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e all know that a martini contains vermouth, but when it comes to other high-end cocktails, how often do you think of vermouth? Probably not often. But you should. High-quality vermouth can be the unsung hero in many intriguing cocktails. It’s well worth adding to your home bar, and when you head to your favorite cocktail lounge, make a point of checking to see if they’re pouring quality vermouth.


Let’s take a look at why vermouth is such a welcome addition to cocktails and how to choose your vermouths and use them properly.


Why Is Vermouth Overlooked?


Vermouth has never stopped being popular in Europe, but in the United States, many people avoid it because they don’t really know what it is. It’s one of those odd alcoholic drinks, like bitters or grog, that everyone’s heard of, but no one really can explain.


Many people associate vermouth with martinis (thank you, Ian Fleming), but they’ve never experienced a martini with vermouth in it. Super-dry martinis, dirty martinis and other martini concoctions typically don’t use vermouth, and drinkers are often hesitant to experiment with new ingredients when they already know what they like.


In addition, far too many bars pour low-quality vermouth. If you’ve had a poorly made cocktail using a cheap vermouth, it’s not surprising that you may not have explored this intriguing drink further. A high-quality vermouth can make all the difference in a number of cocktails.


What is Vermouth, Anyway?


If you asked random people at a bar what vermouth actually is, some might say it’s a liqueur, some might think it’s a distilled spirit of some kind. Nope. Vermouth is a wine.


It’s more than just a plain wine, though. It’s an aromatized wine. This means that the winemakers have infused various flavors into it from seeds, roots, herbs, flowers and then spiked it, fortifying it with unaged brandy.


Each maker of vermouth starts with a very pure, well-balanced wine that features delicate or even neutral flavors. The next step is the creative one, in which the winemakers unleash their inventiveness to add anything from thistle or coriander to cinchona bark, rosemary or elderflowers.


Vermouth is native to southern France and Italy, but increasing numbers of intriguing vermouths are coming out of California. Each vermouth maker has at least one signature flavor, so choosing the right vermouth is key to creating amazing cocktails.


How to Use Vermouth in Cocktails


Traditionally, vermouth shows up as a star in three basic cocktails: The martini (2 parts vodka to 1 part dry vermouth), the Manhattan (3 parts bourbon to 1 part sweet vermouth, with a dash of bitters), and the Negroni (equal parts Campari, gin and sweet vermouth). But you can do so much more with vermouth.


Let’s pause a moment, though, to look at those ingredients again. Notice the distinction between sweet and dry vermouth. Dry vermouth, which traditionally comes from France, is always made with white wine, and has a fairly light body and little in the way of residual sugar. It’s less spicy and (not surprisingly) less sweet than its Italian counterpart, sweet vermouth. Sweet vermouth, which can be made with red or white wine, pours out with a caramel color, and it has not only residual sugar but also an edge of acidity and bitterness.


Choosing the right vermouth can make all the difference when you’re mixing a fine cocktail, but a great sweet vermouth can stand on its own as an aperitif. Just pour it over ice with a twist of orange and savor the many layers of flavor.


Other popular cocktails that sing when they include high-quality vermouth include the Boulevardier, in which the gin of a Negroni is replaced with bourbon or rye, and the Reverse Martini, also known as the Julia Child, which makes vermouth the star, mixing it in a 5-to-1 ratio with gin. (Why the “Julia Child”? It’s because it was the favorite drink of the famous chef, who knocked one back on her birthday and also while cooking.)


In the traditional Vermouth Cocktail, first invented in the late 1800s, vermouth is mixed with a dash of curaçao and a dash of Angostura bitters. Another popular (and powerful) cocktail, the Waldorf, mixes equal parts bourbon, absinthe and sweet vermouth.


In all these popular drinks, the quality of the vermouth makes all the difference. If you want to explore this incredibly versatile liquor, come on in as we that stock several quality vermouths, both sweet and dry, and we would love to pour you some samples and talk with you about this important cocktail component.