Chai Vermouth #1

This is the recipe from my first attempt at chai vermouth, which when combined with brandy becomes a Saint Bernard, the namesake drink at, well, Saint Bernard.

Vermouth is flavored, fortified wine, so in essense it’s made of:

-White wine. All vermouth is made from white wine. The red color of sweet vermouth comes from carmelized sugar and various herbs.
-A spirit of some sort, to fortify the wine and slow oxidation. Since I’ll be drinking the vermouth with brandy, brandy seems like a natural choice here.
-Herbs and spices. Herein lies the magic.

Ingredients

1 bottle dry, acidic white wine (I used a $7 bottle of trebbiano)
4 oz brandy
3 cinnamon sticks
2 whole pieces star anise
9 pods black cardamom
9 pods green cardamom
15 black peppercorns
5 allspice berries
3 cloves
0.5 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp thyme (all herbs are dried)
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp basil
1 T chamomile flowers
zest from 1 lemon, 1 orange
1 cup sugar
1 tsp Fernet Branca
1 teabag (or 1 tsp) lapsang souchong (or other smoky black tea)

1. Infusing the brandy

Infusing the brandy with your spice mixture is an easy way to get your flavors into the brandy as well as the wine. I let my infusion sit about 3 days.

Combine 4 oz brandy with your herbs and spices (on the list: from cinnamon to citrus zest).

Note: In retrospect, the dried herbs and small spices like fennel seeds are hard to strain out of such a small amount of liquid. In retrospect, it’d be easier to just only infuse the brandy with the cinnamon, anise, cardamom, and citrus zest.

2. Infuse the wine

Strain the herbs and spices from the brandy. Reserve the brandy and simmer the herbs and spices in a saucepan with half the bottle of wine for 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and let cool to room temperature.

While wine is cooling, carmelize your sugar. To do this, combine sugar with 1/2 C of water in a saucepan and simmer on low heat until it’s a deep amber color, about two shades darker than honey.

3. Combine everything

Strain the mulled wine. In an empty glass bottle or mason jar (or whatever you’re storing this in), combine the mulled wine, other half of the wine, brandy, and carmelized sugar. You will not need all of the carmelized sugar. Start with about 2 oz  and add more to taste.

You have leftover carmelized sugar. Pour it over ice cream and consume while the vermouth flavors combine for a few minutes.

4. Oops, forgot the tea.

Yeah, so…I meant to steep the tea in the mulled wine. Oops.

To get the tea flavor in there, I made double-strength tea (3 oz water + 1 teabag), cooled it, and added it to the vermouth. The tannins added a deep “bass note” flavor to the vermouth. If you want to mull the tea with the wine, add the tea to the wine right when you turn off the heat, and remove after five minutes so it doesn’t get bitter.

5. Wait, but I want some bitterness, right?

Yes, vermouth is usually made with way more spices we used, like hundreds or something. And many of them are Amazonian; that is, exotic and require online shopping to procure them. It’s actually not that hard to buy, say wormwood or gentian root online, but I didn’t plan ahead that much. So I found a lazy way around this.

Fernet Branca is a bitter, super-herbal liqueur and probably contains a lot of those bittering herbs I didn’t feel like buying. So add 1 tsp to your vermouth. (Maybe start with less, then taste it.)

Good, right?

6. Observations

Obviously, I want to try this again with the tea infused in the wine instead of added later — that was kind of the whole point. And next time I would bump up the cinnamon, anise, and cardamom by about 30% to get more chai profile.

But for now I’m content with this little frankenstein vermouth, duct-taped together with tea and Fernet, which cover the bright “grape juice” flavors of the unbittered wine.

A note about effort: This recipe is 700 words. As you might imagine, it takes some effort to put together, so I’d go ahead and double it. The vermouth will keep in the fridge for probably a year, and its versatile in cocktails (especially in the fall and winter) and delicious on its own.

If you’ve read this far, thanks! And please let me know if you try this at home or have any of your own vermouth experiments to share. Cheers!

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