Why is everyone suddenly drinking vermouth?

The star of a thousand cocktails, vermouth is a versatile aperitif that truly shines when sipped on its own.

By Zane Henry
Published 30 Sept 2019, 17:00 BST
Photograph by Alamy

So, vermouth? I’ve seen that on cocktail menus.
Certainly, there’s a constellation of cocktails in which vermouth plays the starring role. Yes, it embellishes a martini, completes a manhattan and gives a negroni its strut. But it’s much more than a fusty old bottle to be dug out from the back of the drinks cabinet at cocktail time. It’s an aperitif with depth and versatility, one that rewards being drunk neat or as a long, refreshing drink with soda water and a lemon wedge.

Sounds great. But what is it?
A fortified, aromatised wine. Fortified wines are essentially turbo-charged with a grape spirit such as brandy, while aromatised means flavoured with botanicals and spices. Vermouths can be either dry (like many French varieties) or sweet (Italian style), and almost all of them start out as white wine, with the sweet, red varieties flavoured and coloured with caramel. You’ll also find gentian, quinine, juniper, marjoram and coriander in there, depending on the proprietary recipe for particular brands.

So where do I start?
As cocktail culture has continued to boom, vermouth’s star has risen commensurately. The majority of well-known vermouths are from France and Italy. Examples include Dolin and Noilly Prat, both excellent dry French vermouths for sipping neat or in martinis. If you’re looking for a really good Italian bottle, try Antica Formula, which has a rich, almost chocolatey taste.

Anything closer to home?
A small number of British vermouths have begun production. North London distillery Sacred Spirits makes a punchy red vermouth that goes hard on the spices and is perfect for a post-dinner tipple. Blackdown Silver Birch vermouth is an elegant, floral drink made from the sap of the silver birch trees fringing the distillery in West Sussex. You could even make your own vermouth at home with leftover wine, seasonal botanicals and a splash of brandy. Don’t forget to refrigerate after opening.
Or you could just drink it quickly and liberally.

Where to try it

La Vermuteria del Tano, Barcelona
This unassuming bar serves vermouth alongside plates of cuttlefish and anchovies.

Mele e Pere, London
This place produce its own homemade vermouth, as well as serving a massive selection of European varieties.

Moonshiner, Paris
Set up behind a pizza parlour in Roquette and accessed through a meat locker, this speakeasy serves arguably the best wet martini in Paris.

Published in Issue 6 of National Geographic Traveller Food. 

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