Like aromatic cocktail bitters and amaro, vermouth has undergone a transformation in recent years, climbing from the recesses of the back bar to being anointed as an obsessed-over ingredient.
This style, with a sugar content of 10 to 15 percent travels under the names sweet, red (rosso) or Italian. It has a garnet color and is sweet, spicy and lightly herbaceous.
Vermouth con Bitter
This regional expression of Italian sweet vermouth is spiked with extra bittering agents like gentian, resulting in a more amaro-like experience. Punt e Mes, the best known example of this category, translates to “a point and a half,” referring to the ratio of sweet to bitter.
This hybrid style dials up the bitterness with a double dose cinchona bark, resulting to a style similar to quinquina. Examples include Mancino Chinato and Cocchi Dopo Teatro Vermouth Amaro.
This style of vermouth, first produced by Joseph Noilly in the early 1800s in Marseille, France, is a contrast to sweet vermouth and more aggressive with floral and herbal notes.
France and Italy both produce this style of clear, rich, sweet vermouth, but it’s Dolin de Chambéry, from Chambéry, France, that has led the charge in building awareness for it. While it’s not called for in classic cocktails, its popularity among bartenders has increased in recent years.
Naren Young, the creative director of Dante, the aperitivo-inspired bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, has been on the front-line of this transition. “The fact that there are so many brands flooding into the market only shows that people are starting to appreciate it again,” he says. “It was probably on the brink of fading away completely if it weren’t for the Martini, Manhattan and Negroni cocktails keeping sales afloat.”
Vermouth is a low-ABV, fortified wine that is lightly sweetened and aromatized with herbs, spices and bitter botanicals. While there are distinctive styles of vermouth, the select, proprietary blends—which include ingredients like orange peel, wormwood, angelica root, coriander, clove, cinnamon, vanilla and juniper—are what give producers a unique thumbprint with each expression. Add to that a diversity in fortified wine bases and methods of production, and you have an astonishing array of expressions within the category. That’s only expanded with the boom of new brands and styles beyond the big three: sweet (rosso), dry and blanc (bianco).
“The recent cottage industry boom for vermouth has led to people awakening to the idea of it,” says Will Elliott, bar director of Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere and Sauvage. “For years and years, it was seen as an accouterment to the Martini and Manhattan. It was stored and cared for improperly [and] people were drinking turned, spoiled vermouth and didn’t know it.”
In addition to being put to use in spiritous classic cocktails, vermouth has played pivotal role in the resurgence of low-ABV drinks. “Vermouth is a great tool in the bartender arsenal to use as a base for low-proof cocktails,” says Ezra Star, general manager of Drink in Boston. “Having more brands available gives us more options.”
So where to begin with all of the vermouth options out there? I reached out to a number of bartenders to gather their insights to help navigate the vermouth section of your local bottle shop, and to spotlight some of the essential brands in each category (plus ways to put them to use them cocktails).
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Categories: Wines, Beer, & Cocktails