Little City Vermouth Goes Big with Finger Lakes Grapes

Vermouth is endlessly flexible and variable
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Make room in your home bar for this new cocktail ingredient

by Erin Scherer

Vermouth is an aromatized and fortified wine made with grapes and botanicals. It’s best known for being a key ingredient in cocktails such as the Martini and the Negroni, but it canalso be served on its own (serving sweet vermouth over ice with an orange wedge is very popular in Spain). Like many cocktail ingredients, it is going through its own renaissance, and among those at the forefront is Little City Vermouth.

Primarily marketed and sold out of New York City, it’s made and bottled locally at Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett, where Cayuga White grapes from Glenora Vineyards are the main ingredient.

Little City’s creator, Will Clark, is a professional drummer and an amateur mixologist based out of Harlem. Clark prefers fresh ingredients for his beverages, which led him to embark on creating his own bespoke ingredients.

He started out by making bar staples like ginger syrup and grenadine, and eventually progressed to vermouth.

“I got obsessed with all the different botanicals, roots, barks and berries,” says Clark. “Vermouth is endlessly flexible and variable.”

He shared his concoction with his bartender friends, who would use it in their own cocktails for fun. Over time, people began asking Clark where they could find it.

Clark realized it was time to move production out of his kitchen and he contacted distilleries throughout New York State. Brian McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling responded, and Clark drove five hours to Burdett to present his creation.

“He was going after something you could drink on its own but was very mixable and had some complexity to it,” McKenzie recalls. McKenzie acquired a combined Distillery/ Farm Winery license (separate licenses paid under one fee) specifically for the project, and they spent the next year working with Clark to perfect the formula. Experimenting with grapes, they ultimately settled on Cayuga White for the base grape.

“Cayuga White grows very well in the Finger Lakes, and it’s very available,” says Clark. “It’s got a nice acidity that adds a little juiciness.” Little City’s first batch was bottled in July 2018, and they’ve bottled 17 batches since with the vermouth available in dry and sweet flavors. Clark drives up annually to participate in the bottling but Finger Lakes Distilling’s Head Distiller Jared Baker regularly sends samples to him in Harlem.

“I don’t think Jared has put together a batch this past year where I tasted it and had to make any changes,” Clark says.

Production is increased every year, and although most of Little City’s sales are concentrated in the Tri-State area, he hopes to further penetrate the upstate market.

“Developing relationships with restaurants and retailers takes time. Hopefully I’ll find some of that time in the near future,” Clark says.

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