The branding of Marrow Vermouth is probably not what you’d expect from a top shelf local liqueur; it’s a bit silly and kind of punk rock, which is exactly what drew us in.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Shawn Dalton, the man behind Marrow, in order to learn more about the Penticton-based brand…
First of all, please tell me a bit about yourself. What is your background and how did you find yourself in the Okanagan, making liqueurs?
Originally I’m from Regina, Saskatchewan, but I moved out to the Okanagan in 2017 to make wine with Tyler Harlton (TH wines). I’ve always been involved in food/wine/cocktails in some way. Serving and bartending mostly, but I also ran a natural wine import company with my friend for almost 8 years. The import thing has now mostly been set aside for current projects, though.
Marrow Vermouth was something I had rolling around in my head for a while. When Tyler told me he needed someone to come out and help him, I knew that it was kind of a first step toward being able to do it. After a year and a bit of living here and talking to people about the project things just came together. Some friends said they had some wine I could use, Keenan Thrussell (Sage Hills and Keenan wines) let me use his space, and the rest you can see on my Instagram account, @marrowvermouth.
What was your introduction to vermouth and how did you transition from drinking it to making it, and having it as the backbone to your liqueur business?
I gravitated to Spain, specifically Catalonia, while doing the import thing. That’s definitely where I discovered vermouth for myself. During that time I was also helping to run a cocktail bar (because the import company never really made money, haha) and diving deep into that world. I started to make my own vermouth batches at that bar and it was while researching and tasting ingredients for my first batches that I got hooked.
I realized that the botanicals in the vermouths I liked to drink represented a time and a place just as much as the wines I loved. The ingredients had a story to tell and I wanted to see if I could do that, too. That’s basically how I came up with the idea for Marrow.
So it wasn’t exactly about just wanting to start a booze business and deciding that vermouth would be my main thing. I kind of fell in love with the process of making vermouth first and the huge space for discovery that it opened up. The fact that the process created an interesting product that not many people were making made me want to pursue it as a business.
For people who haven’t yet tried your liqueurs, what would you suggest as an introductory experience? Please set the mood.
I would say just drink them on their own first. In a wine glass is fine or whatever vessel you have. If you like it, drink some more. If you feel like adding some ice or a twist or it inspires a cocktail, go for it. I’m not very picky as long as it’s making you happy. As far as mood goes, I don’t know. What kind of music do you like? Bruce Hornsby, Mayhem, Lizzo? Put that on and go to town.
I think that even more so than any other drinking culture, a person’s cocktail choice says a lot about their personality. What is your current or go-to cocktail and what does it say about you?
Is a PBR and a shot of Jameson considered a cocktail? That would be my go to and it says that I’m probably trash. If that’s not allowed then I’d consider the Manhattan my go-to. It says that I’m basic, but not so basic that I’d order an Old Fashioned, and I prefer cocktails that are simple and well-made.
Do you have a favourite cocktail recipe (your own or one that you’ve tried) that you would like to share with our readers?
I made a Fernet Mimosa the other night. It was a dumb idea that I had to try and is actually crazy good. Bitter amaros and pineapple are both really imposing flavours but mesh well, which was the inspiration for this. 1/2 part Fernet Branca, 1 part Marrow Amaro, and 2 parts pineapple juice. Shake and strain into a wine glass and top with prosecco.
Where do your vermouth and amaro recipes come from?
Right now, it’s the wine and the ingredients that are making the recipes for me. I taste and adjust as I go. My ingredients are changing as I discover and source new ones and I already know my base wines are – more often than not – going to be different. I can’t really rely on just a recipe if my ingredients are always changing. In general though, I think of a particular style that I like and shape a list of ingredients that would lend themselves to that style. Then it’s all about tasting and adjusting the bitter, sweet, floral, and herbal flavours until it tastes good.
What sort of story do you think or hope that your recipes, in particular, tell drinkers about the time and place that they were created?
Just their own story I guess. I’m really just trying to discover what flavours exist out there and put that into a bottle. Authentic and delicious is what I aim for.
I love your labels! I’m curious about what inspired your creative choices and direction? What does your branding/label art tell us about what’s inside the bottle?
Making vermouth is always a collaboration. I’m working with winemakers, farmers, foragers, herbalists and distillers and just putting it all together. I kind of want that same spirit of collaboration with the labels. Steven Compton did the art for my vermouth labels and the concept is for it to be a coat of arms, but populated with a changing cast of characters. On the current label I’ve been telling people that the knight in the middle is Tyler Harlton. The space dog is my dog George, who passed away last year. For specialty things like the Amaro, I plan on using different artists. Vancouver artist Alex Joukov did the current one. I love it.
The idea though is to let the artists create the brand by representing themselves. Each batch is its own thing, so the label is its own thing, and I’m okay with that for now.
Your website says that you plan on eventually growing your own ingredients. How close to this goal are you these days?
My goal this year will be to forage for most of it or buy from established growers. I make my vermouth at Scout Vineyards and we are talking a bit about putting some cover crops in the vineyard that will be good for the vines but could also be used in the vermouth, but there no official plans yet.
What’s next for Marrow?
I’ve got some new styles I want to try out. A Bianco Vermouth for sure, which is a sweetened white vermouth. I have a new sweet/red vermouth being released very soon, and I’ll be working on the second version of my first sweet vermouth over the last part of this winter. The one being released right away is a bit more intense than my first one, better for the colder weather, and then I’ll come out with one in the spring that is a bit lighter again and great for spritzes.
Also, there have been talks of a Beermouth, or perhaps a Verbeer – stay tuned.
Where can we get our hands/lips on some Marrow in the Lower Mainland?
You can pick up bottles for home at Legacy Liquor and Liberty on Commercial Drive. A number of bars and restaurants have my stuff too, so just ask for it. If they don’t have it tell them to message me on Instagram or email me shawn [at] marrowvermouth.com. I’ll come drop off a case next time I’m in town.