Vermouth is commonly listed in popular cocktail recipes, but what exactly is this mystery ingredient? It is an aromatized fortified wine flavored with various botanicals such as: roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs and spices. Starting with a base of neutral low-alcohol grape wine, each manufacturer adds additional alcohol and a propriety mixture of dry botanicals. The vermouth is then sweetened with either cane sugar or caramelized sugar, depending on the style. The two prominent types of vermouth are the sweet, red “rosso” from Italy, and the dry, pale vermouth from France.
Originally used as a medicinal liquor containing wormwood to heal stomach disorders, vermouth became popular in the late 18th century as an aperitif served before meals. Locals and jet-setters alike flocked to stylish cafes in Italy and France for the drink. With the creation of the modern cocktail in the late 19th century, bartenders found that vermouth was an ideal mixer in classics such as the Martini (1860s) and the Manhattan (1874). The popular Vermouth cocktail also appeared in 1869, consisting of chilled vermouth, a dash of bitters, and a twist of lemon. Vermouth experienced a decline post -WWII, but became popular again in the 1950s in America by marketing the Martini. Celebrity endorsements from Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart relaunched the cocktail, and James Bond’s drink order became famous: “shaken not stirred.”
With the vintage cocktail movement in full swing, vermouth is once again a star. It can be added to a variety of classic drinks, or enjoyed simply on the rocks. Other countries, including the U.S., have delved into vermouth production, but our favorites have traditional European roots:
- The Italian Carpano family’s Punt e Mes is a deep red vermouth with sweet and bitter flavors. The company also produces the Antica formula brand, which is a bitter, fuller-flavored version.
- The Cinzano family began production in 1757 in Turin. Their Bianco product is a sweet, pale vermouth. Other offerings from Cinzano include a sweet Rouge and pale Extra Dry.
- Martini & Rossi, the top-selling international brand of vermouth, started in 1863 in Turin. The company produces both dry and sweet vermouths, but is most known for its Rosso.Cinzano and Martini & Rossi also produce rosé varieties, mainly distributed in Italy and France.
- Founded in 1813, Noilly Prat is based in the South of France and is primarily known for its dry, pale vermouths, but also produces a sweeter version. Dolin is another quality French manufacturer that produces popular light vermouths.
Our Wine, Spirits & Beer Director, Mark, shared his favorite way to enjoy vermouth in this Half & Half Cocktail.
HALF & HALF
Mollie Stone’s Markets Original Recipe
Makes 1 drink
- 4 oz. Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
- 4 oz. Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
- Fever-Tree Club Soda
Add 6-8 ice cubes to a 16 ounce tumbler. Pour in each vermouth, top off with club soda. Garnish with lemon twist.
Warning: This drink may be stronger than it appears, limit to 1-2.
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