Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Homemade Spring Vermouth: Memories in a Bottle


Homemade Spring Vermouth: Memories in a Bottle

Marie Viljoen April 22, 2024

Vermouth is a time and a place. At least, it can be, if it is homemade. This fortified, botanically infused aperitif is able to communicate a season, and that season’s feelings and memories, in a way that commercial vermouths cannot. Making your own vermouth is an extraordinarily evocative way to capture where you are. For a few days you become an alchemist, dreamily gathering ingredients and steeping them before becoming sharply focused on blend and balance.

Vermouth can be made anywhere, from any fragrant or flavorful edible plants.

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

Above: Just-bottled spring vermouth in my Brooklyn kitchen.

Infusions like vermouth capture minute seasonal changes. Fresh, local botanical flavors have a schedule, and so wherever you live, you will have different plants and a different palette. Feel (very) free to substitute other fresh herbs and flowers, as long as they are edible and have either a good fragrance or flavor. Berries and stone fruits work, too, as do concentrated syrups (instead of sugar) like mulberry, raspberry and elderflower. The finished vermouth is a balance of base notes (for me, always mugwort) and high notes (citrus, some herbs), with a lot of middle ground, filled nicely by spices like juniper, coriander, and fresh bay leaf.

Above: Harlem mulberries from Marcus Garvey Park tinted and sweetened this summer vermouth.

I have made vermouths in different places, at different times of year, and at different personal points in my life. In 2016 it was the unforgettable fragrance of a summer hike through the fynbos of Table Mountain in Cape Town. The vermouth was the clear black tea color of the pure mountain streams, which leach tannins from native plant roots. Those plants infused the vermouth. Then there was Northeast No. 2, whose base was a jarful of Harlem mulberries (the recipe for Northeast No. 1 is in my wild foods cookbook).

Above: Making Henri’s Vermouth in the kitchen of my parents’ house, in 2018.
Above: Straining fruits and herbs before bottling.
Above: Henri’s Vermouth, sipped in the garden he loved.

I bottled Henri’s Vermouth on the last day of December 2018, a month after my father died, from ingredients I began to gather that day from my mother’s garden, markets, and the mountain: Honeysuckle, helichrysum, African wormwood, confetti bush, pelargoniums, and the ripe, dark fruit of Cape sumach and blackberries.

In Chamonix in 2019 it was a dizzy June vermouth, assembled from mountain slopes and meadows (sweet woodruff, mugwort, Alpine strawberries) in an absorbing blur of botanical happiness, blended in a tiny kitchen with a sliver of Mont Blanc and a daisy-studded lawn beyond the window.

Above: Protest Vermouth, all the botanicals steeping together.

Pandemic Vermouth followed, in early April 2020: violets, saucer magnolias, sassafras, Norway maple flowers, and ground ivy.  And then a vermouth steeped in that bad summer of 202o, when George Floyd was killed: Protest Vermouth was infused with fig leaves, southern magnolia petals, linden blossom, juneberries, mugwort, and elderflower.

Above: A Downeast Vermouth, 2021, from May in Maine: beach rose petals and lilac, fir tips and spruce, bayberry.

I pressed pause on the vermouths for a couple of years. The rule was, no more vemouth until it has all been sipped or given away. Which brings us to this spring.

Above: ‘Kanzan’ cherry blossoms have little scent but lend an infusion the flavors of bitter almond, and marzipan.
Above: The delicate fragrance of crabapple blossom is fleeting, but captured in a vermouth.
Above: Sassafras, cherry blossoms and leaves, mugwort, and ground ivy, in jars of gin.

My vermouth for spring 2024 captures the almond essence of cherry blossom, citrus-y spicebush, mint-heavy ground ivy, and sweet sassafras. Every vermouth I make contains mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris, an invasive wormwood), which is also a requirement in commercial European vermouths. (The German word for wormwood is Wermuth). This light and lovely infusion drinks easy, and immediately. But when the sealed bottles are opened in a few months, or years, the vermouth we pour will smell and taste like now, the honey-hued liquid carrying unreasonable burdens lightly: Global and personal pain, the floral effusion of a new season, the sweet peeping of a white throated sparrow in a magnolia tree below our tiny terrace.

