Periodically touted as the next big thing by bartenders and the people who date them, vermouth remains something of a fringe element to American drinkers. Treated more like a spirit than the fortified wine it is, dusty bottles often find little use outside of Martinis in home bars.
These days, however, independent and craft labels are introducing thoroughly modern versions. Next-wave vermouths marry balanced botanicals, homegrown wines, and killer design.
Consider Lo-Fi Aperitifs, a northern Californian newcomer. What it lacks in national name recognition it recuperates in industry cred and endorsement. Here are eight things you should know about the ascendant label beloved by drinks destinations and (yes) bartenders nationwide.
It’s got serious wine and design roots
Founded in San Francisco in 2016, Lo-Fi is a collaboration between Napa’s E. & J. Gallo, the world’s largest family-owned winery, and Steven Grasse of Philadelphia design agency Quaker City Mercantile.
Lo-Fi is not just vermouth
Lo-Fi’s line includes dry and sweet vermouths as well as Gentian Amaro, a 40-proof sipper made with fortified California white wine.
… But it’s also vermouth
There are two vermouths in the collection. Lo-Fi Sweet Vermouth has notes of cinnamon and clove and is surprisingly easy-drinking for something that could taste like a Yankee candle. The dry vermouth is on the sweeter side, especially compared to European labels like Dolin. It combines stone and tropical fruits with anise and fennel notes.
It’s a successor to Hendrick’s Gin. Sort of.
Steven Grasse is a designer with a taste for spirits: He created Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum before setting his sights on vermouth. “For some time, I have wanted to create a line of wine-based aperitifs designed to go with American craft spirits and cocktails,” Grasse told Philly Beer Scene in 2016. “I reached out to E. & J. Gallo Winery because of their generational expertise,” he said, adding that Gallo has been “immersed in every step of the production process.”
The Internet is the best place to get it
Lo-Fi is only available at bars and retail outlets in three markets nationwide: the Bay Area, Philadelphia, and New York City. (In the latter, it’s poured at cocktail destinations like Sauvage, Leyenda, and Sunday in Brooklyn.) Everyone else can buy it online from Bitters and Bottles and Suburban Wines.
In case the name didn’t tip you off, the company is super into music
Lo-Fi hosts a live music series for emerging artists in each city where it operates — the most recent Lo-Fi Live show hosted Brooklyn-based composer and performer Frank LoCastro for a two-hour set at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg. The War on Drugs’ drummer Charlie Hall also curates Lo-Fi’s Spotify station.
All three Lo-Fi bottles use the same wines
Like all vermouths, Lo-Fi starts with wine. The sweet and dry vermouths as well as the amaro are all blends of Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, and neutral grape spirit. The sweet also has a little California sherry in the mix.
A forward-thinking bartender helped create the company
Claire Sprouse, a Tales of the Cocktail and Food & Wine award-winning mixologist, partnered with Grasse and co. on the product and brand development. Formerly of Grand Prize bar in Houston and San Francisco’s Trick Dog, Sprouse also founded the Tin Roof Drink Community, an organization devoted to sharing bartending industry information and best practices.