Opinion: The merits of growing up with vermouth

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

15 December 2015

I was chatting to a woman in her 20s the other day about booze. She was telling me how she had quite old parents and how, as a kid, this created problems. Not least when it came to the time-honoured teenage tradition of nicking products from your parents’ drinks cabinet to knock back with your mates.

While her friends were able to roll up with filched vodka and cans of Red Bull, she used to take along sherry and vermouth. You can imagine how that played out in the insecure world of your average teenager…

It wasn’t all bad news, though, because, as she pointed out to me, 10 years of drinking stuff that was dry and oxidised or herby and bitter meant that she acquired an authentic second-decade-of-the-21st-century taste 10 years before hipsters even existed.

Whatever the benefits of Red Bull might be, as a means of training your palate to like palo cortado or Cocchi vermouth, it’s next to useless. They might have laughed 10 years ago, but you can bet that those vodka and RB-quaffing friends won’t be feeling quite so smug when faced with a line of Jäger shots.

The thing is that, while we’re inherently drawn to like sweet stuff (it’s a biological thing – think ‘kids and milk’), ‘difficult’ flavour profiles, like sourness, dryness, tannin and bitterness require work. I read a bit ago that we often need to try something 20 times before our body decides that it ‘likes’ it.

For anyone who’s tried to get sprouts down an eight year old, this probably looks a tad on the optimistic side. But I can imagine that it takes the average 20-teens barfly a good few nights out lying into their fino before they begin  to actually enjoy the stuff.

It is, of course, easy to poke fun at hipsters. Especially their beards.

But as someone who came of drinking age in the shallow, shiny, taste-free 1980s, I rather like what hipsters stand for. The love of ‘awkward’ drinks with character, of ‘proper’ classic cocktails and, particularly, the resurgence of gin and craft ales are all heartening. It’s to be hoped they’re still being drunk long after the last ludicrous badger-hiding beard has been attacked by a razor.

What’s interesting is that I remember my grandparents drinking exactly these kind of drinks at home. Not so much the vermouth or cocktails, perhaps (killer Negronis, in particular, were conspicuous by their absence in suburban 1970s Manchester) but certainly the gin, the local bottled beer and the sherry were all regulars in their house.

All of which means that I can make my predictions for 2016 with a certain amount of confidence: cardigans, humbugs, whisky and soda, white hair, pinnies and 'having a scullery' will all be huge next year.

You might scoff. But if anyone had suggested 10 years ago that gin, cider, mutton-chop whiskers and single-gear bicycles were going to be at the cutting-edge of fashion in 2015, would you have believed them?

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