Vermouth & The House Savoy

Our upcoming July Episode is on the Martini.  To tide you all by, here’s a story about one of your most ubiquitous and finicky ingredients: Vermouth.

 

Vermouth is one of the hardest ingredients to keep well in a bar. The persnickety concoction just won’t keep.  For that reason, it either has to be replaced often, or stored in small containers to maintain its taste.

And why not?  Vermouth itself is the product of nobility and innovation, of expansion by diplomacy, marriage, and conquest.  Its earned a right to be a princely drink, all thanks to the House of Savoy.

A 17th Century Silk Banner of the House Savoy.  Find it and more like it at www.metmuseum.org
A 17th Century Silk Banner of the House Savoy. Find it and more like it at http://www.metmuseum.org

Vermouth’s history starts several hundred years before the concoction came to be, as two brothers began a dynasty in the background of remarkable events. It was the dawn of the second millennium, wine production was under control of the Church, and largely produced by monasteries in England, or else made for peasants in southern europe. Byzantium was at war and the Papacy was in the midst of the pornocracy, in which the Pope took part in orgies, mutilations, and affairs of state. Meanwhile, a pair of Saxon brothers, Humbert and Amadeus, used marriage to claim a strategic mountain pass in the Alps.  From this humble beginning the House Savoy would rise.

 

Fast forward five hundred years.  Wine is finding a resurgence in France, thanks to monks around europe, and a mid-1500’s ice age which crippled English production.  France is also enjoying the lands of House Savoy, thanks to a few Italian wars and one Charles the VIII.  However, Emmanuel Philip, a member of the nearly fallen House Savoy, aims to reclaim his home.  Emmanuel takes up arms as governor of the Netherlands, and leads a Spanish invasion of Northern France, reclaiming the Savoy lands Charles had taken.  With other opportunities arising, Emmanuel reclaims much of the old Savoy lands, and moves the capital to a little town called Turin.

 

Fast forward another two hundred years, and we find the Savoy at a particular height.

It is 1786, and the House of Savoy has claimed the Kingdom Sicily, exchanged it for Sardinia, and is taking part in the thorough enhancement of Turin.  Part of this advancement includes the mixture of white wine with an infusion of spices which will come to be known as Vermouth.

Fast forward again to your own bar, your own stock.  Centuries have hurtled by, and still people want this persnickety spiced wine concoction in their cocktails.  From the Gin Craze in London to the Cocktail Party era of the American 1960s, vermouth has mixed its way into many of the most popular cocktails: Martinis, Manhattans, Negronis, Rob Roys.  Meanwhile, the Savoy name might call to mind your go-to cocktail book from the 30’s, the ballrooms in Chicago and New York, or the impressive family that still exists in Europe today.  So mix up your Vermouth, that most noble and demanding of drinks.  Mix in a Martini, a Manhattan, or even straight – and raise a glass to the noble House of Savoy.

-K

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