his age would meet to drink vermouth. Everybody had a bottle at their place. But it jumped a generation. The product almost disappeared”.
While Ferrer and Velutto shared a romantic connection with vermouth, they understood that Italy and Spain had different approaches to creating and drinking vermouth. Instead of simply picking one, they were motivated to create a drink that brought together Italy and Spain.“We wanted to create a vermouth brand that was different from the ones already in the market. We liked the characteristics of Italian vermouth and the relaxed and more easy-drinking approach of Spanish vermouth, which is enjoying a new wave of aperitivo culture,” says Velluto. “Many vermouths had a really classic look and feel, and also a classic taste. We wanted to break away from this with a more contemporary approach and design,” Ferrer comments. “We felt that the image and the identity of the brands were really old fashioned. The label reminds of a 200 year ago origin story or a different time and we didn’t think that was appealing for a younger generation”.
After a period of researching and working on a business plan, Ferrer and Velutto decided against distilling their own vermouth. This would have proved too costly and difficult, so instead, they chose to build a brand and work with an established producer. While they chased down leads across Italy, from Rome to Tuscany, the duo experimented. This process of trial and error was educational as Ferrer and Velutto understood exactly what they wanted. They knew they needed a distinctive brand that would appeal to their generation. They also knew that their ideal vermouth was fresh and acidic and not overly sweet. However, Ferrer and Velutto also came to realise that creating the best possible product meant being loyal to the traditions and origins of vermouth and embracing the classic side of the production. They wanted to make Vermouth di Torino.
Commercial production of vermouth in Turin dates back to the end of the 18th century, but while Vermouth di Torino as a style has possessed a geographical denomination since 1991, it wasn’t until 2017 that a law was created by The Vermouth di Torino Institute (an alliance of 15 brands) to define its production parameters. It states that Vermouth di Torino is “an aromatised wine obtained in Piedmont using Italian wine only, with the addition of alcohol, flavoured mainly with artemisia from Piedmont together with other herbs and spices’. “When you are Italian, vermouth is from Turin. If you want to make respectable vermouth, it has to be a Vermouth di Torino. We were nobody, the power of having that status and being produced by a great vermouth producer was so important,” says Velluto. “A great brand without a great product is nothing,” adds Ferrer.
While researching for the perfect partner, Velutto found La Canellese, a distillery in the heart of the Piedmont region that dates back to 1890 and has been owned and run by the four generations of the Sconfienza since 1957. “It was in a book by Fulvio Piccinino, a major expert on vermouth worldwide, and he talks extensively about the different brands and also different producers,” says Velluto. “We went there and bought the sample we had and explained extensively how we saw the product and that we wanted to take what we had and make it lighter and fresher”.
An array of samples were sent to La Canellese with differing levels of alcohol, sugar and spices before a tasting was held and a winner picked. The relationship was good but not without pushback. “They accommodated us a lot. They let us play, but they are traditional to the point that they did block some of our ideas! We respect them and always take their advice into consideration because they are one of the key players in the world for vermouth. But if they feel uncomfortable we know that we are doing something right; because if they feel too comfortable, we are not on the right path,” says Ferrer.
All this experimentation, collaboration and hard work turned into Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso. Velutto explains that the process of creating it all starts from the spices. “We buy spices that are already dried but still intact which La Canellese grind in an old hammer mill they have always used. The traditional method of infusion calls for cold extraction. Hot extraction is faster but more aggressive on the spices so we prefer to take things slowly. An alcohol solution is dripped on the spices and subsequently drained away in a continuous cycle for twenty days,” he explains. “The infused solution then sits for a further ten days to allow all of the sediment to settle, which is then filtered so you can mix it together with wine, sugar and alcohol in a huge iron silo. We cool the silo which makes all the sediments that were not already filtered go to the bottom of the silo and then after 20 days in the silo, you filter it again with a hydro filter to get a clear liquid solution. We bottle it and wait for 20, 30 days more to let the liquid rest and settle in the bottle. So the whole process is three to four months”.
Wine must be at least 75% of the total volume of vermouth and typically this consists of white wine or a mistelle, a partially-fermented white wine to which brandy has been added to retain sweetness from unfermented sugar. Vermò was made using the former, all Italian white wine and always with a percentage of Trebbiano and Chardonnay because these wines have the profile that Ferrer and Velluto desired. “We wanted a product that was less sweet and had more acidity and fresh delivery. La Canellese had a lot of recommendations for the types of grapes we should use to create the product that we wanted to have, We agreed with La Canellese that Chardonnay was a good choice as it gives the product these characteristics” says Velluto. “We also settled on Trebbiano because it is a classic vermouth wine and the grapes grow in the on-site vineyards”.
