Vermouth is type of fortified wine with added hints of various herbs and spices. It’s a common ingredient in many cocktails, the most well-known being the martini.
Vermouth is often under-appreciated, largely because old bottles of Martini & Rossi are all you will find in most home liquor cabinets. This is the most readily-available brand in the U.S. While their dry vermouth is passable, I find their sweet vermouth overly medicinal and a quick way to ruin a drink. Let’s consider some better options.
If you mention vermouth to a non-bartender, they will most likely think of dry vermouth. Dry vermouth (sometimes called “French vermouth”) is light in color, often with a hint of yellow.
My go-to dry vermouth is Dolin dry. There are also several aperitif wines that are not technically vermouth, but are fairly similar, such as Cocchi Americano. These can be used in place of a dry vermouth in many cocktails.
While needed for many drinks, including the quintessential martini, I find this to be the least interesting type of vermouth.
This is the vermouth I use most frequently. Also called “Rosso”, “Rouge”, or “Italian vermouth”, sweet vermouth is reddish in color and sweeter tasting than dry vermouths. he best-known sweet vermouth drink is the manhattan.
My favorite is Carpano Antica Formula, followed by Cocchi di Torino, then Dolin Rouge. Carpano Antica is a bit bold (and a bit pricey), with strong spicy notes and rich complex flavor. Some would say this makes it too strong for balancing with lighter spirits like gin — I don’t necessarily find this to be the case, but Cocchi is probably the most versatile of the three.
A less common type of vermouth is “blanc” or “bianco”. Blanc vermouth is clear in color, but sweeter in flavor than a dry vermouth. These are delicious and I find the flavor in some ways reminiscent of Sherry.
I recommend Dolin Blanc.
If you want to find out more, here is a more detailed breakdown of vermouth types.
Vermouth is made from wine, so it goes bad! Once you’ve opened a bottle, store it in your fridge. It will be good there for about three months.
If you’re unsure, taste a little. If it tastes bad, it’s bad. If you have an old dusty bottle on your shelf, throw it away.
Once you have some fresh, high quality vermouth, try out a French Kiss