What is vermouth? Most people have heard about Martini, many do not realize that it’s vermouth. It has given the name to one of the world’s most famous cocktails, but very few can tell you what it is. In short, it is the ideal mixer for gin with a history that dates back to Italy in 1757.
Often present, but seldom appreciated
Vermouth is an important ingredient in many cocktails, yet it is something which is seldom discussed. Many people look at it as a commodity, something that you just have to have on your bar shelf and just restock whenever the bottle is empty. I hope that after reading this, you may give the vermouth bottle a second look the next time you see it. At least you are prepared if someone asks you, what is vermouth?
“Vermouth is an aid to the digestion; it purifies the blood, induces sound slumber, and rejoices the heart.”
– Leonardo Fioravanti (16th century)
What is vermouth?
Vermouth is fortified wine with added herbs, spices, and wormwood. Most commonly used are cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, citrus peel, juniper, and quinine. Those familiar with gin and tonic will recognize the last three ingredients. No wonder vermouth is such a great match with gin. The wormwood used in vermouth is the same a used for making absinthe. The Latin name is, in fact, Artemisia absinthium.
Vermouth has an alcohol content around 15% and comes in four colors: Clear, pale yellow, orange, and red. The name Vermouth stems from the German word for wormwood, “wermut”.
Vermouth was first produced by the Cinzano family in Turin, Italy in 1757. Back then it was mainly used for medical purposes. It was only after Martini & Rossi, the now international top-selling brand, started production in 1863 that vermouth became an accepted aperitif.
Most vermouths are produced in France or Italy. The most known brands are the Italian Martini & Rossi and Cinzano. The French brands Noilly Prat and Dolin are also household names in cocktail circles.
How to use vermouth?
Even if the amount used may be next to nothing, the vermouth is an important ingredient in many cocktails. The dry vermouth is best known for its use in the cocktail Dry Martini. As a matter a fact it is not only an ingredient in a Dry Martini, it has also lent its name to the famous cocktail. This is typical for vermouths faith; in a very dry martini, there is almost no trace of vermouth, yet the name sticks.
The sweet vermouth is maybe most famous as an ingredient in the cocktail Negroni. Sweet vermouth can also be served as an aperitif with ice.
Cinzano makes a great orange based vermouth called Cinzano Orancio. This makes a great aperitif served in a tumbler with ice and an orange wedge. Martini Rosso can be served in the same way.
The French brands Noilly Prat and Dolin are both dry vermouths, somewhat lighter than the Martini, the Dolin being the lightest. In the US you can get Dolin Extra Dry, this is a product made exclusively for the US market.
Thanks to the renewed interest for gin, there are more and more new and exciting vermouths hitting the shelves. If you are willing to pay a bit more, there are more and more options.
Be aware that an opened vermouth will deteriorate over time. Opened bottles should be consumed within three months. You can prolong the life of your vermouth by using a vacuum cork as you would do with wine.