Willem’s Wermoed, what’s in a name?
If you think vermouth is a generic, one-dimensional spirit, think again! Like wines and whiskies, there is a world of varieties out there and when producing a good vermouth, distillers get to create their own signature style that has its distinct character and flavor. And no one knows better how this works than Paul Selier from Willem’s Wermoed, Amsterdam’s first vermouth.
A classic drink, restyled
Vermouth often has an unfortunate reputation for being an "old man's drink", yet nothing could be more untrue. Experimental infusions are creating a new range of vermouths that are swiftly restyling this classic drink into the hottest new product to try.
Paving the way for this restyle in the Netherlands is Willem’s Wermoed. Having gone through hotel management Paul worked for a long time at the Royal Horseguard in London where he got first-hand experience in what a good vermouth tastes like. ‘We had vermouth behind the bar and we made the classic cocktails of course. It was incredibly interesting and I got to try all the different spirits. Vermouth stuck with me the most.’
When in Spain
Did you know that there are thousands of different vermouths in Spain? It all started in a tiny Catalonian town called Reus, where the majority of the well-known Spanish brands, including Yzaguirre and Miró, hail from. And with a population of around 100,000, you might be surprised to know that this unique village became one of the major European hubs of the liquor industry all the way back in the 18th century.
When in Amsterdam
From the hot plains in Spain to the wet low lands of the Netherlands, vermouth made its way north as well and is rapidly developing. ‘I’ve tried many different vermouths. Several years ago gin became incredibly popular in the Netherlands and I wanted to do something special. Something unique. Which is when I started researching all that was out there. Eventually I went to the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam to take a look at all the different spices and then it was literally me at my kitchen table trying everything. 6 years later, we launched Willem’s Wermoed.’
A name with a history! ‘Willem was inspired by the explorers from the golden age who embraced the unknown, while Wermoed is the old Dutch name for alsem (wormwood) and is one of the ingredients to which vermouth owes his name.’
The original vermouth that started it all! ‘I tried fifteen different wines from France and Spain before I found the perfect wine from Valencia, made from Airén and Zalema grapes. This wine is incredibly flavorful on its own but through lots of tastings from the herbs and botanicals from the Hortus Botanicus, I eventually created a perfect blend of flavor.’
From nearly 250 different flavor combinations, Paul eventually selected 24 different botanicals, including wilde thyme, orange, figs, pine and many more. It has a sweet and lovely spicy palate with a gentle bittersweet finish.
Pink Willem The Pink Willem is the latest addition to the Willem’s Wermoed collection. ‘It’s got this great fruity character and is definitely not your standard vermouth. I wanted a new approach to see if we can attract more people. It’s got a much younger, less outspoken wine, which allowed me to add more flavors. It’s filled with raspberries and rhubarb. When creating this vermouth, I carefully considered what I needed to achieve a balanced flavor and because the wine itself is not as expressive, you can create these nice layers in flavor that keeps people wondering what they’re tasting.’ Pink Willem is the first Dutch pink vermouth based on raspberry, rhubarb and vanilla Chai spices. Make yourself a low-alcoholic Pink Willem Spritz by adding sparkling water!
‘The Dutch Dry expression is a dried vermouth, more French in style than Italian, which is more sweet. It’s got a lot of spices and has these great botanical flavors. As opposed to the Original and the Pink Willem it has a slightly more bitter finish. The wine that lies at the base is an aromatic white wine from the Languedoc region in France and has these beautiful fresh and citrus aromas. I would definitely serve this pure with maybe a small cube of ice and a sprig of thyme.’
Launching a new drink onto the market is no small feat and attracting the attention of the Dutch buyer has been an interesting journey for Paul. ‘I attend quite a few fairs and have people taste my vermouths as much as possible. We focus on the big cities and the Randstad as well as bars but I also export to the United Kingdom and Canada. It’s all about bringing it to the attention of the consumer and the bartenders are a great source. One ‘easy’ and important way of creating that attention is “Spritzen”, adding sparkling water to the vermouth. You maintain the flavor but create this full-bodied yet refreshing drink.’
Just like so many of us, Corona hit hard and one of the things Paul realized is that, to keep going you need to get creative. ‘Special cocktails really worked well and we did a lot of sales online. I focused a lot of my attention on the hospitality industry as well as retail and specialized liquor stores. It was the most absurd time to get through but you need to continue to try and you need to continue developing.’
Undervalued or underexposed?
‘Both. Vermouth is not something many people know, or would consider but people have become more conscious of what they drink and because vermouth is low in alcohol, it is very accessible. Even our Dry vermouth is still very smooth. The responses are all very positive, especially when they realize that there are Dutch vermouths. Another development is that people take more time to consider what they want to drink before they buy a bottle.
‘The very first two bottles of the Willem’s Wermoed Original I sent to HRH King Willem Alexander for his birthday. I don’t know of course but I really hope he tried them!’
The Royal Orange!
The latest edition in the Willem's Wermoed family was inspired by the Oranjerie in the Hortus Botanicus. This beautiful monumental building was used to house orange trees in winter time. Royal Orange offers an exciting combination of a fruity Spanish wine, three kinds of orange and botanicals that you will find on the Dutch coast.
My three cocktails:
The Perfect Serve
Serving a drink at its best, the Perfect Serve, is not just about how it’s built but takes into account how the ingredients are sourced, how it is manufactured, and delivered. Simply said: the Perfect Serve takes into account every aspect of the cocktail and to Paul, every little bit matters. ‘To me the Perfect Serve of Willem’s Wermoed is with soda. 75 ml of soda and 75 ml vermouth.’ Don’t forget your garnish of pink grapefruit and basil! Mine was garnished with thyme and lemon.
Pink lavender sour
This lovely cocktail is made like a classic sour but to spruce things up a bit I added a dash of lavender syrup and champagne, making it a little dried and herbal.
75 ml Pink Willem
25 ml Lemon juice
25 ml Egg white
25 ml Lavender syrup
Shake and service over ice in a large tumbler, top up with a dash of Champagne.
‘A classic Manhattan can be quite intense because of the high alcohol percentage but when you switch the ingredients, it instantly becomes a lot lighter. A Reversed Manhattan is basically two parts of vermouth and one part bourbon. Add in a few drops of orange bitters and you’re done.’