Vermouth is enjoying a moment. Impressive sales growth, innovative producers and creative bartenders are shaking up the category. But what's causing this evolution, and is everyone about to switch their G&T for a V&T? We speak to a pioneer in the field
Vermouth – for a long time, the preserve of the Martini, now a bartender’s best friend – is making waves as a category, with distributor Berry Bros and Rudd announcing a whopping 41% growth in sales of the aromatised wine.
As vermouth’s popularity starts to spill into the mainstream, we spoke to Maximillian Wagner, co-founder of German vermouth brand Belsazar, founded in 2013, to see what’s driving this exceptional growth.
At the heart of it, he says, is the desire for quality craft products – the same desire that has been felt most strongly in the beer and gin categories.
‘We see the growth of the vermouth category having parallels to the gin renaissance,’ says Wagner. ‘The vermouth scene now is a far cry from what’s been available before. At Belsazar we are seriously excited about the depth and freshness that a vermouth can offer and that’s why we decided to innovate by making quality wine the heart of our vermouth.’
Wagner comments on the changing nature of consumers’ palates, evident in the growing demand for bitter drinks. ‘Customers are enjoying a wider range of cocktails which make use of vermouth, such as the ever-popular Negroni. This is also partly due to the on-trade and the phenomenal growth in quality bars around the world.
‘People who appreciate complex flavours have fallen in love with vermouth,’ he says.
A quick visit to Belsazar’s website tells you that this brand is taking a new-school approach to vermouth, which, in the mainstream, is slowly shaking off its image as an old-school drink. Slick, visual and interactive, it’s vermouth for the millennial generation.
Wagner says that ‘trend-seekers and curious epicureans’ seeking out new flavours are the main consumers of vermouth on top of the on-trade, and that the low-alcohol trend could push sales even higher.
‘We’ve had a fantastic response from bartenders and the on-trade. As they continue to recommend interesting serves, customers are becoming more open to trying new things.
‘As the industry grows we see huge potential for vermouth to become mainstream as customers embrace classic, simple serves such as the V&T (vermouth and tonic). People are also increasingly drinking less, but drinking better and Belsazar is perfect for low-abv cocktails.’
And he maintains that the trend and category will keep expanding – as long as producers continue to innovate – citing Belsazar’s new Riesling-based vermouth made with Azores pineapple which displays grapefruit and peppermint on top of classic vermouth bitterness. It feels like summer all over again.