Brian Case, lead bartender at Marisol, located within the Contemporary Art Museum in Chicago, agrees that this botanical wine intrigues diners.
“I don’t know if popular is the right word,” he says. “There is definitely curiosity. Everybody knows what vermouth is, but not what it tastes like. We try to go that way, like, you should try this so you know what it tastes like.”
Marisol’s beverage program focuses on suppressor cocktails—all featuring vermouth—that use lower-ABV spirits in greater proportions to higher-ABV spirits. It, too, resulted from a vested interest. Marisol chef Jason Hammel had tried a few vermouths that impressed him, and he wanted to take a different, lower-octane approach to the drinks menu instead of focusing on what was trending.
“Vermouth complements the food, rather than sits with it, and offers the opportunity to have a conversation with the guest instead of them dictating to you how their meal is going to go,” Case says.
Marisol doesn’t emphasize customer education, though staff do suggest that curious diners try it first on its own, poured over a large ice cube. Then again, just as many will opt out, sticking to their typical beer or glass of wine.
“The hardest part is getting people out of their habits and into a place where they want to let the restaurant do its thing. It’s the difference between people who want to have an experience versus just have a meal and move on,” Case says.
Cuddy echoes this, adding that vermouth also battles the lingering perception that anything with residual sugar is “bad, cheap, or something your English grandmother drinks.” That’s why, although he seminally carries a stalwart California chardonnay by the glass, for instance, he’ll always urge the guest who orders it to sample something else.
“I believe in these small producers—whether they make vermouth or wine—and in creating a platform to compare and contrast with a stereotypical brand or product,” he says. “You’re in my house; you’re going to adventure with me. That’s the pact you make when you walk through the door.”