Why You Should Fall in Love with Vermouth
Until recently, vermouth was the best supporting actor of the cocktail world. Many of your favorite drinks wouldn’t be the same without it, but it rarely received top billing.
But the trend toward low-alcohol cocktails, coupled with a flurry of quality vermouth, have put it in the spotlight.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a newfound appreciation for European apéritifs,” says Naren Young, proprietor of New York City’s Dante. Where strong, spirit-forward drinks were once in favor, people now seek quaffs that are “more light, refreshing, sessionable,” Young says. “Vermouth fits perfectly into that category.”
Vermouth is wine fortified with brandy or other spirits and aromatized with herbs, barks, spices or other botanicals. Although it’s fine to sip straight, it primarily shines as a cocktail ingredient.
“For the past 150 years, vermouth has shaped cocktail culture in the United States more than any other spirit,” says Adam Ford, author of Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture (Countryman Press, 2015) and founder of Atsby New York Vermouth.
“While a handful of simple cocktails existed prior to vermouth reaching American shores in earnest in the 1850s and ’60s, these drinks were primitive, rustic, harsh affairs, lacking the complexity and balance and deliciousness that we have all now come to expect in a properly mixed drink,” he says.
According to Ford, the Manhattan or martini would not exist without vermouth, and the earliest iterations of both called for two parts vermouth to one part spirit. That’s a far cry from today’s dry martini template, where gin is dosed with a scant splash of vermouth.
“Vermouth used to be a wildly fashionable drink in America,” Ford says. However, imports from wine-producing European countries (primarily France and Italy) slowed to a trickle thanks to Prohibition and later, World War II. It wasn’t until recently that Americans regained their taste for this once-forgotten drink.
Now, with new bottlings rolling out from established producers and smaller craft makers, there’s never been a better time to discover vermouth. It even takes a leading role in some cocktails.
As the drinks and bottles here clearly show, vermouth is ready for its close-up.
—photos by Aaron Graubart
Found a vermouth you love? Be sure to treat it well. Store it out of direct sunlight and heat, and once opened, keep it refrigerated. It should last 2–4 weeks in the fridge, but toss it if you notice any off aromas or flavors. Below are some of our current favorites:
These recently sampled bottles are worth seeking out.
Atxa Vino Vermouth Blanco (Spain): Fresh, floral and herbaceous
Carpano Antica Formula (Italy): Rich, fruity and enticing, warmed with notes of fig and dried cherries
La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Blanc (France): Fresh, herbal and slightly tropical fruit-like; made with Pineau des Charentes
Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato (Italy): Sherry-like notes of dried apricot; long finish touched with lemon peel
Punt e Mes (Italy): Rich and plummy, drying to a baking spice finish
Ransom Dry Vermouth (U.S.): Layers of golden raisins, citrus peel and cardamom on a base of fresh apple and pear
Uncouth Vermouth Apple Mint (U.S.): Super fresh and flavorful; made in Brooklyn
At this NYC newcomer, Young keeps Noilly Prat on tap for this light, fizzy drink that’s chilled with frozen grapes instead of ice to minimize dilution. Other vermouths that would work well include Dolin Blanc or Carpano Dry.
- 3–4 green grapes
- 4 ounces dry vermouth, like Noilly Prat
- Perrier, to top
- Thin twist of lemon peel, for garnish
Wash grapes and place in the freezer for at least 3–4 hours; overnight is best. Place the grapes in a wine goblet or sour glass. Add vermouth and top with Perrier. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Recipe courtesy Jeremiah Blake, The Holland House Bar & Refuge, Nashville
Adapted from Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture (Countryman Press, 2015) by Adam Ford
Named for a seedy 1860s concert saloon in lower Manhattan, this drink showcases amber vermouth, which is relatively new to the U.S. although it’s long been available in Europe. Slightly sweeter and nuttier than dry vermouth, it almost resembles Sherry. Also try Noilly Prat Ambré or Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato.
- 1¾ ounces amber vermouth, such as Atsby Amberthon
- ¾ ounce Bourbon
- 1¼ ounces chamomile tea, cooled
- 2–3 dashes grapefuit bitters
In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine all ingredients and stir. Strain into a brandy snifter.
Recipe courtesy Jackson Cannon, Eastern Standard, Boston.
Rosé vermouth is still relatively hard to find. Cannon is famous for making his own from Spanish Garnacha fortified with Cognac and steeped with strawberries and other botanicals.
- 2 ounces Oxley Cold-Distilled London Dry Gin
- ¾ ounce rosé vermouth, like Channing Daughters VerVino Vermouth Variation 4
- ¼ ounce Luxardo il Maraschino Cherry Liqueur
- Orange peel
- Luxardo cherry, for garnish
In a mixing glass, stir together the gin, vermouth and cherry liqueur with ice, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Twist the orange peel over the top of the drink to express the oils, then discard. Garnish with cherry.
Recipe adapted from The Art of the Shim: Low Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level (S&G, 2013) by Dinah Sanders.
Also known as an Italian Greyhound, this drink showcases sweet (red) vermouth. Others to try: Carpano Antica Formula or La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge.
- Salt, to garnish glass rim
- 2 ounces sweet vermouth, such as Punt e Mes
- 2 ounces grapefuit juice
Moisten the outer rim of half of an old fashioned glass. Roll the moistened edge in salt and place glass in freezer.
In a cocktail shaker, combine remaining ingredients and ice. Shake well, and strain into the prepared glass.
- 1Viva la vermouth!
- 2Vermouth Service
- 3Shafer’s Eureka
- 5The Iggy