The English vermouth renaissance goes up a gear with the arrival of Albourne Estate’s debut Sussex vermouth
Winston Churchill famously liked his gin Martinis strong. “Glance at the vermouth bottle briefly while pouring the juniper distillate freely,” was his advice. But I reckon if English vermouth had been around at the time, he might have reconsidered his recipe.
The English wine-producing county of Sussex already has its share of locally-made gins, and now you can have a Martini straight outta Sussex (well, minus the olive) using the new Albourne Estate vermouth, called “40”. It gets its name from the number of botanicals used — an aromatic potpourri with an all-star cast including rosemary, rose petals, cardamom and chamomile.
Of course, martinis aren’t the only use for this dry, fortified wine. The Negroni and the Manhattan have been among the classic vermouthy cocktails enjoying a renaissance in recent years, with retro cocktail bars like L’Atelier du Vin in Brighton (15 minutes’ drive from Albourne) helping to shake off vermouth’s Abigail’s Party image.
Uses For Vermouth
Naturally, Albourne’s owner Alison Nightingale wants us to fully appreciate the fruits (or should that be botanicals) of her labour by drinking it straight (over ice), although she also recommends a 50/50 mix with tonic. Albourne have also invented their own vermouth-based cocktail called the English Rose, the recipe for which is at the bottom of this page.
Personally, I enjoy splashing it into seafood dishes instead of regular white wine — I’m sure I recall Keith Floyd doing this on TV as a kid. More recently, James Martin has been spotted whipping out the vermouth on Saturday Kitchen.
Albourne Estate’s 40 contains the vermouth flavours you’ll already be familiar with if you’ve experienced, say, Cinzano Bianco. But… 40 comes layered with several extra dimensions of subtlety of flavour. To use a televisual metaphor, if Cinzano were a standard-definition set from the 90s, 40 would be a 4k ultra-high-definition smart TV.
As you’d expect with so many ingredients in the mix, it presented my nostrils with quite a challenge. Actually, Spot the Botanical would make a good party game. And they could use to test apprentice perfumers.
Drinking it straight, over ice, I found sage and rosemary dominant, along with a cherry/orange peel smell that reminded me of my childhood favourite Bazooka Joe bubblegum. I wonder what botanicals Bazooka Joe used.
The herby, slightly bitter citrus peel flavours hit you on the tongue too. Tonic’s an option if you don’t like it too strong, but I found it diluted the aromatics a bit too much.
In food (ie my signature seafood linguine) it’s surprisingly restrained, not at all overpowering the other ingredients as you might expect.
Next stop: the Sussex martini. But what the hell should we call it? The best idea I’ve heard so far is the “Smartini”. Comments would be most welcome…
You can grab a 70cl bottle of “40” for £20 from www.albourneestate.co.uk or from the South Downs Cellars shops in Lindfield and Hurstpierpoint, Sussex.
Albourne Estate’s English Rose Cocktail Recipe
50ml of “40” Sussex vermouth
25ml of a quality gin
150ml tonic water (locally produced Regency Tonic would seem appropriate)
A splash of rose water
Optional sugar syrup to taste
A sprinkling of dried rose petals
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