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Vermont Vermouth

May 15, 2021

It may be fortuitous that Kobey Shwayder has a Ph.D. in linguistics, because while Vermouth remains a bit of an enigma for many, at least in the U.S., he can describe perfectly why it's not only an essential part of many cocktails but why it's an ideal sipper on its own. Shwayder is the owner and founder of Vermont Vermouth, and after a career in academia, he now spends his days infusing and distilling instead of lecturing and deciphering. “Generally, Vermouth at its core is wine with infusions,” he says. “It's the original pre-bottled cocktail.” There are two types of Vermouth: sweet and dry. You'll typically and sweet red Vermouth included in cocktails like Manhattans and Vieux Carres. Dry Vermouth is often used to make martinis. Shwayder, however, prefers to explore the delicate  flavors of his own Vermouth in a much more simple format.

 “Personally, I like it on its own or as a spritz,” he says. “Add some ice or seltzer water. It lengthens it and makes for a nice afternoon sipper.” Upon leaving higher education behind, Shwayder spent time working with friends at Hermit Thrush Brewery, in Brattelboro, which allowed him to formulate a plan and prepare to follow his passion into Vermouth. “Working for them was great, but I wanted to do my own thing,” Shwayder says. “And they were nice enough to let me spend time working for them as I was thinking about this new business.” Quite often, he  finds that his bottles catch eyes (and palates) at farmers markets throughout the state, sparking memories as people pass by.   

vermouth cocktail

Vermouth can be delicious on its own, sipped with a splash of seltzer or as part of a classic cocktail. 

“Vermouth at its core is wine with infusions. It's the original pre-bottled cocktail.”

“Vermouth is very big in Europe,” he says. “Over the past 10 -15 years there's been a real revitalization of it in Italy, Germany and Spain — especially Spain. There's Vermouth hour around 4 p.m. when you'll go out to a bar with friends and have tapas and Vermouth. “People will walk by and say, 'Look, it's Vermouth like we had in Spain last year,'” he says. “I'm hoping the trend will hop over here to the U.S.” The support for craft production also has Shwayder optimistic. Sourcing locally when possible, he uses apples from Dutton Farm in Newfane for his Apple Harvest Vermouth, and acquires grapes from upstate New York for his other styles. Shwayder crafts three different Vermouth expressions: Boreas Sweet  Vermouth: Spiced and warming, it overs dark fruit  flavors. This Vermouth is perfect in a Manhattan or Negroni, and can be sipped on the rocks with a splash of seltzer and an orange twist. Zephyr Dry Vermouth: A dry Vermouth, it's bright and herbaceous with savory herbs and a tart acidity. Use this in a martini or as an aperitif on the rocks with a lemon twist. Harvest Apple Wine Vermouth: Made from local apples and infused with local botanicals, the sweet, tart spice favors a true taste of Vermont terroir. Try this one on its own.

802Spirits had an opportunity to chat with Shwayder to learn what attracted him to creating Vermouth, what someone can expect and how to best enjoy it.

Q: What led you to Vermouth?

A: Shwayder: “It started when I was making a cocktail at home about 10 years ago. The recipe called for Vermouth and I looked at the bottle and thought,  I did the good academic thing and researched it. I'm the kind of person who likes to learn to make my own.”

Q: What can someone expect from Vermouth?

A: Shwayder: “Every producer has their own secret herbs and spices that allows you to get all these great  flavors, and that's part of the fun of Vermouth. My Dry Vermouth is bright and savory and herbal with rosemary and a sort of bright, vegetal savor. My Sweet Vermouth is warming with baking spices and caramel and dark fruit notes — something that's great for curling up by there and sipping. And my Apple Vermouth has apple and spice up front and herbs in the background. It also has anise and a licorice note to it.”

Q: Where's it all made?

A: Shwayder: “I have a small facility in Brattleboro. I do everything post-juice. I buy grape juice or I have an Apple Vermouth product that I make with apple juice. I ferment it into wine, buy forager from local farms, I do the infusion, the fortification and the bottling. It's about a 1,400 square-foot warehouse startup space. The equipment is pretty minimal — I try to keep overhead as low as possible. I've got fermentation tanks, a 50-gallon kettle for infusion, pumps and hoses. I have all the things I can handle as a one-person operation.”

Q: Can you share a secret about your botanicals?

A: Shwayder: “My main bittering agent is Mugwort, which is a relative of Wormwood. Vermouth means 'Mormwood,' and Mugwort grows like a weed around Brattleboro. It's great and intensely bitter but also has these delicious notes to it. It's a distinctive  flavor. You choose herbs and spices to complement feelings. For example, my apple Vermouth is sort of autumnal, my sweet is wintery with warm, dark fruit and spice notes.”

vermont vermouth bottles

Vermont Vermouth is crafted in Brattleboro using wine made from cold-tolerant grape varietals and locally sourced ingredients to create a range of Vermouth from dry to sweet.

Q: What is Vermouth?

A: Vermouth is fortified wine that has been infused with botanicals, herbs and spices to create a unique flavor.

Q: What can I do with it?

A: Vermouth can be a delicious aperitif on its own; it can be sipped on the rocks or with a splash of seltzer; and it is commonly used as part of an ingredient in a variety of cocktails. Vermouth can also be used in cooking in place of wine in sauces, stews and braises.

Q: How long does it last and how should I store it? 

A: Cork it and put it in the fridge. A bottle of vermouth should last for several months if it's kept cold and sealed. It should be kept in a dark, cold place, since light, heat and oxygen will begin to eliminate delicate favors over time.

Q: Do you have a favorite?

A: Shwayder: “I'm a Sweet Vermouth person. However, I actually think my dry vermouth is my best. It came out the best. But my heart is in sweet vermouth.”

Q: Tell us about some of the collaborations you've worked on with Vermont distillers.

A: Shwayder: “It mostly came about from working in the same industry. I thought that if we were creating these cocktail recipes, why not highlight some of these other wonderful Vermont products. So we decided to use Vermont spirits as a modifier. We tried recipes and tweaked them with products from Vermont manufacturers. We had some fun going back and forth with each other.