Booze of the Week: Nordesia Red Vermouth

Nordesia Red Vermouth may initially get you a few weird looks at a party. But those looks will quickly turn worshipful when the buggers actually try the stuff, I’ll warrant.

I blame the Asterley Brothers.

Ever since I snagged that bottle of their English Red Vermouth, I’ve been mildly obsessed with seeking out new (to me) vermouths.

The obsession was further fueled by two charming chaps I met at a party who had brought along a bottle of Spanish vermouth. What a splendid drink to bring to a party, eh?

Stop staring at me like that. It’s disconcerting.

So I snouted and snuffled around the vermouthy category at The Whisky Exchange and turfed up this opaque-bottled charmer, Nordesia Red Vermouth (The Whisky Exchange, £22.25). It comes in a litre bottle (cue further party cred) and is made in Galicia from the Mencia grape.

So let’s crack it open.

Wow, blimey, it’s spicy. Cinnamon is the biggie — heaps of it — but ginger and vanilla too. Along with the cinnamon, the other thing that hits you in force is red berry fruit (sour cherries) overlaid with orange oils. Like Asterley Bros Vermouth, it’s built on a foundation of red wine not white, and you can feel it in the tannins. I enjoy the extra depth, the grab. It also has a fair old dose of well-integrated bitterness. I’d read that Spanish Vermouths tend to be lighter and more accessible than French or Italian, but I wouldn’t say Nordesia Tinto bears that out: it’s certainly not what I’d call light. Set aside a glass of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, this is clearly the more challenging to drink on its own.

That’s not to say it’s challenging in any kind of pejorative sense. It’s a bloody delight.

I’m drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange peel and that’s how I’d recommend you drink it too, if you please. It’s an entirely different beast from your usual Martini-style vermouths, as you’ve probably gathered by now, and extremely well-suited to drinking in this way. I’ve experimented with Nordesia Vermouth in the context of various cocktails and haven’t yet found one in which it shines. In a Negroni, it’s tough to balance; none of the gins I’ve tried it with has harmonised well. It makes a pleasant enough — if rather spikey — Manhattan, but I’d say other vermouths fit that cocktail considerably better.

But that’s fine by me. The joy of having a bottle of red vermouth open is that you can happily pour yourself a glass on a week night — and keep to just a glass. That’s a feat I find near-impossible with a bottle of wine, so conscious am I of the perils of oxidation. With your red vermouth, you can keep it happily enough in the fridge for a week or two and it holds onto its flavour and freshness pretty well. It makes for a simple and self-contained aperitif, no faffing with shakers or fumbling for multiple bottles, and a mid-week-friendly ABV of 15%.

But you and your mates are going to down the bottle in one sitting anyway, aren’t you? You goddamn sophisticated party animals.

Booze of the Week: Jameson’s Whiskey

The confluence of aesthetic principles and undergraduate pretension? Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, apparently. God knows why; I suppose you’ll have to read my Booze of the Week to find out.

I don’t think we should underestimate the role nostalgia plays in our alcoholic predilections. We’re all just walking bags of meat and memories, after all.

My comfortable cohabitation with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey has its root in the confluence of — or compromise between — genuine aesthetic principles and appalling undergraduate pretension. (Writing the above, I am troubled at the possibility that the same contemptible triangulation is applicable to vast swathes of my life.

Oh well.)

Bringing a tumbler of Jameson’s to my lips can still conjure the inside of somewhere like this:

Interior of the Bear Inn, an old and small pub in central Oxford
The Bear in Oxford, one of the oldest (and perhaps also the tiniest) pubs in the country. A bloody nice pub, but not the place to order a gin and tonic.

Even these days, I pretty much always have a bottle of Jameson’s in the booze cupboard. Just the standard one — 40% ABV, generally about twenty quid for a bottle. Nothing fancy.

