Vermouth is having a moment. Not just because it’s finally found its rightful place once again as an important, thoughtfully considered component of cocktails — when was the last time you were at a proper cocktail establishment and the mixological genius behind the bar added some mass-produced vermouth from an old, dusty bottle to your Manhattan or Martini? — but also as a worthy drink in its own right.
“Vermouth has increasingly been featured on its own,” notes mixologist Jonathan Pogash, founder of the beverage consulting company The Cocktail Guru. “I attribute it to the low-ABV trend that many are adhering to. It allows you to drink more without feeling as much of the effect of the alcohol.”
Courtney Lane, Noilly Prat brand specialist and bartender at Employees Only Miami, 27 Restaurant & Lounge, and Broken Shaker, explains that the growth of aperitif culture spreading from Europe has American sippers looking for new beverages to try. Vermouth, for its array of uses and distinctive flavor profile, has answered the call, especially with the right accompaniments.
“Vermouth is very versatile. But in order to enjoy its uniquely aromatic flavor, there is no doubt that it’s over ice with a citrus zest,” she says.
Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW, president of International Wine Center, echoes these sentiments, noting that one of her most enduring memories was that of vermouth, walking into a vermouth cantina in Piedmont and inhaling the scent of herbs and botanicals being infused in red wine for the production of vermouth. Now, she says, she drinks it Italian style.
“When I drink vermouth, it is with ice and a lemon slice only or sometimes with sparkling water. That’s how I learned to drink vermouth in Italy, and so to me, that’s not a trend but a classic drink. I prefer red vermouth because I perceive it to be slightly drier than white,” she says.
According to Pogash, a vermouth and tonic or vermouth and soda is “incredibly simple and mostly foolproof to make,” which is important to home bartenders who want to whip up an impressive, deceptively simple drink without too much effort. This, of course, has been made even easier with high-quality mixing components available at supermarkets across the country.
“The rise of craft mixer brands like Q and Fever-Tree have also contributed to this trend.” And, he adds, “Vermouth is a food-friendly beverage — it awakens taste buds and pairs exceptionally well with most dishes,” he says.
Mark Ward of Regal Rogue Australian Vermouth, agrees that great vermouth can be enjoyed on its own, as well as in a more baroque drink. “We have been promoting Regal Rogue as ‘The World’s Quaffing Vermouth’ since 2011, so we are definitely champions of this trend toward vermouth served over ice, with a mixer or in a vermouth-forward cocktail,” he explains. Regal Rogue, which is crafted from Australian wine and native Australian botanicals, is particularly well-suited to being enjoyed on its own: Each of the four expressions offers a unique sense of complexity that doesn’t just amp up cocktails, but that more than stands up on its own.
Enjoying vermouth in this manner has been traditional in France, Italy, and Spain for generations, but in the United States, it wasn’t generally possible until fairly recently as a result of the perception of vermouth as primarily for use in cocktails, and of the poor storage of bottles, which led many American consumers to have less than desirable experiences with it. These days, as the quality of vermouth has improved — and as more bars are storing it properly, and going through their stock more quickly, which means fresher vermouth — it has regained much of its rightful place in the cocktail pantheon. And now, American consumers find themselves with a massive variety to choose from.
“Nearly all craft vermouths now use celebrated wines, wine styles or producers with unique botanicals, and adopt a more natural production process. When you add all of these components together, you get a very different style of vermouth to anything mass produced,” says Ward.
He explains that by looking at the evolution of vermouth through the lens of other categories, there is a realization that vermouth is evolving to match these styles. Even some of the larger vermouth brands have begun marketing and selling expressions outside of their more famous ones. Martini & Rossi, for example, has garnered well-deserved attention with their Riserva Speciale Rubino and Riserva Speciale Ambrato bottlings. And Carpano Antica Formula, which for years seemed to primarily be mixologists’ secret weapon in crafting epic Manhattans, has broken into the world of home bartenders, too. Even once-niche brands like Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and more widely known ones like Dolin and Noilly Prat have seen their star shine more brightly.
Spanish vermouth, too, has recently had a star turn — and justifiably so. Excellent ones like La Pivon, Turmeon, Yzaguirre, and more are phenomenal on their own or with a bit of fizzy water.
And, Pogash pointed out that “the U.S. has become a trailblazer when it comes to vermouths. Atsby, Imbue, and Vya are just a few that draw their inspiration from the classic French and Italian vermouths, but are made right here in the U.S.,” he says.
Regardless, Ward explains that Vermouth’s rise in general has been a long time coming and well-deserved.
“In time, I hope bartenders and consumers are choosing their vermouth like they would a glass of wine, beer or spirit style — a style for each occasion,” he says.