You’ll have noticed there’s a recurring theme here, that Ferrer and Velutto were very resistant to making saccharine vermouth. Naturally, Vermò has got quite a low sugar content. This was always an important issue for Ferrer and Velluto as they felt this was the key to create a more accessible type of vermouth. “We found too many vermouths were too sweet or thick. People like vermouth because of the low ABV, the flavour profile, the aperitivo culture, and that you can pair it with food, but they would have just one glass because it was too heavy. We wanted to do something fresher,” says Ferrer. “We wanted to focus on deriving the most amount of flavour from the botanicals to make vermouth that goes down quite easy – which is good for us and good for the consumer as well!
Arguably the most interesting aspect of the Vermò recipe is its botanical content. A total of 31 botanicals were used, a blend of ingredients that was decided upon after much experimentation. “We knew the kind of taste we wanted and initially went to La Canellese with 15 or 16 botanicals in mind. But to balance our recipe we added many things, including spices that we didn’t know about at first!” says Velluto. “Obviously our recipe is a secret so we can’t reveal all of it, but we can say there are spices like cinnamon, galangal, white pepper, elements like vanilla, some great citric freshness from lemon and some lovely bitterness from botanicals like aloe, as well as three different kinds of wormwood, Roman wormwood (artemisia pontica), Alpine wormwood (artemisia vallesiaca) and absinthe wormwood (artemisia absinthium), all grown in the Piedmont region as is required for a Vermouth di Torino”.
When it is ready, Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso is bottled at 17% ABV and is ready to be consumed. The question is, how? Historically, vermouth in Italy was consumed with soda and in cocktails, like Negronis and Americanos. In Spain, the culture of cocktails is less strong and a lot of people drink vermouth neat. So, what should you do with Vermò? Easy: both. “We wanted to make vermouth that people would appreciate and often the best way to do that is to serve it neat or with some ice. Vermò really changes when you serve it this way, it opens up some other flavours, usually the fresher ones like the cardamom or lemon,” Ferrer explains. “But we also knew that we needed to have a product that was suitable and that worked really well with cocktails because, in the end, half of your advocacy is going to come from bartenders”.
It should come as no surprise then to learn that the brand has worked extensively with bartenders to create bespoke serves such as the El Don, Vermò Cobbler and Mary Anne. But if you’re intrigued by Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso and want to give it a try, a good place to start would be with the drinks you already know. It’s hard to go wrong with the classics. “It’s great in Negroni because it gives Vermò a fresher and citric taste and with whisky, it’s a really good match the lower sugar content gives more space for the spirit to be at its best. So we would especially recommend you try it in a Manhattan and Americano,” says Velutto. “A lot of cocktail bars go for the Americano and we never complain about it!” adds Ferrer.
While the early signs are promising and vermouth is reaching a wider audience with every passing year, there is still a lot of work to be done for brands like Vermò to reach its potential, something Ferrer and Velutto know all too well. “Bartenders are interested, but vermouth is still not at the stage where there’s a consistent premium consumer. There’s been growth and a lot of new brands coming in, but so many will disappear because there’s too much competition,” Ferrer admits. “What’s against us is that most consumers don’t really request a specific vermouth. When people order a gin and tonic, often they will say a brand of gin they want. It’s the same for whisky. With vermouth, you ask for a cocktail or a style, but not necessarily a brand name. There’s a lot of education to do with the consumer”.
For now, Ferrer and Velutto are doing what they can to spread the word . “We’re trying to grow in different countries. In January we reached the US. Unfortunately, everything stopped with Covid,” Velluto says. “We were doing a competition that would elect the best under 30 bartender of Italy, so we approached that side of marketing and are trying to engage younger bartenders as we are a younger product”. The approach was certainly working prior to the lockdown, with the UK pleasingly registering as Vermò’s biggest market. Velluto and Ferrer agree that the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. “Nobody has said ‘no’ to the product in two years!” Ferrer remarks. “In the beginning, the expectations weren’t high because nobody knew who we were and we didn’t have a big company behind us, so we surprised a lot of people. They could see that we were passionate about how it is made and that we had to risk our money and time to bring the product to the market. The industry thankfully is very kind and helped us a lot, but our rationale was always that the product will stand by itself”.
You can purchase Vermò Vermouth di Torino Rosso here.