Vermouth gets no respect. Despite being a critical ingredient in scads of classic cocktails, bottles of vermouth often just gather dust on back bars across the country. Many of us barely know what it is, just that we want as little of it in our martinis as possible. And, though common practice in Europe, most Americans wouldn’t dream of drinking the fortified, herbaceous wine on its own. So vermouth is left to languish, growing acrid and stale in liquor cabinets across the country.
Enter Balsam. Produced and bottled at Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries in Glenshaw (the same folks that make the highly decorated Boyd & Blair vodka), Balsam is the first local foray into the rapidly growing world of American vermouth. More importantly, Balsam aims to change the whole vermouth game. That’s because Balsam has all the flavors of sweet vermouth without any of the wine, meaning that the problem of old, oxidized vermouth may finally be solved. Simply add one part of the spirit to three parts wine (a robust red works well) to create vermouth on an as-needed basis.
Patrick Neidig, production manager at Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries, compared Balsam to an Everlasting Gobstopper. Like Wonka’s famous candy, the flavor does indeed evolve and change as it lingers on your tongue. The initial hit of bitter wormwood gives way to a bouquet of rare botanicals and teas, then fades into pleasant sweetness with notes of citrus and baking spices. It’s intense, but that’s the point. When diluted with wine, Balsam turns into a complex, lively sweet vermouth, perfect as an aperitif or in any number of classic drinks.
At the moment, Balsam is not available in state stores. You can find it, however, at a growing number of cocktail bars around town, including Oakland’s Butterjoint and Squirrel Hill’s Independent Brewing Company. And if Balsam takes off the way I suspect it will, expect to see a whole lot more of it in the coming months.
In other news …
Market Street Grocery, a boutique grocery store that will include a deli, bakery and wine bar, will hold their grand opening on April 22nd. The market will be Downtown’s first grocery store in five years.
Casual dining chain Walnut Grill is planning to open a new Robinson location this summer.
On April 1st, The Hilltop Alliance will be hosting Open in Allentown, a pop-up event in available commercial space in Allentown. Sweet Peaches will be providing food and Bar Marco will be running a cash bar.
Churchview Farm’s 2015 farm dinners are selling out fast! The summer lineup will feature an impressive array of Pittsburgh chefs creating multicourse meals inspired by the farm’s produce.