Vermouth is back, baby. Well, it’s less that vermouth ever went away (the stuff has deep roots, stretching back to 16th-century Germany) and more that it’s the liquid Lizzo—most folks are only just getting around to its greatness. Once sidelined as a bit player in martinis and Manhattans, vermouth has become a marquee name thanks to the rise of low-ABV drinking and aperitif-style cocktails like the Aperol spritz.
“Vermouth is the ultimate beverage,” says Gilles Lapalus, who cowrote The Book of Vermouth with Shaun Byrne. “You can use it in cocktails to bring down the alcohol level and push up the aromatics, or on its own as an aperitif or digestif. And we don’t talk enough about the medicinal virtues of the botanicals in vermouth—it’s like tea with spirit.”
Actually, vermouth is more like vino than spirit. It starts with a fortified wine base (traditionally white for dry vermouth, red for sweet) and is aromatized with spices, seeds, herbs, barks, and other natural flavorings. It’s that customizable blend of botanicals that gives vermouth great variety and versatility—enjoy it neat, over ice with a twist, or spritzed with soda water like the Italians do. “If you want to get a little fancy, you could do what I did last summer: I had a glut of strawberries in my garden, so I put some into a bottle of Maidenii Sweet Vermouth and left it there for a week,” says Byrne, who also wrote All Day Cocktails: Low (and No) Alcohol Magic. “I took the strawberries out and drank the vermouth with tonic water and a splash of verjus [a pressed juice of unripened grapes]. It was summer in a cup.”
Like wine, vermouth is great with food; opt for extra-dry varieties to balance salty bar snacks, and sweet ones to match chocolaty desserts after dinner, says Lapalus. The martini mainstay is also great for cooking—dry vermouth can easily substitute for white wine in most recipes. But best of all, vermouth’s low-proof qualities (it taps out around 18 percent alcohol) mean you can have all the fun without the hangover. Cheers to that!
3 To Try
Get versed in vermouth with bottle selections from Shaun Byrne and Gilles Lapalus.
1. The French Beginner
Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery
This is a great entry-level dry vermouth with delicate botanical influence and a subtle salty finish. It’s perfect for martinis.
2. The Aussie All-Rounder
Maidenii Classic Vermouth
Based with Syrah grapes, this Melbourne-made variety is a medium-dry, all-purpose vermouth, so it’s suitable for both sweet and dry vermouth cocktails.
3. The Italian Classic
Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino
Cocchi has been making vermouth since the 1800s and, boy, are they good at it. This sweet vermouth uses Moscato grapes and is rich and well-balanced. Pro tip? Dash it in a dark-spirit cocktail.