Above: Before being bottled, I add crabapple petals to the cool, infused wine.

Sipping a vermouth that your hands made in a time of specific flowers and fruits and herbs is a way to remember without recalling. There may be regret, but there is a stillness, and there is wonder. Another word for it is magic.

Vermouth is excellent served simply on ice, with no other interference, and blends very well into cocktails. I also use it often for cooking, adding it to pan juices and sauces.

Above: Vermouths can be complex or simple—this is a pared-down spring palette.

Spring Vermouth

To vermouth, I fortify wine with one quarter of its volume in hard liquor. While I usually use neutral vodka for longer, complex infusions, for a quick vermouth like the spring version below, I turn to juniper-strong, straightforward Gordon’s gin. Its own botanicals do some of the heavy lifting.

The whole process is in three stages: The gin-infusions, the wine infusion, and blending. You can use any edible flowers, as long as they either fragrant or flavorful. Since this small-batch vermouth’s ingredients weigh very little, it’s easier to guesstimate how much to gather in terms of volume, rather than weight, so that’s how I’ve arranged this recipe, for the most part.

Gin Infusions

Macerate the gin botanicals in individual jars (or even in drinking glasses). Use just enough hard liquor to cover. To prevent oxidization it is helpful to weigh down flowers and herbs; I use small, boiled beach stones.

2 Days Before Blending:

  • 5 small to medium jars, washed and dried
  • 500 ml Gordon’s gin (you will have some left over)
  • 2 packed cups ornamental cherry blossoms
  • 1 packed cup spicebush (Lindera benzoin) twigs and leaves, cut up
  • 1packed cup mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) leaves
  • ½ cup loosely packed ground ivy (Glechoma hederaceae) leaves
  • 1 cup loosely packed sassafras (Sassafras albidum) flowers and new leaves
  • 1 Meyer lemon’s peel

Wine Infusion

The Day Before Blending:

  • 2 bottles fruity but dry white wine (wine you’d be happy to drink)
  • 2 cups cherry blossom petals plus 4 young leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted in a pan
  • 20 juniper/eastern red cedar berries (Juniperus virginiana or store-bought), lightly crushed
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
  • 5 sprigs fresh marjoram or oregano
  • 5 sprigs anise hyssop
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup crabapple petals

The Gin Infusions: Two days before you plan to blend the vermouth.

Place the cherry blossoms, spicebush, mugwort, and ground ivy in separate jars. Combine the sassafras and lemon peel in one jar. Place a weight on all the botanicals to compact them and to prevent discoloration. Cover with gin (you need the least ground ivy infusion, so use less, see above). Add lids and keep on a counter out of bright light for three days.

The Wine Infusion: A day before you plan to blend the vermouth.

Combine the wine with all the other ingredients, except the crabapple blossom. Warm the wine over medium-low heat until tiny bubbles rise at the sides of the pot. Do not boil. Turn the heat off, and allow to cool. Steep for at least 6 and up to 12 hours. Strain the wine through a fine mesh sieve lined with quadruple layers of cheesecloth (or a clean linen napkin) into a large bowl. Add the crabapple petals to the cool wine, cover, and steep overnight.

To Blend Vermouth

On Blending Day, strain and measure out (for a total of 375ml):

  • 125 ml (½ cup) spicebush gin
  • 80 ml (1/3 cup) sassafras-lemon gin
  • 60 ml (¼ cup + 2 teaspoons) mugwort gin
  • 60 ml (¼ cup + 2 teaspoons) cherry blossom gin
  • 50 ml (¼ cup) ground ivy gin

Strain petal-steeped wine into a clean bowl. Strain the gin infusions individually from their jars, then measure out the quantity of each that is needed. Pour the required measurements into the strained wine. Strain the combined mixture again into a clean bowl through quadruple layers of cheesecloth or a napkin. The vermouth is ready to be bottled.

Pour the vermouth into clean, narrow-necked bottles. It will keep indefinitely at room temperature, out of sunlight. Once open, refrigerate.


Blend any and all your leftover infusions, re-strain, and bottle them. These are your powerfully-flavored Spring 2024 bitters. They contribute to distinctive cocktails.

(Visited 4,604 times, 26 visits today)
You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

Product summary  

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation