Although being a popular spirit, Vermouth is often underrated and chances are you have taken it without even realizing it. Apart from being an aperitif(appetizer), vermouth is a key ingredient in cocktails, such as the vodka martini.
This article will offer you more insight into Vermouth regarding its history and the different types and varieties. In addition, we will share the best vermouth for martini and a guide to help you set up your home bar.
What Is Vermouth?
Contrary to what most people think, Vermouth is actually a wine and not a spirit. However, it is a fortified wine infused with herbs and spices. Additionally, the wine is spiked with spirit to strengthen it and sweetened at times.
Vermouth is the perfect addition to a two ingredients cocktail: a gin martini or a vodka martini. For example, you can modify it with olive brines or orange bitters then garnish with a lemon twist or olive to make an iconic cocktail. In addition, there are two types of vermouth- white and red. However, we will look at each variety in detail below.
What Is the History of Vermouth?
Vermouth was initially produced as a medicinal remedy like Gin and other spirits. This is because the fortified wine had health benefits thanks to the herbs and spices. In addition, Indians and Ancient Chinese used this practice to treat stomach issues.
The German had also been making fortified wine since the 16th century. The only difference is that they used wormwood as an ingredient. Around the same time, Jeronimo Ruscelli, an Italian businessman, started making his own "Wermut Wein" and adding botanicals. In turn, this prompted other producers to develop their own varieties.
By 1786, "Wermut Wein" was being enjoyed in England, although a different name, Vermouth, was being used to refer to it. The name was the French pronunciation of the German word since the wine arrived through France.
Below are the best sweet and dry vermouths for martini.
1. Dolin Dry Vermouth
Dolin dry vermouth is produced using local botanicals to give unique flavours. Located in the Alpine town of Chambéry and being the last independent vermouth producer in France, Dolin ensures that this French vermouth boasts great quality by using the most unique and authentic ingredients.
The Dolin dry vermouth has a crisp and dry palate with floral and herbal notes. The citrus feel is refreshing and adds a bitter flair that balances the sweetness. In addition, this versatile vermouth pairs well with pesto, seafood dishes, goat cheese and spirit to make the best classic gin martini.
2. Ransom Dry Vermouth
This American-produced vermouth by Ransom Wines and Distillery has floral notes paired with subtle notes of herbs, lemon verbena and ripe peach. The base wine is made from white grapes, such as Pinot-Gris, Muscat, and Auxerrois, which are organically farmed. In addition, this Ransom dry vermouth has pinot noir blanc infused in brandy to fortify the white wine.
The rich taste and bitter-sweet flavour of the Ransom Dry Vermouth come from its ingredients. These include botanicals like orange peel, cardamom, lemon peel, chamomile, lemon verbena, cinnamon bark, fennel, burdock root, angel root, spearmint and rosehip. Finally, the French oak barrel-aged dry vermouth has notes of wormwood, making it perfect for martinis.
3. Martini & Rossi Rosso Sweet Vermouth
Martini & Rosso is well known for its iconic vermouth blends. This particular Italian vermouth produced in 1863 has up to 40 different botanicals contributing to its flavour. In addition, this Marini & Rossi vermouth has a sweet and citrusy palate, making it a great aperitif. However, you can also enjoy it neat or in a Manhattan or Negroni cocktail.
4. Carpano Dry Vermouth
If you prefer Italian Vermouths, you might want to add this Carpano Dry vermouth to your bar cart. This dry vermouth has a unique flavour profile and is made from locally grown grapes. This fortified wine has a fruity scent and a sweet taste at first. However, this is balanced by the faint bitterness present in the blend. Unlike most dry vermouths, you can enjoy it on its own add ice and an orange peel to enhance the flavours.
5. Noilly Prat Extra Dry Vermouth
Being an extra dry version of the original Noilly Prat Vermouth, this extra dry blend is made from rich ingredients sourced from different cultures. The floral aroma and herbal notes are thanks to the Italian orris root, chamomile, Tunisian oranges and Moroccan coriander. In addition, you will love that this Noilly Prat extra dry vermouth can be served chilled and enjoyed neat or mixed to make a classic martini cocktail.
6. Cocchi Americano
Cocchi Americano dates back to 1891, when it was first produced in Asti, Italy. The Moscato-based aperitif can be found in most cocktail bars and for a good reason. The Moscato d’Asti wine is flavoured using cinchona bark to give a flavour similar to tonic water. In addition, this gives it its unique flavour that blends well in cocktails.
Cocchi Americano has a sweet but citrusy palate. The spices help balance the sweetness, while the cinchona bark attributes to the bitterness. You could choose to have it as an aperitif, neat or add sparkling wine to elevate its flavour. Additionally, adding a citrus peel like orange or grapefruit will garnish and elevate your drink's flavour.
7. Carpano Bianco
Made from a secret recipe featuring Trebbiano, Cortese grapes and chardonnay, Carpano Bianco has a sweet, refreshing and diverse profile attributed to the ingredients. In addition, this white vermouth has herbaceous, licorice and citrusy notes making it perfect for enjoying neat or with a lemon twist.
The residual sugar in this Carpano Bianco is balanced with a bitter touch to make it sweet but not overwhelmingly so. The mouthfeel is thick, rich and well balanced. You can add olive brine to enjoy your dirty martini. Alternatively, you can pair it with a pickled cocktail onion and a classic Gibson.
How is Vermouth Made?
Vermouth production starts as white wine with a low alcohol percentage made from grapes like Catarrato, Trebbiano, Clairette Blanche, Piquepoul and Blanchette Trevigiana. This base wine is then aged for a short while before adding a specific amount of sugar syrup.
A neutral grape-based alcoholic spirit is then used to fortify the wine. Botanicals consisting of herbs and baking spices such as ginger, cinnamon, juniper and cloves are also added to the barrels. In addition, unlike in the olden days, the use of wormwood in fortified wine is heavily regulated. However, at least one herb from the Artemisia family is allowed.
Once all the ingredients have been added, they are left to steer for a while. During this time, the wine in the barrels can be stirred over a duration of several weeks. Once it is ready, the distillation or pressing method extracts the wine, accounting for 75% of the final product.
What Are the Different Types of Vermouth?
All Vermouths start life as white wine, fortified and aromatized to achieve the final product. For this reason, the alcohol volume percentage(ABV) is a notch higher compared to that of regular wine ranging from 16% to 18% and up to 22% in the EU.
Vermouth differentiations can be made regarding whether the wine is sweet or dry or white and red. The difference between Sweet Vermouth and Dry Vermouth is determined by the amount of sugar syrup added after the wine is fortified. Spices, herbs and residual sugar characterize sweet Vermouth. In addition, it is has a bitter and acidic taste to it.
On the other hand, Dry Vermouths have less residual sugar and spices compared to the sweet alternative. However, it is more herbaceous, has a light to medium body and boasts a cooling sensation. This trait makes it perfect for iconic cocktails like the Classic Martini.
Similar to wine, colour is also used to differentiate Vermouth. Red Vermouth is often sweet and has a deep colour, often attributed to the bark and spice colours as well as caramel colouring. However, the red colour could also be from any added red wine. In addition to being sweet, red Vermouth is spicy and herbaceous, giving it a bitter edge and acidity. This explains why it is more suited as an aperitif or a cocktail ingredient for Manhattan.
White wine can be sweet, but it is often dry. In other words, all dry vermouth is white, but not all white vermouth is dry. White Vermouth is also known as "blanc" or "Bianco." Although not heavy, it has a specific Bianco of residual sugar and herbs. The acidity and bitterness are also present, although not as much as in Sweet Red Vermouth.
Rosé or Rosato Vermouth is made from red and white wine in the initial base wine. However, it is still a new variety gaining popularity as it offers both flavours in the final product. In addition, Vermouth has also had geographical associations with Sweet Red Vermouth being Italian and Dry White Vermouth being French. However, this is not a major difference nowadays as Vermouth has American, Italian, Spanish and French producers.
What To Look For in Vermouth
First, consider the kind of taste you are going for. Do you want spicy, herbal or floral notes in your cocktail? For example, Dry Vermouths have varying tastes thanks to the different flavourings. You could find some with chamomile, pine, peach, vanilla and other botanicals. The same case applies to sweet Vermouth. Therefore, make sure that you consider the final taste before you stock extra dry vermouth. Exploring and sampling a few varieties may be a good place to start.
As with anything else, take time to look at the ingredient list. This is because the ingredients play a major role in the makeup of the Vermouth. Again this will also determine if it is more suited in a Martini or an aperitif. So, be sure to look at the herbs, florals and spices in the ingredient list as they will affect your overall drinking.
Finally, consider how you want to use the Vermouth. Do you wish to have it in a cocktail or drink it on its own? How much vermouth you will use is also an important consideration. Do you want it to blend in or stand out? Considering how you will use vermouth is essential since different flavour notes affect each Vermouth.
How Do You Serve and Drink Vermouth?
Vermouth is often used as a cocktail mixer in iconic cocktails like Martini, Negroni and Manhattan. However, it can still be taken straight, although this is not as common as before.
If you wish to take Vermouth neat, serve chilled either in a chilled glass or with ice. You can add a citrus twist to enhance the flavour. Orange bitters complement darker Vermouths, while lemon works well for white blends.
However, you will find that many vermouths are produced specifically for cocktails. For this reason, you can go for premium Vermouth if you want to have it neat.
Common Vermouth Cocktail Recipes
Martinis are made from 6 parts gin and 1 part vermouth. This ratio started as 2:1 and has significantly dropped over the years. In addition, martinis can be either dry or sweet. You could also add orange bitters and a dash of olive brine to make a Dirty Martini.
Vodka martinis are a marriage between 6 parts vodka and 1 part dry vermouth. The ingredients are then mixed in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, chilled, then strained and served without ice in a chilled glass. You can add olives or a lemon twist to garnish.
This drink consists of equal parts sweet red vermouth, gin and Campari. It is named after Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni, a French general who supposedly invented it in 1919 in a Florence café.
The Manhattan is the oldest vermouth cocktail. It comprises five parts rye whiskey combined with two parts sweet Rosso(red) vermouth. A dash of bitters is then added and the cocktail is stirred over ice then strained into a chilled glass. You can then proceed to garnish your drink.