Though many of the bottles that pass across our desks at Imbibe HQ are filled with eye-catching technicolour spirits claiming a tangential connection to juniper, we do sometimes encounter products that capture our attention simply because they’re so damn elegant.
Chimes English Extra Dry Vermouth is one of those. From a distance, the bottle could be mistaken for an antique book, and the aromatic fortified wine inside is simultaneously original and classic.
The vermouth is the latest release from Dr Christopher and Professor Katherine Smart, the husband and wife duo behind Surrey Copper Distillery.
They’re avid book collectors with a particular penchant for Dickens, and they’re also the former head of brewing services at Camden BRI and the former global chief brewer at SABMiller, respectively. Through Surrey Copper, they’ve combined both their literary passion and their distilling expertise.
‘Charles Dickens was particularly enamoured of everything that sat around Italy,’ said Professor Smart. ‘We wanted to make [the vermouth]a fusion of English and Italian style and taste.’
To achieve this goal, the Smarts started with a base of Sauvignon Blanc wine from a vineyard in Surrey and paired it with twelve botanicals, including lemon peel, rosemary, ginger, sage, cinnamon, cubeb and, of course, Italian wormwood.
‘We wanted to do something slightly different,’ explained Dr Smart. ‘To make vermouth, quite frequently people remove a lot of the flavour and colour from the wine base. [Then] you take your wine base, you take your spirit, you add your botanicals and you allow it to soak for a period of time, filter those and put it into a bottle.
‘We’ve taken this beautiful wine, we haven’t taken any of the flavours out of it and we’ve added botanicals that complement it so it’s refreshing, smooth and easy to drink in its own right. Instead of doing an infusion, which is what most people do, we are actually distilling all the botanicals. We take that spirit and add that into the wine to produce a vermouth that we think is incredibly smooth.’
Indeed, at a tasting, Imbibe found that the vermouth maintained its distinct Sauvignon Blanc character while trading zesty citrus notes for deeper, more herbaceous and peppery flavours.
Earlier this summer, the Smarts launched Surrey Copper Distillery’s first product, Copperfield Dry Gin. ‘We wanted to have a vermouth and a gin that would go really well together in a dry martini,’ said Dr Smart.
But ultimately, the Smarts crafted Chimes to be able to stand on its own.
‘One thing that is important to us as distillers is to produce products that you can drink either cold or over ice that are very smooth, very balanced and beautiful in their own right, but also in cocktails,’ commented Dr Smart. ‘That’s what we’re trying to do.’
15% abv, RRP £30/70cl, Surrey Copper Distillery, 01483 921121