THROUGH AN olive grove lush with new growth, down a path lined with fragrant citrus trees drooping under the weight of new fruit, emerges an oasis of gardens groaning with herbs and flowering plants. Adjacent to it is the cellar door of Oranje Tractor, one of the Great Southern region’s fine wineries. Behind the cellar door is a creative space where owner, Pamela Lincoln, has created a vermouth unlike any other; Elixyr Botanica, a delectable, aromatised aperitif set to take the Summer digestif market by storm.
At the recent launch of Elixyr Botanica, an excited bevy of guests gathered at sunset amid Oranje Tractor’s fruiting orchard and lush grounds, eager to taste the inaugural exotic vermouth. While Pam’s partner, winemaker Murray Gomm, toured visitors around the property explaining the botanicals they grow and which feature in the aperitif, Pam explained its origins over canapés.
The story of Elixir Botanica goes back three years to a Christmas visit from Spanish friends who waxed lyrical about the gin bar trend in Barcelona (turns out they opened three gin bars of their own). Discussing with Pam what the next ‘big thing’ would be, they confirmed it as vermouth.
Vermouth is an aromatised fortified wine, similar to port or tokay, without the depth or astringency, according to Pam. “They say that vermouth is to wine what gin is to spirit,” she says. “They have similar profiles in terms of the botanicals used, except that we use wormwood in vermouth to provide the characteristic bitterness.”
Pam says the same process is used with the creation of vermouth, as with winemaking. “We pick grapes, crush them, allow them to ferment, then add neutral grape spirit and botanicals such as cardamon, juniper and spices. All of the botanicals are grown on our property, with the exception of the exotic spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves and cardamom.”
Rummaging around in the back of the cellar door, Pam emerges with a tray of trial tinctures that formed the beginnings of her experiment with vermouth, including wormwood, artichoke leaves, herbs and spices, all seeped in alcohol, mixed with water, then tasted. Next came the balancing. In one trial, she says, Indian guests in the cellar door were asked to taste her pilot vermouth, which included sandalwood. It was too strong, so she pulled back on that ingredient. Next, she made a bittering aromatic, tweaking and re-tweaking it until it was just right.
“Then, I did some benchmarking against Australian and international vermouths,” says Pam. “Ours includes native wattleseed from our trees here on the property, sandalwood from the Sandalwood Factory here in Albany, and lemon-scented gum from our trees.”
Globally, vermouth production and sales are picking up. There are plenty of Italian, Spanish and American vermouth products on the market, but it’s unlikely they are anything like Elixyr Botanica. “I am aware of only one other Western Australian vermouth producer,” says Pam. “But as far as I know, our vermouth is the only one made from certified organic grapes and botanicals, with the spirit coming from the Great Southern Distilling Company.”
Following a more natural line of vermouth-making, Pam’s product is not filtered or fined, apart from natural settling, so it may be cloudy, or not as crisp as some. It includes a bit of sulphur to stop any refermentation with the high level of grape sugar, but there’s no added sugar, whereas most vermouths include added sugar or caramel to achieve the desired sweetness. So, Elixyr Botanica has a slightly different flavour profile to a standard vermouth. Without that burnt character, it is a lot fresher.
Of marketing her vermouth, Pam says, “We’ll see how it sells in WA then we may hit the road and look east. Everyone who tastes it, loves it. I find it addictive. It’s like adult cordial, or liquid Christmas cake — a beautiful mixture of bitterness and sweetness, with all the flavours going on.”
Elixyr Botanica is Pam’s baby. With a wry laugh, she says, “I’ve been a witch, developing all these tinctures. I may be the only woman making vermouth here.” A recent devotee, she says she wasn’t previously a fan of vermouth. “The last time I tried it was when I stole it from my mum and dad’s liquor cabinet. I have since become a bit of a connoisseur!”
How to Drink Vermouth
Says Pam, “Drink it on ice, or with a splash of soda or tonic, and always with a twist of lemon or an olive. The Spanish have what they call the vermouth hour which is just before lunch or dinner, when it is drunk neat with ice and an orange twist. I often squeeze half a fresh orange into it to make a cocktail. Or you can make negroni with it.”
Elixyr Vermouth Botanicals
Orange, macadamia, lemon, blueberry, grape, olive, thyme, rosemary, coriander, lemon balm, lemon verbena, sage, bay leaf, kaffir lime, fennel, wormwood, native mint, chilli, rhubarb, artichoke, viola, camomile, lavender, rose, dandelion, wattle seed, lemon-scented gum
Available from the Oranje Tractor cellar door in Albany from $38.95, Elixyr Botanica can also be purchased online: https://www.oranjetractor.com/elixyr-botanica-vermouth