The ultimate guide to vermouth

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

To give you a little more understanding of the drink, here’s our brief guide to vermouth… 

Have you noticed an influx of new aperitifs arriving in supermarkets and bars, each one touting their own unique flavouring ingredient and hoping to become the next big thing? We’ve tried a few of them and, although there are some decent options out there, none come close to the old ace in the aperitif pack: vermouth.  

 

What is vermouth? 

Vermouth is essentially a wine that has been fortified and flavoured with various botanicals.  

As with all wines it can be sweet or dry, red or white but, due to the addition of extra alcohol it has a higher ABV range of between 14.5% and 22%.  

 

What ingredients are used to flavour vermouth? 

As with gin there’s a long list of botanical ingredients that can be used to flavour vermouth, but there’s one that has to be included: wormwood.  

This innocent looking feathery-leaved favourite of gardeners has quite a boozy history to it, being also one of the main ingredients in absinthe (its Latin name, artemisia absinthium, gave rise to the drink’s name) and is held responsible for some of the side effects suffered by 19th century artists socialising in Paris (although these are more down to the strength of the booze than its low levels of dangerous chemicals).  

Other ingredients that have featured in vermouths include spices such as clove, cinnamon and ginger; flowers including chamomile, rose and lavender; fruits such as citrus peels and juniper berries; and a whole host of herbs including thyme, coriander and sage. 

 

Where did it originate? 

Germans had long been drinking wines flavoured with wormwood (the name vermouth comes from the German word for wormwood, vermut) but a sweet vermouth properly took off in Turin, Italy, in the late 18th century.  

At the turn of the century a Frenchman, Jospeh Noilly, developed a dry vermouth and, for a long time, vermouths came in the two styles: sweet red or dry white.  

These days there’s much more flexibility in what is considered a vermouth, so long as it includes wormwood, falls within the specified alcohol range and a minimum 75% of its contents must be wine. 

 

How is it best consumed? 

A good vermouth tastes great on its own as an aperitif. Chill it, pour over ice and add a slither of orange or lemon peel if you wish. You’ll be rewarded with a boozy, vinous drink that has the bitterness of wormwood and complexity of the other flavouring ingredients.  

It’s also an essential ingredient in numerous cocktails, including martinis (gin or vodka plus vermouth), manhattans (whisky, vermouth and bitters), negronis (gin, vermouth, Campari) and the lesser known Gibson (gin, vermouth and a pickled onion garnish). 

The next time you’re checking out funky new aperitifs looking for a summer sipping treat, make sure you give those vermouths due consideration first. 

 

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