I was a latecomer (scandalously late) to the joys of beer. Instead as an undergraduate I drank G&Ts, wine and cocktails. For those young scamps among you who’ve only known an adult existence during which gin has been elevated to an extent that approaches deification, you ought to know that there was a time at which you’d order a gin and you would not be asked which one you wanted, because there was only one. In most pubs, gin meant Gordon’s. Occasionally, it meant Beefeater instead. If you were somewhere wanky, there might be Bombay Sapphire. Tonic was quite possibly on tap. If bottled, there was a fair chance it’d be sodding Britvic rather than the preferable Schweppes. Fever Tree was still a mere twinkle in a private equity fund manager’s eye.

Entering a pub, I’d routinely perform the Britvic check: approach the bar, try to get a good enough view of the fridges to ascertain the tonic brand, then choose my poison accordingly.

(To be fair, I still do this today. You can never be too careful.)

So it was that I acquired my taste for Jameson’s.

I told myself a story about Jameson’s, too. And booze is about stories, isn’t it? I loved James Joyce when I was at university (I mean, I guess I still do, in some ways, just from a much much greater distance. I’ll let you into a secret: it’s actually a hell of a lot more comfortable this way) — and I think Jameson’s actually shows up in Finnegans Wake… Yup, these guys did the research and I do remember correctly:

‘Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsomee on the aquaface.’

Finnegans Wake, James Joyce

Jameson’s was (and remains, I’d contend) a drink you could order in pretty much any pub in this forsaken country of ours. You’d be asked, no doubt, if you want it with ice (no you do not), and you’d get a glass (god knows what kind of glass, but it’s not so very important) with which you could retreat to your secluded corner, your whiskey clutched in one hand, a copy of Ulysses in the other (careful, careful, make sure you hold it so that people get a good view of the title.)

Closeup of glass of Jameson's alongside copy of Ulysses by Joyce. Bottle of Jameson's in the background.

Jameson’s… it’s not a drink you really expect to write about, is it? I mean, it’s odd enough perhaps to earn you a raised eyebrow from some bartenders if ordered early in the evening, but it’s hardly an exotic or trailblazing choice. It’s not something I really think about. And as I sat here, half an hour ago, wondering what the hell I should write to you about, my dear, it didn’t remotely occur to me. I was all set to crack out another post about bloody vermouth, but—

But.

My eye fell on that bottle of Jameson’s in the cupboard and I thought, no.

And I poured myself a familiar dram.

Listen, it’s just an unassumingly nice drink. It tastes like late afternoon sunshine towards the end of August… Warm, mellow, sweet. It doesn’t challenge you, it wants no aggro. Even the heat of the alcohol, when it arrives, is soft; the crescendo of flavour very much that of a string quartet rather than an operatic overture.

I think there’s a lovely balance between the honeyed sweetness and the gentle, spreading heat.

Look, I know it’s not particularly complex. I know it’s easy to drink. But it’s easy to drink in the right way; it’s not at all banal. It’s honest and accessible and comfortable.

And it shits all over a Gin and Britvic Tonic with two rapidly dwindling icecubes just as comfortably now as it did in 2002.

Booze of the week: Asterley Bros Estate English Vermouth

Many things are nicer than a bout of labyrinthitis-induced vertigo. Asterley Bros English Vermouth is one such thing. You possibly shouldn’t drink this until your room spins, but far be it from me to dissuade you… It’s bloody good.

What’s worse than a hangover? I’ll tell you: the symptoms of a hangover (the absolute worst kind), lasting for days, without the benefit of actually having been drunk beforehand.

Reader, welcome to the world of labyrinthitis.

Thanks to questionable goings-on in my manky old inner ear, the world has been spinning in a decidedly unpleasant manner lately. Needless to say, the beast alcohol has taken a back seat during this nausea-wracked time. Along with work, the outside world and anything beyond the most rudimentary forms of motion.

Labyrinthitis isn’t all that fun.

Anyhow, this weekend the good ship Parn seems to have steadied. And I’d like to celebrate that fact, if I may, with a generous glassful of the subject of today’s post: Asterley Bros English Red Vermouth.

