What is vermouth?

Vermouth has been a popular drink for hundreds of years. It was first invented in 1786 by an Italian as a mixture of white wine fortified with spirit, herbs and spices. Today vermouth is as popular as ever. Vermouth is a fortified wine made using red or white wine as a base. To these are added herbs, spices, spirits and other ingredients. Vermouth is stronger in alcohol than wine and this is why it is usually drunk in smaller quantities. What makes vermouth so distinctive is the mixture of wines with herbs, spices and spirits. This gives it a very unusual and complex taste and it is extremely aromatic.

How is vermouth drunk?

Vermouth is usually drunk in small quantities on its own over ice, or with mixers such as tonic or soda water. It can also be used as an ingredient in cocktails. Vermouth makes a great apéritif with nibbles and this is how it is often drunk in European countries. Vermouth can also be used as a cooking ingredient. Ice is pretty much an essential ingredient for any drink involving vermouth. The ice not only chills the drink but breaks it down and helps with the strong and distinctive flavour.

Getting to know vermouth

For some time vermouth was available only in the two earliest versions which were sweet and dry. Today vermouth is available in different types such as extra dry white, rosé, sweet white (known as bianco) and amber. The two originals, often referred to as red and white, are still as popular as ever.

Vermouth can be something of an acquired taste as it is very distinct from other types of drink. If you’ve never tried vermouth before, think about other drinks you like before choosing vermouth to try. For example if you like sweet drinks go for a sweet red vermouth, or one of the newer sweet whites. If your taste is for dry drinks, go for a dry white such as Cinzano Extra Dry Vermouth or Martini Extra Dry, favourites among aficionados and a good introduction for beginners. Because vermouth has a strong flavour on its own you might want to try one for the first time with a mixer.

If you like soda water or tonic water try a Rosso vermouth with tonic or a white such as Cinzano with soda water and lots of ice. The tonic will work well with the sweeter red vermouth and the soda water will liven up the extra dry. Not all vermouths of the same colour or designation will taste the same. Red sweet vermouths from several different makers will all have their own distinctive tastes, some closer to each other than others, because they will include different variations on the basic ingredients. The same applies to white or sweet vermouth.

Try several different types of vermouth from different makers before deciding on your favourite. It can be an acquired taste, so stick with it. What won’t taste so good for a first sample will be neat straight from the bottle! Use ice and/or a mixer and if no ice is preferred make sure the vermouth is chilled and the mixer as well. Once you have decided that vermouth is a drink for you then look around and experiment with mixers and different brands. Some of the top end more exclusive brands can be more expensive than the household names, just with any other drink, so perhaps take the time to sample them before investing in whole bottles.

Some famous drinks

The Manhattan This is made using only three ingredients: Sweet vermouth, whisky and bitters. A variation on this classic is the Perfect Manhattan whish adds dry vermouth and balances both the sweet and dry vermouths in equal measures. The Vodka Martini The James Bond drink, this one is dead simple and is made from dry vermouth and vodka. The trick is in how it is mixed and this can be shaken or stirred. Usually vodka martinis are served from a cocktail shaker that contains ice or a mixer glass where it has been stirred with ice and then poured or strained into a drinking glass. An olive is the usual added ingredient!