In preparation for batch #19 of my sweet vermouth, which I will be making this weekend, I thought I'd better give a quick overview of batches 1-18.
When I first decided to make my own vermouth, my plan was to begin with as few ingredients as possible, and then start filling in missing flavors. After some research, combined with just enough completely uninformed decisions to make things interesting, I settled on the base ingredients of wine, brandy, sugar, and wormwood. On top of that, I started off with cinchona for some variation in the bitter flavors, along with cardamom, orange peel, lemon peel, and vanilla (trying to emulate Carpano Antica.)
Naturally, the first few tries were horribly unbalanced. A few batches in, I got pretty close to the balance that I wanted at the time (it's changed quite a bit since then, and is still evolving, but much more gradually now) and moved on to adding new ingredients. Over time, I have added gentian root, juniper berries, cloves, and star anise in the herb/spice department. In addition, my recipe now includes sweet and bitter orange tincture, a bit of amontillado sherry, and salt. I also eventually ditched the vanilla.
Two of the biggest structural changes that I have made are the switch to tinctures for the wormwood, gentian, and cinchona (previously, they were boiled in the wine along with the other solid ingredients) and my experiments with different sources of bitter orange flavor. Both of these are documented in my post about tinctures.
For several months, the minor changes between batches consisted mostly of an arms race between bitter and sweet. First, I would add more wormwood, then I would balance it out with more sugar, which would overpower the gentian and cinchona, and so on. Since batch #10, the amount of sugar has been stable, and the bitter has slowly backed off. For my next batch, I think it is time to bring the bitter back up a bit. We'll have to see if that starts the race up once again.
I think that covers most of the exciting bits. When I make batch #19, I will probaby think of a few more things to say about past vermouths. I will also write up my full production procedure, so stay tuned.