Vermouth is the ultimate cocktail component, ever present in a myriad of classic cocktails (think Martinis, Manhattans and Negronis).
Originally, this fortified wine was used medicinally; even today, the term ‘digestif” or “digestive” suggests the salubrious benefits of the liquid. Simply defined, vermouth is wine infused with herbs and spices and fortified with unaged brandy. In 1786, Italian distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano is believed to have created the first commercial vermouth when he blended white wine with herbs and named his new creation after a similar German drink made with wormwood (‘wermut” in German), thus the name’s inspiration. In addition to Carpano’s wildly successful invention, some of the earliest vermouth makers—hailing from wine-producing European countries, such as France and Italy—include stalwarts like as Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi (now just Martini) and Cizano.
Vermouths are either a red or white wine base and come in dry or sweet varietals. There are exceptions to the rule, but in general— white is dry (traditionally from France) and red is sweet (predominately from Italy).
With the thirst for artisan spirits in current bar culture, by both tenders and goers, there are plenty of new vermouths to try (and new categories of vermouth to explore). New variations on the scene include sweet whites (look for labels that read bianco or blanc) and ambers (ambres or ambrato).
Vermouth as a spirit category deemed worthy to stand unabashedly alone in your glass is now a thing too. Barcelona has several all-vermouth bars—known as vermuterías—and America’s first, called Artemisia, is poised to open in Chicago early 2016.
Interested in joining in the vermouth revival? Here are nine stellar, relatively new ones – both dry and sweet – to try now:
This wheat-colored Pinot Noir-based dry vermouth made in Portland, Oregon is infused with 16 botanicals, such as rosehip, anise and vanilla bean. It’s soft and subtle with hints of citrus and vanilla on the palate. To fully enjoy the herbal subtleties, it’s best to drink it neat and chilled.
Named after Louis XIV’s gardener that managed the Garden of Versailles, La Quintinye Vermouth Royal is available in extra dry, as well as blanc and rouge. Launched on the scene in April 2015, La Quinitine is collaboration between G’Vine gin and Ciroc vodka producers. The rouge varietal is especially bold without being brash—a well-balanced bouquet of herbaceous and floral notes.
Briefly aged for seven months in medium-toasted new French oak barrels, Lacuesta Reserva is boldly aromatic and flavorful, yet prevalent notes of dryness are reminiscent of traditional dry vermouth. An excellent aperitif, it should be served cold with a slice of orange and an olive.
This straw-colored aperitif possesses a flamboyant bouquet of spice and herbal notes. Although the brand has been in existence since 1884, it’s only recently available in the States. According their website, it’s best served with two anchovy-stuffed olives over ice with a twist of orange.
Launched at the Tales of the Cocktails 2015 (in addition to the Ambrato expression), Martini Riserva Rubino is as elegant on the palate as the gold-foiled label is to the eye. Nebbiolo wines were blended with extracts of Italian holy thistle and African red sandalwood. This results in a refreshing, yet sensual, ruby red vermouth.
Arriving on the scene late December last year, Mancino hails from Italy, and more importantly, was fashioned by world-renowned Italian bartender Giancarlo Mancino. Infused with 38 botanicals, Mancino Rosso adds an extra oomph of class to your Manhattan or Negroni.
Portland-based Hammer & Tongs’ Syrah-based L’Afrique is a voluptuous vermouth, abundant in exotic botanicals like turmeric, kava kava, kola nut and fresh African bergamot. With earthy notes of black current, chocolate and cherry, Hammer & Tong’s sweet vermouth could be mistaken for a port.
You’ll find the usual suspects found in traditional red vermouth, such as cardamom and quassia. However, Armadillo Cake shakes things up with a walk on the wild botanical side featuring ingredients such as Japanese shitake, wild celery and nigella. Atsby, an American-style vermouth made in New York, was launched in 2012 by Adam Ford, author of a new book on vermouth titled “Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture.”
Americans, rejoice! Noilly Ambre, a special edition only available in the States and a few places in Europe, comprises of 49 spices and herbs. Think of it as the love child of the Original Dry and Rouge versions with notes of cinnamon and vanilla.
Americano, courtesy of Hotel Baglioni, Rome
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. Martini Riserva Rubino (or Any Red Vermouth)
- Soda Water to Top
- Garnish: Orange slice
Preparation: Pour the Campari and vermouth over ice into an old-fashioned glass, add a splash of soda water and garnish with an orange slice.