Vermouth is underrated. People compete to see how little of it they can put in a martini. And only old ladies drink the stuff by itself, right? Wrong. Take a few sips of cold, quality vermouth, and it's easy to see why these underappreciated fortified wines infused with aromatics make a great kick-off to cocktail hour.
Here are a few of our favorites, all distilled domestically. Don't be shy with them in a cocktail—a twist on a Negroni or a classic martini—but, really, the good stuff tastes great on ice where you can really appreciate all its bright, herbaceous flavors and gentle waves of bitterness.
Made from Long Island chardonnay and fortified with apple brandy, Atsby's vermouths ($33 each) come in two varieties: Amberthorn, a drier, blond number and a deep, caramel-colored elixir with the appealing name, Armadillo Cake.
Ransom Dry Vermouth
If you've never had a vermouth and tonic, you've been missing out on a bracing, refreshing drink that won't put you into a premature stupor. Try one (or three!) made with Tad Seestadt's wonderfully aromatic vermouth ($30), which has notes of wormwood, rosehip and lemon verbena.
Napa winemaker Dan Petroski makes a fine, supremely herbaceous vermouth ($33) that tastes like a stroll through piney Northern California. Production is very small—if you see a bottle, buy it.
Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth
This dry, bittersweet vermouth ($27) is made from a base of Oregon-grown pinot gris. It's floral and gently citrus, ideal for pouring over big ice cubes and enjoying on its own.
New York-based Bianca Miraglia makes beautiful, complex vermouths from foraged, local ingredients. Until her shop opens in Brooklyn, you can head to Red Hook Winery (which provides the base for these seasonal infusions) for a sip of delicately flavored wild raspberry vermouth, or serrano chile-lavender.