Vermouth is a classic cocktail ingredient that has dipped in and out of popularity. It is the backbone of the Martini and the Manhattan and is once again gaining popularity with mixologists around the country. Below is why you shouldn’t let this versatile spirit gather dust on the bar cart and how you can use vermouth in cocktails.
What is Vermouth?
What may be considered and used as a liqueur is actually a wine. Vermouth, a key ingredient in so many classic pre-prohibition cocktails, is a fortified wine flavored with botanicals. Italian law stipulates that vermouth must consist of a minimum of 75% wine, fortified and flavored with an infusion of herbs and spices, including artemisia, or mugwort. In fact, vermouth shouldn’t be regulated to the bar cart at all after opening. While it is slightly more shelf stable than wine, vermouth is still wine-based and susceptible to rot. The flavors and range of vermouth vary based on the botanicals used, which is also why there are sweet and dry variations of vermouth.
Dry Vermouth vs. Sweet Vermouth
Vermouth is generally defined by two primary varieties: sweet and dry. The luscious and sweet red (also known as rosso) vermouth originated in Italy and is used in cocktails such as the Negroni and the Manhattan. The herbal dry vermouth, first crafted in France, features wormwood and is used in Martinis. All dry vermouth is white, but blanco vermouth (a third variety) is known to be slightly sweeter than traditional dry vermouth.
The Return of Vermouth
Up until the mid 2010s, vermouth had been on a decline, with the herbal spirit being disregarded as an aperitif, and overlooked as a cocktail ingredient. It was seen as stuffy, finicky, and too niche of an ingredient to have on hand for cocktails. Then the craft cocktail boom came along and with it a nostalgia and appreciation for the spirits and recipes of old. Vermouth and all its botanical subtleties are once again making an appearance on cocktail menus.
If you want to make classic pre-prohibition cocktails, vermouth is a must-have. Not only is vermouth a key ingredient in Martinis, Manhattans, and Negronis, but it is a bold choice for mixologists looking to add nuance to cocktails. For sweeter and fruitier cocktails, use red vermouth. For herbal concoctions, use dry vermouth.
This original Magnus cocktail recipe balances rich bourbon with sweet red vermouth. Similar to a Negroni, but adjusted for bourbon, the Bourbon Ribbon is a fresh way to approach vermouth.
- 1 oz Joseph Magnus Bourbon
- .75 oz sweet vermouth
- .75 oz Thatcher’s Organic Blood Orange Liqueur
- .75 oz cranberry juice, freshly squeezed
- Orange peel, garnish
Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
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