Esquimalt is making some of the best vermouth in the world

A small-scale craft producer won big at the 2023 World Vermouth Awards in England

Esquimalt Vermouth & Aperitifs co-owners Quinn and Michela Palmer working in the warehouse on Devonshire Road. Photo: Ryan Hook / Tasting Victoria

Behind a warehouse on Devonshire Road in an industrial park in Esquimalt—inside an even smaller warehouse—Quinn and Michela Palmer, co-owners of Esquimalt Vermouth & Aperitifs, work day in and day out to make the world’s best vermouth. Literally.

Earlier this month, the small-scale craft producer won World’s Best Dry Vermouth and World’s Best Semi-Sweet Vermouth at the 2023 World Vermouth Awards in London, UK.

The designation of World’s Best comes with gold medals for their Rosso (semi-sweet) and Dry vermouths, and a close silver medal for their Bianco Vermouth (also in the semi-sweet category).

“We are over the moon with this recognition and are so excited to put Vancouver Island on the map as the home of the world’s best vermouth,” Quinn said.

They are the first non-European vermouth producers to win World’s Best in the history of the competition.

But it’s not the first time Esquimalt Vermouth & Aperitifs has taken home an armful of awards. In 2021, the husband-wife duo won double-gold medals for their Rosso Vermouth, Dry Vermouth, and Kina-Rouge Quinquina at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Photo: Brynn Featherstone

“Vermouth is such an interesting category and one that I think is long overdue for recognition here in BC as it’s versatile, approachable, and the unsung hero of many classic cocktails,” Michela said.

Vermouth is thought of in a pretty specific way, often as a spirit in a negroni or martini. The Palmers are looking to change that—and if anyone’s vermouth could do it, it would be Esquimalt Vermouth’s.

“Our goal is to convert folks who have absolutely no idea what vermouth is,” Quinn told Tasting Victoria. “And there hasn't been a lot of variety in the vermouth category; it’s nice to introduce people to a totally different category that's not just beer and wine.”

Vermouth is primarily prepared by adding a mixture of botanicals, herbs, or spices to the extract of a base wine. One of the most important parts of a vermouth is wormwood—the primary ingredient that gives it that bitter taste.

Besides wormwood, the Palmers have bags upon bags of locally grown botanicals that they’re often mixing and matching to test out new flavours.

“Every time we've come up with a recipe we do a full blind tasting to see what category of vermouth it will fit into,” Quinn said. “That was kind of the first phase of the business—really learning how to make Italian-, French-, and European-inspired aperitifs.”

Quinn and Michela didn’t stumble into an award-winning vermouth—in fact, at first, they didn’t make vermouth at all. In 2015, the duo started Rootside Provisions, where they made (and continue to make) sodas, syrups, and bitters. In 2018, they started making vermouth and alcohol, and eventually they came up with their award-winning Rosso in June 2019, then the dry vermouth in February 2020.

The future looks good for the small team, and the Palmers said they will start to focus their creativity a bit more locally in the future.

“The next phase of the business is to focus on native, funky, Island botanicals,” Quinn said. “We really want to create aperitifs that are focused on what grows here and are completely unique to Vancouver Island.”

Check out Esquimalt Vermouth & Aperitifs at 859 Devonshire Rd.