Focus On: Vermouth

What is vermouth? Wine + Spirit + Sugar + Botanicals There are three traditional categories of vermouth: Dry, White and Red To qualify as vermouth, wine must be flavoured with wormwood. Vermouth is characterful and refreshing – drink it as the Italians do, on its own with ice and lemon peel, or mixed with soda or tonic
Vermouth must contain at least 75% wine and be fortified to between 14.5% and 22% ABV Modern producers are adding many new styles to the vermouth category: rosé is becoming a particular favourite Vermouth is a type of aromatised wine, drinks that have been around for millennia, but it became a distinct entity in the 18th century The herbs in vermouth are great at stimulating your appetite – it's a great pre-dinner drink, either on its own or in cocktails
Graphic showing the different flavours found in the 4 styles of Vermouth
Wine waiting in barrels to be made into vermouth
Wine waiting in barrels to be made into vermouth

How is it made?

There are strict rules governing what can and cannot be considered a vermouth. Wine is carefully selected to form the foundation of the vermouth – bianco, rosé or rosso – before being fortified by the addition of more alcohol to between 14.5 and 22% ABV. The mix is then sweetened with either caramelised sugar, sucrose or grape must before botanicals are added to give the vermouth its signature flavour profile. Recipes vary, but vermouth must be flavoured with wormwood – indeed, the name itself comes from the German for wormwood: wermut.

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Wormwood used to flavour vermouth
Sampling new vermouth to check if it's ready
Vineyard growing grapes destined to become vermouth

Who makes it?

An increasing number of people. No longer dominated by Italy, France and their respective powerhouses Martini and Noilly Prat, wermut has spread its seeds worldwide. Rising popularity across Europe has seen a plethora of producers spring up – Belsazar in Germany, Vermood in Greece and Sacred in the UK to name a few – though traditionalists might argue that vermouth is still dominated by its two original styles: dry French and sweeter Italian.

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Vineyard growing grapes destined to become vermouth
Vermouth is a classic cocktail ingredient
Vermouth is a classic cocktail ingredient

How to serve it

Too often seen solely as an ingredient, vermouth is more versatile than you might imagine. Many vermouths are delightful served alone as an aperitif on ice, with a twist of citrus zest – and if you're looking to examine a particular vermouth's individual character, then this is certainly the way to do it. It's impossible to ignore this drink's unique cocktail credentials, though: vermouth is the backbone to an extensive array of old-world concoctions, everything from the clean and classic Martini to the refreshing and complex Negroni.

Cocktails

A dry vermouth cocktail