Martini’s are something that has gradually made an appearance over the last few years. A far cry from the foolish consumption of the two spirits involved: attempted and unconquered in teenage years, which often result in lifelong aversion for the many. Gin and Vodka demand respect and should be treated accordingly.
Personally I have always been partial to a hint of Gin, the G&T- a British institution to the Nth degree and something to keep malaria at bay, but Vodka has never had the same appeal until my recent education on exactly what a martini is…and can be. Forget all the James Bondage banter of ‘Shaken not Shtirred’, I won’t go into the refinements of mixology and whether your martini should be stirred in the direction of France/Italy or not. That’s for the anal-ists to discuss. For me, the attraction of the Martini lies in its simplicity: Ice, Vodka or Gin and Vermouth of some kind. An ice cold drink that never fails to hit the spot.
Cocktail hour used to be de rigueur back in the day, but now seems increasingly frowned upon, out here we have been extolling its virtues as a payment for every other day of toil- and rightly so. Far too many folk in the UK whinge and binge about alcohol consumption constantly, anabolic debates from suits, skirts, slaves to the city, bored housewives’, and depressed whining lefties (not to say I’m a righty- they just drink a lot. I consider myself an agnostic when it comes to politics): “Ooo, I might give up drinking for January…”, yes of course, that sounds like a great plan, and then binge-drink for the rest of the year. Moderation is key when enjoying the finer things in life and the Martini is no exception.
Obviously, I deal in Wild plants, so I am always keen to use them in new and different ways. I have had plenty of success with my wild brews- my Nettle beer is a constant delight, Meadowsweet champagne also a firm favourite. But, would I be able to stretch my wild botanicals to a vermouth? Hmm, why not?
On the whole, vermouth gets a bad name, I always assumed Noilly Pratt was produced for the sole purpose of cooking fish (excuse the fish pun), but it turns out that its real plaice is in the cocktail cabinet (no more, I promise). A lot of Martini aficionados constantly discuss how much vermouth, if any, should go near a martini. The more hardcore say that you should simply call up a friend and ask them to open and sniff a bottle of vermouth over the phone and that’s enough, others simply wash their glass with a splash and give it a swirl before discarding. I could go on, but I can’t be bothered. Gurnard.
When I looked into the construction of vermouth a bit more closely, it actually seemed quite achievable. Quite simply, vermouth is a mixture of aromatics: herbs, roots and bark, added to a base of wine with a touch of sugar, then bottled and sold.
It came as no surprise that someone on this here interweb had produced a homemade version, but with a list of ingredients longer than an Elephant’s love muscle, see here: http://lastcrumb.com/2007/09/06/homemade-vermouth/
When it came to selecting my ingredients from the wild, one thing I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to tickle out of the hedgerows would be wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and Gentian, the two principle ingredients and bittering agents. I wanted to make this a recipe obtainable for most who like to forage without getting too precise on ingredients for a traditional vermouth. This was all about maceration glass containers, scientific mixing and metal spoons with long handles and stuff. So Heston, you could stick it on top of a pudding and call it a Blumenthal (in my head that sounded like blancmange).
Considering I decided to do this little experiment in the midst of November, I was quite surprised what was still available in the wild larder, mind you an extra month tacked on to the end of summer: another perk of La vie de Sud-ouest France, along with 1 ½ hour lunch breaks and half days on Friday, neither of which really apply to me- bugger. Obviously I couldn’t put a vermouth together without reaching for a few store cupboard staples, here’s the list of participants:
For the wild bunch:
Wild angelica (aromatic)
Wild Strawberry Tree fruit (Arbutus unedo) (fruity)
Gorse flowers (floral)
Wild Chamomile (floral/fruity)
Maritime pine needles (aromatic)
Rock Samphire (aromatic/floral)
Wild fennel seeds (aromatic)
Orange zest (bittering)
Cloves (strong aromatic)
When picking your list of botanicals look for a few strong flavours- bitter, aromatic and perhaps something fruity/floral too.
There were thoughts of Yarrow, Meadowsweet, Sorrel and Himalayan Balsam flowers, but seasonality and simplicity got the better of me. The only other problem was: how the hell do I make it?
Fortune rarely sits on a plate in front of you- this day it did, with big shiny bells on. A certain cocktail company by the name of 'Bamboo', to which I have absolutely no family connection, came to my rescue. They do a lot of strange and wondrous things when it comes to mixology, like that blancmange bloke with the specs. I was transferred to the vermouth man who makes their in-house version and he talked me through the how, why, what, where and then of the martini’s ally.
Gather together your ingredients, both from the wild and the supermarket. Purchase some white granulated sugar, a bottle of dry white (a bottle from Languedoc was used in this case) and a spirit with the highest ABV possible in which to macerate your ingredients- the higher the percentage the better/faster the alcohol will draw out the flavours from your ingredients.
Maceration should only take a couple of days- place your ingredients in a small jar, pour over the alcohol, seal and leave in a dark place. The best I could do for the alcohol was 50% and I used a spirit as neutral as possible- vodka.
Get out your measuring jugs- to balance your vermouth correctly the ratio of white wine to the macerated botanicals should be roughly 3:1. When it comes to mixing you should use 150ml of macerated botanicals to 500ml wine.
Gently heat 500ml of white wine in a non-metallic pan bring up to a simmer and add 2 TBSP sugar. The added sugar will help to hold and carry the flavour of your botanicals. Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Allow to cool completely.
Now its time to add your botanicals. This is where it is essential to taste as you go. It works to have a bottle of Noilly Prat for tasting as a comparison as you go. Obviously, remove the botanicals themselves and just use the liquid. I added 15ml of each of the 10 botanicals, which makes it up to 150ml in total. I actually had 11- but as cloves tend to be quite overpowering I only used about 7ml of the clove maceration. Orange zest can be doubled up, as it is a good bittering agent.
Once mixed and your happy with the balance of flavours, bottle the vermouth and leave it for a couple of days to settle. You will then be ready to make your Martini.
Martini Mixing. Get your self a cocktail shaker (NOT for shaking) and drop 5-6 ice cubes in. Although traditionally Gin is the one to use, I went for Vodka, once again as it is fairly neutral in flavour and should help to let the wild vermouth shine through. Pour 15ml of vermouth and 60ml of vodka over the ice and then stir gently with a chopstick or long spoon for about 1 minute. Once super chilled, pour the martini into the glass and garnish how you wish- olives/ lemon zest/ sorrel leaves. Drink. When Vodka is ice cold it slips down a treat.
So there you have it: the wild vermouth. Very much looking forward to the onslaught of spring and summer to play with a few more wild flavours. If you ‘into’ your Martini’s, I would strongly advise having a go at knocking up your own vermouth. Wild cocktails are definitely the way forward!
Plenty more been going on- so much so that I almost feel that i have been neglecting the website...But then who wants to spend more time than they have to in front of a computer? I went back to the UK a couple of weeks ago to set up HGC HQ- she overwintered very well, just in time for a visit from the Telegraph. We also had the first course: a stag do of 17 lads- a good time had by all! I also joined Al Humphreys and The Hungry Cyclist fo their A to Z: London's World of food- P is for Peru. A visit to Soho's 'Ceviche'. Fine nosh indeed. Do get in touch with them if you want to join them on the next one.
We are taking bookings for the summer- so do get in touch if you are keen to book up your very own HGC experience, May is almost full to the brim, with only a few weekdays remaining.
The most recent project is coming to fruition, back to the trees once again for an all natural tree pod. And I think Ihave found the perfect spot: