In the last five to ten years, we’ve seen beverage culture take fantastic strides in most major markets. Boutique spirits have begun pop up on the backbars of cocktail bars and finer restaurants alongside the ‘bar wallpaper’ of the big box spirits brands we grew up with. Bartenders have started to experiment with new expressions while consumers have turned to expecting more from their libations. Classic cocktails have re-emerged with a vengeance, as have the consumer’s desire for high quality ingredients.
Enter artisan vermouth, a fortified wine enhanced with botanicals essential to martini and Manhattan cocktails.
A few years ago, sitting on a rickety barstool in a small Chicago bar, I had my moment of epiphany. It came by way of a well-made Manhattan that struck me with its simplicity and perfection when Carpano Antiqua Formula was introduced into the drink, in lieu of cheaper vermouth. To that point I’d only been exposed to what was available in your average Midwestern bar. Since that first perfect Manhattan, more bars have started to mix with craft products like Carpano, as well as brands like Dolin and Vya vermouths.
“Imbue Vermouth began as a quiet little idea over dinner with friends,” notes owner Neil Kopplin. “Who would’ve thought that less than eight months later, we’d be here bottling our own.”
Imbue is seeking to capture what they recognize to be a growing niche in the beverage market by focusing on the locavores of the Pacific Northwest. As a barman at Portland cocktail destination Clyde Common, Kopplin became accustomed to using the finest potables. After much recipe development and dialogue with business partner and winemaker Derek Einberger, they thought they’d take a chance at producing their own. With the local community embracing the first hundred cases of their Pinot Gris and Eau de vie-based aperitif, expansion to other markets may happen in the very near future.
In a section of the country where ‘stay green, buy local’ bumper stickers are as abundant as hipsters and micro-breweries, it will be surprising if Imbue doesn’t find its way behind the majority of Portland bars. Kopplin has plans for future releases, such as an Italian style vermouth and something that may create its own category altogether.
“We’re really focusing on taking care of Portland first before we expand to other markets,” Kopplin says emphatically.
Only the third domestic artisan vermouth to hit the market, Imbue is careful to learn from established models. Andrew Quady, winemaker and vermouth producer, is one producer that warrants notice as well. Quady’s Vya vermouth is a favorite amongst bartenders due to its amped-up herbal notes and rich flavor profile.
Like Andrew Quady, Tad Seestedt of Ransom Wine & Spirits began as a winemaker prior to distilling spirits. Through interacting with local bartenders as well as cocktail historian David Wondrich, he decided to enter the market with small batch spirits that have become highly sought after. At a recent trip to Ransom’s distillery in Sheridan, Oregon, Seestedt eluded to an interest in entering the burgeoning vermouth market.
“I still need to taste what’s out there and fully research vermouth, but I’m really interested in seeing what we might be able to produce,” he remarked to Oregon Bartenders Guild president David Shenault.
It will be interesting to see the market trends of artisan spirits in the coming years, with the Pacific Northwest certainly at the forefront. With more micro-distilleries per capita of any city in the United States, Portland is well on it’s way to becoming a leader in the creation of great artisan spirits – of the people, by the people, and for the people.
~Brandon Wise, Presiding barman of Portland’s Irving Street Kitchen
CORRECTION: We incorrectly named Neil Kopplin as Nick Kopplin in the original post. Also Imbue vermouth is made from Pinot Gris and Eau de vie.