Last week, with the heat index in the 90s, we stopped by the 11 Wells Distillery where it was at least 10 degrees warmer inside. “Yeah, mashing day,” Lee Egbert smiled. “We got some fans, at least.”
But then we were handed a glass of 11 Wells’ Dry Wermut—the first liqueur produced by the St. Paul distillery. Ice cold, citrusy, bittersweet, it was exactly the remedy we needed.
“Wermut” is the german word for wormwood, one of the liqueur’s main bittering agents. “Ours is higher proof [20% ABV] than traditional vermouth,” says Egbert. “We’ve created a vermouth that’s wholly true to how they make European vermouth.” That process involves making a wine (using the cold climate grape varieties brianna and frontenac gris), distilling some of that wine into a brandy, crafting tinctures of various herbs and spices, and blending them all together.
Technically speaking, the liqueur is a kind of herbal bitters. That designation is misleading, though, since the Wermut is not bitter in the least. It tastes remarkably like Lillet Blanc with a full-bodied core of tangerine, honeycomb, and melon sweetness. You’ll find a woodsy herbaceous aroma (smell that wormwood!) with grass and sage on the finish. “It toes that line of sweetness, but it has a nice, long bitterness to it as well,” Egbert says.
We’d suggest sipping it neat—since it already contains brandy and bitters, it’s somewhat like a cocktail-in-a-bottle. It would take kindly to a squeeze of lemon, and perhaps a splash of club soda to make some longer drinks for the fading summer swelter.
Be careful when mixing cocktails, though—it’s sweeter than your average dry French vermouth. Use the driest gin you have for a martini. Or add a half-ounce to a good slug of Prairie Cucumber Vodka, with a splash of your most prickly juniper gin, and stir until it’s cold as Christmas. Since it does have some nice sweetness to it, use it in place of traditional sweet vermouth the classic whiskey cocktails and see where that gets you.
11 wells will debut the wermut alongside three other liqueurs, all hitting shelves near the end of August:
- Elderflower Liqueur: “Very seasonal. When we were in the field with the flowers, that’s what we wanted it to taste like. Compared to St. Germaine, it’ll be more citrusy, and the flower really shines.”
- Cherry Liqueur: “Our answer to cherry heering,” Lee says. “I love the Blood and Sand and Remember The Maine. We like the raisin quality of heering, but we wanted to make it brighter.”
- Orange Curaçao: If you’ve ever tasted Egbert’s Dashfire Orange Bitters, you can imagine the intensity of citrus flavors in this one.
Further down the line for 11 Wells: a Benedictine-like spirit called “Monk,” more cordials and liqueurs, and their first gin called “Ecgberht.”