Drinks

Vermouth 101: An Introductory Guide

Wonderful in cocktails, even better on its own
How to Drink Vermouth
Photo: MIMOHE/Getty Images

Vermouth may be best known as a critical component in the martini, but the hottest way to drink vermouth today is on its own. And thanks to the wide selection of high-quality vermouths with varying styles, flavors and complexities, every pour promises something exciting.

What Is Vermouth?

Vermouth is an aromatized wine with herbs, spices, barks, flowers, seeds, roots and other botanicals, fortified with distilled alcohol to keep it from spoiling as quickly. Believed to be one of the oldest forms of alcoholic libation, vermouth gets its name from wermut, the German word for wormwood. Traditionally, vermouth is classified as sweet (red) or dry (white), although more nuanced categories such as bianco, quinquina, American modern and black vermouth have come into popularity in recent years.

Because vermouth is a fortified wine prone to oxidation, store it in the refrigerator to keep it from spoiling.    

How to Drink Vermouth

Although vermouth is delicious in cocktails, it’s even better served on ice with a citrus twist to open the layers of complex, aromatic flavors. "Let what's in the glass speak for itself," Christopher Longoria, head bartender of San Francisco's 1760, says. "I enjoy vermouth on a king cube with some type of citrus twist—orange twists tend to complement the darker vermouths better, and lemon complements the lighter vermouths." Vermouth can also be served neat in a chilled glass or over frozen grapes (like the vermouth service at New York's Caffe Dante).

Recommended Vermouths for Sipping

Quality vermouths can be hard to find; you’ll likely need to visit to a cocktail-nerd-quality liquor store or a chat with a knowledgeable bartender at a cocktail-nerd-quality bar. In the meantime, here are six delicious vermouths perfect for sipping.

Emily Arden Wells is the cofounder of Gastronomista a website dedicated to the Culture of Drink. Follow her at @gastronomista_.

  • Cocchi Americano Rosa – Italy

    Consider this your gateway vermouth. It’s a less abrasive cousin to the Negroni: sweeter, lighter and significantly more aromatic, which makes it great for day drinking. Sip over ice with a grapefruit peel.

    astorwines.com, $18

  • Casa Mariol Vermut Negre - Spain

    Catalonia cult favorite Vermut Negre, a twist on a sweet vermouth, is a deep and brooding barrel-aged black vermouth. This vermouth is herbal and nutty with flavors of walnuts and baking spices, and drinks similar to sherry. Drink with a splash of soda water, a slice of orange and a green olive.

    drizly.com, $15

  • Priorat Natur Vermut – Spain

    This nutty vermouth pairs well with savory appetizers: charcuterie, cheeses, olives and Mallorca almonds. Enjoy neat or on ice with an orange peel.

    unwined.com, $25

  • Lo-Fi Aperitifs Sweet Vermouth – California

    Lo-Fi Aperitifs makes modern-style vermouths that are bursting with savory, fresh flavor. The brand’s sweet vermouth is complex and refreshing, with flavors of rhubarb, cocoa, cherry bark, vanilla and exotic spices.

    drizly.com, $23

  • La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Blanc – France

    Of the three vermouths produced by La Quintinye, there’s something simply magical about the blanc: It’s light and floral with flavors of orange blossom and anise, and has a brioche finish.  

    thewhiskyexchange.com, $22

  • Vermouth Perucchi Blanc – Spain

    Perrucchi, one of the first vermouths ever produced in Spain, continues to be a cult favorite. The blanc has a viscous mouthfeel and the unique flavors of ginger, chamomile, lemon and orange blossom. Serve on a king cube with an orange twist.

    drizly.com, $17  

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