From left: Michael Brandt, Brandon Peck, Thomas “T” Leggett (photo by Jay Paul)
Vermouth, a fortified aromatic wine, is oft overlooked. A worthy aperitif in its own right, it’s typically used as a mixer or a modifier in cocktails such as a Manhattan (sweet vermouth) or a martini (dry vermouth). Made by adding herbs, roots, seeds and spices to wine, vermouth’s practice dates back to medicinal usage in both Asia and Ancient Greece; flash forward a few thousand years, and Thomas “T” Leggett of The Roosevelt and Michael Brandt of Garden Grove Brewing Co. are making vermouth of another sort here in Richmond. Leggett, an award-winning bartender, and Brandt, a former winemaker and agriculture research scientist, are both bright spots in Richmond’s beverage scene. What happens when you mix them?
“Beermouth.” (That’s pronounced “ˈbir-ˈmüth,” for those who like to read aloud.)
When Leggett and Brandt met 16 years ago, neither had the resources nor the time to make local vermouth. The two friends put the idea on the back-burner until the 2015 opening of Brandt’s own brewery finally provided the space and equipment.
“Why don’t we do something [at Garden Grove]?” Brandt had asked. “I was immediately taken aback,” says Leggett. “I was like, hold on, I am talking like a gallon-batch in our kitchen. You want to make 100 gallons? He was like, ‘You know what we can do? We can start it as a beer base not a wine base.’” In May, you’ll be able to find it at Garden Grove by the glass, or in cocktails at The Roosevelt.
Generally speaking, winemaking and beer-brewing are considered separate animals, but there are similarities: Wine and beer are naturally fermented beverages, where yeast assists in the primary fermentation of both. Banking on these parallels, Brandt and Leggett set forth with help from friend and fellow Roosevelt bartender Brandon Peck. They steeped aromatics to elicit the bitter and acidic flavors prominent in vermouth; used a French pilsner malt, a German wheat, sugar and honey as fermentables; added white-wine yeast and Chimay yeast. The “beermouth” has a way to go before it becomes palatable to the public; as of press time, it still needed the addition of cabernet franc grapes before getting aged in chardonnay barrels. The taste, still something of a mystery, is expected to have notes of juniper berry, aronia berry, rosemary and lemon-thyme. We’re betting it’ll be worth the wait.