We’ve tried a lot of sweet vermouths over the years and despite the relatively recent growth of available options, we still feel it is under appreciated. Fortunately, a decently stocked liquor store these days will have several to pick from. This is an ingredient with a selection that has grown to fill the need of every buying customer. However, there is one category we have never seen, so we decided to make our own.
Driven by the desire to make a non-alcoholic Negroni—a NA-groni—and maybe a NAnhattan, we needed vermouth that was alcohol-free. And given the fact that we couldn’t find such a product anywhere, we decided to buy a regular bottle and take the alcohol out of it. We started with Miró Rojo, a Spanish sweet vermouth from the Haus Aplenz portfolio. This is a delicious, mid-priced vermouth that is highly aromatic with a decent amount of spice and no vanilla. Strong flavors will help it survive the next step.
We poured 16 ounces into a saucepan and cranked on the heat. As soon as the vermouth started to bubble, we turned it down to a low simmer. The idea is simple: since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, we should be able to boil it off and transform this aromatized wine into an alcohol-free ingredient—hopefully without losing too much of that aroma in the process.
We left our project lightly simmering for an hour and a half. Actually, we forgot about it, and when we finally realized what was happening, the whole kitchen smelled amazing, but the vermouth had become a bubbling syrup. It was starting to stick to the bottom of the pan on the verge of turning into a burned mess. We should have been adding a bit of water as we went along. This was not a failure. Let’s call it a learning exercise.
For our second attempt, we no longer had the patience to wait, so we took the flambé approach. As the vermouth came to a boil we gave it a sniff test and caught the unmistakable burn of concentrated alcohol fumes, so we lit the project ablaze! If you try this yourself, take care not catch anything (or anyone) on fire. Better yet, follow our initial method and add water along the way. It took more than one match to keep this going, but after a few minutes, we could no longer coax a flame. After a little more simmering a sniff test confirmed no alcohol but still plenty of wonderful aromas, and since this was something we wanted to keep, we transferred the experiment to a shaker tin and placed that into an ice water bath to cool it down. After a little stirring it was cool enough to bottle.
Are we certain we removed all of the alcohol? No. The sniff test is far from scientific, but since we have no way to actually test it, we must judge by smell and taste. At only 15% to begin with, we were actually surprised we could light the flame for as long as we did, so we know we were getting somewhere fast. You could make a fair argument that imprecision here could mislead someone, but to that we suggest avoiding chocolate chip cookies since the vanilla extract is 70-proof.
In the final analysis, we wasted half of our Miró before transforming the other half into something new, but not quite something different. The results are surprisingly good—much better than we expected, actually. Compared to the original, there is obviously something missing, but flavor-wise we have a very interesting product. It is obvious that the alcohol is missing, but you might not guess that if you didn’t know what we were up to. This technique worked so well, in fact, that we intend to try it again with dry vermouth and possibly other ingredients.
Since vermouth should be refrigerated to extend its shelf life after opening, we expect the same from what we have now. Without the alcohol to preserve it, perhaps it will only last a few days. Some reduction has concentrated the sugars, but this is not syrup. Depending on how long you simmered, you may find it too strong, so be sure to save a little from the original bottle to compare. You can always add some water to realign the flavor concentration.
Out of context, this project may seem like a cocktail blog from the Bizzaro world, but we are in the middle of a mini series of NA posts. Still, you might be wondering, what’s the point? Don’t worry, Summit Sips is not changing to dry cocktail exploration. We do intend to mix some zero proof drinks with this stuff though, because we think everyone deserves a chance to explore cocktail flavors—even those of us who cannot consume alcohol or who don’t want to. The story continues, so read on!
This is PART TWO of the NA series
PART ONE: Look, Ma, No Booze
PART THREE: Non-alcoholic Gin Cocktails Using Ritual Zero Proof
PART FOUR: Non-alcoholic Whiskey Cocktails Using Ritual Zero Proof