Mixing it up

WC VermouthPhoto by 3523studio

Vermouth, the ultimate cocktail builder, was originally believed to be a magical potion used for medicinal purposes stemming from the presence of certain botanicals.

Although the origins of vermouth go back to Hippocrates in 400 BC, it was not until the 1700s when an Italian merchant named Antonio Benedetto Carpano from Torino, in the Piedmont region, created vermouth much like we know it today.

There are three types of vermouth—sweet red, sweet white, and dry white. Historically, muscat grapes were the base, but other white and red grapes can be used, then fortified with brandy or neutral grain spirits and infused with a mixture of highly aromatic herbs, spices, and botanicals. Absinthe, anise, basil, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, juniper, licorice, marjoram, nutmeg, orange peel, rhubarb, sage, and wormwood (wermut is the German word for the herb and led to the name “vermouth”) are just some of the countless ingredients that give vermouth a distinctive savory-sweet taste. There are many producers of vermouth, each using its own, often secret, recipe. Vermouth contains up to 22 percent alcohol (table wine is usually 12 to 14 percent).

(See Sidebar at bottom for vermouth cocktail recipes.)

All classic cocktails such as the martini, manhattan, and negroni call for vermouth added to the mixture. With the current rage for specialty cocktails and new drinks, vermouth continues as a significant player behind the bar. Vermouth is also a wonderful “aperitif” (from the Latin verb aperire, meaning “to open”)—a beverage served for stimulating the appetite. Straight vermouth is delicious served over ice with a slice of orange, lemon, or lime. You can always add club soda or any other mix for an interesting refreshment.

There are four main regions for production, each with its own style and variety. Two of these regions are protected designations of origin (PDO)—Vermouth di Torino in Piedmont and Vermouth de Chambéry in adjacent southern France. Vermouth di Torino is famous for the “Italian sweet red,” in a variety of styles. Vermouth de Chambéry is famous for creating “Dolin Blanc,” the first clear sweet vermouth. The third, Marseilles style from Provence, France, has a Madeira type flavor that is popular for both sipping and cooking. Lastly, the West Coast/modern styles are fast becoming widespread for their quality and delightful characteristics similar to fine wines.

The best-known brands are still produced in Piedmont and southern France. Notable producers are Carpano, Cinzano, Martini & Rossi, and Cocchi from Italy and Dolin, Noilly Prat, Dubonnet, and Lillet from France. In the United States, Sutton, Quady, and Imbue from the West Coast, and Uncouth from Brooklyn, are in demand. Also, boutique wineries and mixologists from select restaurants all over the country are creating custom house-made vermouths.

Vermouth is one of the first bottles needed to create your bar. Here is a list of brands available at local retail shops and restaurants. Note: Once opened, vermouth can last up to a month but needs to be refrigerated. Thanks to Chuck Saunders, who consulted on this story. Saunders manages Baystate Wine & Spirits, distributor for Haus Alpenz Imports, which offers a fine selection of vermouths.

Carpano Punt e Mes, Italy
Invented by Antonio Carpano in Torino, it is the city’s favorite drink. A sweet, golden orange color with topaz tone and aromas of strong herbs as well as hints of grains, toffee, and cloves. Ideal served straight with orange peel, perfect as a base for the negroni cocktail.

Cinzano Rosso, Italy
Recognizable by the labels that mirror their colorful posters, this is the staple product and the basis for many fine cocktails. A deep, rich red color, with intense herbal aromas and sweet fruit flavors that are completed by a pleasing bitter finish.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Italy
A true classic. Rich and vibrant with notes of citrus, rhubarb, caramel, and cocoa. Delicious on its own or the perfect choice in mixed drinks.

Cocchi Americano, Italy
A Moscato di Asti wine base infused with herbs, spices, and citrus fruit. The original recipe is from 1891. Bitter flavors mix with honey and orange zest leading to a lasting finish. One of the great aperitif wines.

Dolin Dry White, Vermouth de Chambéry, France
Bright and crisp with a clean, dry finish. Considered the benchmark of French vermouth and the workhorse behind the cocktail bar. The key ingredient in any martini.

Dolin Blanc, Vermouth de Chambéry, France
A sweet white vermouth invented by Dolin in 1821. Made from local fine wines and Alpine botanicals. Fresh and elegant over ice with sliced strawberry, a splash of club soda, and a twist.

Dubonnet Rouge, France
Made in Paris since 1846, this is a seductive, sweet, ruby-red vermouth offering a cherry fragrance followed by citrus, cocoa, and nutty flavors. Drink Dubonnet with someone special.

Channing Daughters VerVino Vermouth, New York
An award-winning Long Island farm winery now producing seasonal dry vermouth from more than 30 indigenous ingredients, including local honey.

Quady Vya Whisper Dry Vermouth, California
Made from orange muscat grapes and an array of exotic and home grown herbs, this is more like a delicate white wine that is smooth and light bodied with aromas of citrus and honey, and subtle earthy flavors.

Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth, Oregon
The finest pinot gris from the Northwest is the base wine, infused with freshly dried botanicals, farmed and forged in the Wild West.

Cocktails that include vermouth:

1 ounce dry vermouth
4 ounces gin
Garnish with olives
Serve straight up or over ice

1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 ounces rye whiskey
1 maraschino cherry
Angostura bitters
Serve straight up

1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Campari
Slice of orange
Serve straight up

1 ounce dry vermouth
3 ounces vodka
Garnish with a lemon twist
Serve straight up or over ice

3 ounces Cocchi Americano
1.5 ounces soda water
Serve over ice with orange peel

1.5 ounces Dolin Blanc vermouth
1.5 ounces Aperitivo Cappelletti
1.5 ounces apple cider
Serve over ice with lemon peel

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