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Vermouth is ‘a tramp’s drink’ in Germany

Sebastian Brack, co-owner of new high-end vermouth brand Belsazar, is keen to raise the image of the fortified wine in his country above that of “a tramp’s drink”.

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent visit to London, Brack said: “Vermouth has historically been a tramp’s drink in Germany as it’s sweet and cheap. You can get a bottle of Cinzano in Aldi or Lidl for £2.99.

“The big brands have done vermouth really badly, so it struggled with an image problem. There are some great brands out there though, like Antica Formula and Punt e Mes – we strive to be the mid point between the bitterness of the former and sweetness of the latter.”

Brack was inspired to create Belsazar after being given a vermouth and tonic and a trade fair in Belgium and being blown away at how good it was.

“I realised that there were no vermouth brands in Germany yet we have this bounty of beautiful wines, so I saw a gap in the market.

“In order to make a quality vermouth it’s essential to have a good base wine, it’s by far the most important factor – 80% of the quality comes from the wine,” Brack told db.

Brack sources his wines from eight producers in Kaiserstuhl in South Baden, buying the wine in 10,000 litre batches at a time, resulting in a 24,000 bottles being made across the Belsazar range in its debut year last year.

“Some of the wine guys are divas and tell you to go away, others aren’t happy about the idea that their wine will be turned into vermouth, but others have been very open to the idea,” Brack explained.

All four of the vermouths in the Belsazar range use different base wines – the dry is made from Gutedel (more commonly known as Chasselas), while the rosé is made with Pinot Noir, the white Gewürztraminer and the red Moscatel and Pinot Noir.

Around 20 different fruits, herbs and spices including tonka bean, orange blossom, wormwood and cinnamon are added to the wine, along with grape must in place of sugar and fruit brandy from the Black Forest.

The vermouths are macerated in stone tanks rather than wood for purity of flavour.

Brack puts the recent interest in vermouth down to the classic cocktail revival, as it plays a supporting role in classics like the Martini, Manhattan and Negroni.

“Mixogologists are the new celebrity chefs. They are Houdinis with swizzle sticks and are getting behind vermouth in a big way. Ryan Chetiyawardana has created a cocktail around one of our vermouths at White Lyan,” he said.

Having launched last October, Belsazar is already on sale at White Lyan, the Chiltern Firehouse, Dandelyan, Bar Termini and Harvey Nichols.

“London is a window onto the world – everyone is looking to London for food and drink trends,” Brack said.

He is also proud to report that Moët & Chandon was serving Champagne cocktails featuring Belsazar rosé at the Berlin International Film Festival this month.

The four vermouths in the Belsazar range sell for £25 a half bottle and £36.50 for 75cl, with a vintage rosé the next expression to be added to the portfolio.

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