I mentioned this vermouth before (in my post about the Negroni Manzanilla, remember?), but only as a footnote. It’s better than a footnote, though. It deserves the spotlight.

There aren’t many English Vermouths knocking about, as far as I can tell. Asterley Bros (they actually are brothers, I believe) leapt with typical Forest Hill panache into the breach. What is it, incidentally, about Forest Hill and alcohol? I’ve only been there once or twice, but you have the Asterley HQ, you have Robert McIntosh (patron saint of UK wine bloggers), you have Forest Hill Gin Club, whose virtues a friend of mine extols… None of these things, mark my words, do you have in Petersfield, Hampshire.

Anyhow. The bros Asterley knocked up a vermouth (alongside, intriguingly, an Amaro and a Fernet, neither of which I’ve yet tried). Unlike lots of red vermouths, the Asterleys’ isn’t made from a base of white wine (the colour of red vermouth normally comes from caramel, not the original wine). Asterley Bros Vermouth, though, is made from a base of red wine (in this case, pinot noir from Gusbourne Estate in Kent). It’s instantly evident, both in terms of the drink’s appearance (darker, tending more towards opacity) and its taste: the grip of the tannin and heft of darker berry fruits is unlike the more herb-led Italian vermouths (Martini Rosso et al).

Which is all frightfully interesting, of course. But you don’t come here for facts, do you?

(Please tell me you don’t come here for facts.)

Let’s taste, then. Starting with Asterley Bros Vermouth unadulterated (well, except for the obligatory twist of orange peel): neat, over ice.

Glass of English Red Vermouth alongside a table lamp

It’s indecently full and sweet in the gob to begin with, but a very nice catch of bitterness steps in fairly quickly, handing over to a bunch of spicy, rooty characters to escort you out. Considerably less sweet than some of its ilk (I’m looking at you, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino) and rather delicious to sip when you want something without the hefty ABV of a whisky (or a Negroni) but with some depth and complexity to it. I know it’s customary in Spain to drink Vermouths neat in this way, and I raise my glass to our Iberian friends in approbation.

And in a Negroni, too, it’s excellent — so long as you’re not after a classic Negroni. Because of its depth and bitter edge, it certainly muscles into the drink. My preference is not to put it up against Campari, but instead pair it with the mellower Sacred Rose Hip Cup (£27.95, The Whisky Exchange), against which I don’t feel it competes to the same degree.

Oh, and it’s sodding blinding in a Manhattan. Really extremely good, anchoring the drink superbly. I put it in a 1:2 ratio with Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey (£27.75, The Whisky Exchange) and a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters.

Now, sorry in advance. I’m going to talk dirty.

I’m going to talk (urgh) marketing.

I don’t know whether the Bros have a natural grasp of the dark arts or whether they’re superbly well-advised. But they’ve done a couple of pretty intelligent things with their drinks. Firstly, by the look of it, they’ve spent a decent amount of cash on the packaging design and sourcing, and have accomplished the two most important goals: it looks expensive and it looks different (bear in mind this will sit alongside bottles of Martini Rosso, Punt e Mes and the like).

Bottle of Asterley Bros Estate English Red Vermouth

Secondly, they did some rather clever ‘beta testing’ whereby those registering early interest in the company were sent samples of alternative blends before the product was finalised and asked to confirm their preference. An alcoholic A/B test, in other words. What a fabulous, low-cost way to build an engaged base of customers and advocates (and do market research at the same time). Well done, chaps.

I’m not going to write loads more about the Asterley vermouth now — you’re a busy person, I know, and I have another English Vermouth post planned. In any case, I’m too busy drinking.

I have a week of lost labyrinthitis time to make up for…

Asterley Bros Estate Vermouth is available from the Bros own website (£23.95 for 500ml) and is also stocked by The Whisky Exchange, if you want to buy it alongside a host of other booze. It’s 16% ABV, if you’re interested.