Vermouth is the neglected step-child of the home bar, cast aside except for Martini moments and then disdained for it's unkempt qualities. It's time to take a look at Vermouth, and give this exotic elixir its due!
The Quick Vermouth Breakdown.
1 - Now a fixture in northwest Italy and southern France, Vermouth as we know it was created around 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in Torino, Italy. Antonio was making a wine similar to absinthe, which was flavored with wormwood and called Wermuth in the German of the time. Only the first of many confusing cross border naming conventions to plague poor Vermouth.
2 - Vermouth is simply a fortified wine flavored (or aromatized) with herbs and botanicals. These flavorings traditionally include wormwood, nutmeg, coriander, juniper, orange peel, cloves, marjoram, cardamom, cinnamon, and chamomile. Vermouth, often sweetened, is fortified with neutral grape spirits to between 15% and 18% alcohol.
3 - There are two general styles of Vermouth, Italian and French, which confusingly enough don’t refer to where they are made but rather to their style, of which there are several more specific sub-styles, which is unnecessarily confusing since these tend to be part of the exclusive domaine of the bartending uber-geek.
4 - The traditional Italian style of Vermouth was both slightly bitter and gently sweet, gaining a garnet hue from the caramelized sugar used to sweeten, as well as to flavor the Vermouth. This is commonly referred to as rosso, or red Vermouth.
5 - The French style on the other hand was drier, without the addition of the caramelized sugar, and therefore retained the pale color of its base wine. Like almost all Vermouth it is based on neutral white wine and relies on sweeter spice notes, like those from nutmeg and orange rind for its core flavor. This style of Vermouth is often referred to as white or Bianco.
Vermouth, being an inspired recipe, is not stuck in these two rigid camps. If you search hard enough you can find a broad range of Vermouth, from bone dry to quite sweet with flavors that range from delicate and floral to bitter and aggressive. Even the base wines can change, with some rather famous examples being made using rose wine and red wine.
Choosing a Vermouth for a cocktail can be maddening work since each brand has their own secret recipe and flavor profile. To get started buy a fresh bottle or two, taste them, and get cracking on some of your favorite classic cocktails! Each Vermouth will contribute its own distinctive signature, adding an extra element to even the simplest cocktail.