Close readers of this column will have noticed over the years that there is an unapologetic bias towards Irish-made drinks, alongside a deep fondness for Italian aperitifs, German beer, cheap whiskey and American cocktails. Until recently, it has not been possible to reconcile the bias for domestically made drinks with the vermouths traditionally made in northern Italy for the past two hundred years, but the advent of Valentia Island Vermouth Ór changes this.
Valentia Island Vermouth Ór (€35) has been made on Valentia Island since 2018 when Anna and Orla Snook O’Carroll began production, using 20 botanicals, such as gorse, from both the Kerry island and other parts of the country. Working originally from their kitchen, the couple has blended the botanicals and herbs with a Verdejo wine from the Rueda region of Spain (which is north-west of Madrid) to create a wonderful and wildly successful vermouth which feels both Irish and Italian. It is a gorgeous caramel colour and comes with a satisfying mix of bitter and sweet tastes you’d expect from a sophisticated vermouth.
The couple have produced something unique and then packaged it in a bottle that is over-the-top in the manner of traditional vermouths. If you did not know better, you’d think this toddler of the drinks world was an old-age pensioner. The retro bottles are fun but also probably sensible; the Irish market for vermouth will probably never be quite big enough, despite SuperValu’s admirable decision to sell the drink through its network of supermarkets.
In time, however, it is easy to see this vermouth being sold around the world. The quality is certainly good enough.
Many people tell me they do not “get” vermouth or just don’t like it. Most of the time, this dislike can be attributed to their failure to keep open bottles in the fridge, a habit of drinking it neat or a failure to buy a decent brand such as Dolin or Noilly Prat. The simple rule for all vermouths is that once opened, they should be stored in the fridge, and for no more than two months.
Some people like to drink it neat as an aperitif but, to my mind, vermouth is best drunk with soda water and a slice of orange (along with a few salty snacks) or as the main component of cocktails such as a Negroni, a Manhattan or a Boulevardier. Highly recommended.