Production of Belsazar Vermouth
Belsazar vermouths are handmade at the Schladerer distillery by Alfred Schladerer. All four Belsazar vermouths comprise of four components: selected wines, botanical infusions, Schladerer fruit brandies (eaux-de-vie) and aged wine must.
1. Selected wines
High quality wines from the Baden-Württemberg region of south-western Germany form the base of Belsazar vermouths, in particular selected wines from two of Germany’s most respected wine areas: Markgräflerland and Kaiserstuhl.
Markgräflerland lies in the south of Baden-Württemberg, between the Breisgau in the north and the Black Forest in the east. Markgräflerland is noted for producing Gutedel and Burgunder-wines such as Ruländer (Pinot gris) and Weißburgunder (Pinot blanc).
Kaiserstuhl (literally ‘Emperor’s Chair’) is named after a range of volcanic hills on the eastern banks of the Rhine River near Freiburg. The area is noted for its red wines from Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and white wines from Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc).
Fully developed rather than very young wines are used as the base of Belsazar vermouths and these are not oxidised so as to preserve their character. They are brilliant wines in their own right. Over the four Belsazar vermouths, six different wines, cuvees and assemblages cuvees (different grape varieties combined) and assemblages (different years of the same wine combined) are used,this helps the vermouth’s stability and ensures a consistent taste and quality is achieved.
The full extent of the wines used cannot be revealed as they constitute a crucial part of Belsazar’s secret recipe but they are known to include the following:
• Dry Vermouth: easy, regional widely spread Gutedel
Red – Cuvee of real red-wine (Spätburgunder)
• Red Vermouth: cuvee of real red-wine, the basis of which is Muskateller, which is added with the Spätburgunder-Cuvee. Usually, red vermouth is made by using white wine, which is coloured with caramel - never the case in Belsazar.
• Rosé: real rosé wine (Pinot Noir), nothing coloured or mixed.
• White: the most complex in terms of wine, with sweet wines, such as Gewürztraminer and Spätlese
• All the vermouths are sweetened with ‘Süßreserve’ (grape must). This is basically pressed, sweet juice of the grapes before the fermentation starts and so retains its fermentable sugars. This underlines the grapey and winey note found in Belsazar vermouths. The grape must is held from fermentation by adding 30 year old French wine brandy. That raises the alc./vol. to a strength that kills any yeast present so prevents the grape must from fermenting. It also adds a “sherry-like” note to the vermouths.
2. Botanical infusions
Twenty different botanicals (spices, herbs, peels and blossoms) are used in the flavouring of Belsazar vermouths – a specified amount of each is carefully weighed into individual demijohns and then infused with a measured amount of grain neutral alcohol for a number of days. The period each botanical is left to infuse in the alcohol before filtration varies greatly according to each botanical – long enough to fully extract the botanicals flavour but not to over extract. (Comparable to infusing tea – leave too long in the hot water and unwanted bitter tannins will be extracted.)
3. Schladerer fruit brandy
Schladerer clear fruit brandies (eaux-de-vie) are distilled using fruit from the Baden-Württemberg region. Fruits high in natural sugars are fermented to make a fruit wine which is distilled to produce the fruit brandy. Such ‘fermented’ brandies are termed ‘wässer” (meaning water) and examples include Schladerer Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser (Black Forest Cherry) and Schladerer Williams-Birne (Williams’ Pear).
Fruits with insufficient natural sugars to ferment are macerated in neutral alcohol and then the alcohol and fruit redistilled in a similar process to gin making. These infused brandies are known as ‘geist’ (meaning spirit). The best example of wässer brandy is Schladerer Himbeergeist (raspberry).
4. Aged wine must
Specific details of what wines are used to make what Schladerer describe as ‘aged wine must’ are kept secret but it is disclosed this this is a blend of wine-must, ‘sweet reserve’ (sugars directly from the grapes) and high proof alcohol which is aged in oak-barrels. This special ‘dosage’ is said to add a unique sherry-like oak-barrel and grape tone to Belsazar vermouths.
Blending and bottling
The components to Belsazar vermouths: selected wines, botanical infusions (up to 20 different botanical infusions in each vermouth), Schladerer fruit brandies (eaux-de-vie) and aged wine must are blended and left to marry in old-fashioned six-foot tall stoneware vessels each holding 1,000 litres of vermouth. These stoneware vessels are used in preference to wooden casks or stainless steel as they retain the fine delicate flavours of the vermouth while protecting against fluctuations in temperature.
Prior to bottling, Belsazar vermouths pass through a complex filtration process. The speed and temperature at which the vermouth passes through the filter is carefully controlled with the degree of filtration giving the vermouths a brilliant clarity while retaining flavour and mouthfeel.
The whole Belsazar production process, from the weighing of the botanicals, sourcing the wines from the wine-growers, preparing the macerates and the aged wine-must through to blending, filtration and even bottling and labelling is by hand at a family owned winery and distillery.