What Bartenders Should Know about Vermouth

By Ray Foley

As a bartender, you will probably be asked to use vermouth in drink recipes. Vermouth originated in the 18th century, when wine growers in the foothills of the French and Italian Alps developed a method of enhancing the taste of sour or uncompromising wines with the infusion of a variety of sweeteners, spices, herbs, roots, seeds, flowers, and peels.

Just a few of the herbs and spices used to flavor and aromatize the wine include cloves, bitter orange peel, nutmeg, gentian, camomile, and wormwood, which in German is wermut, from which vermouth got its name. After it’s flavored, the wine is clarified, pasteurized, and fortified to an alcoholic content of about 18 percent — close to that of sherry.

The standard classification of vermouth is white/dry and red/sweet, but exceptions do exist, including a half-sweet variety known as rosé. And though most dry vermouths are considered French and sweet vermouths are considered Italian, both types are produced in France and Italy, as well as throughout the world, including in the United States.

Vermouth is an ingredient in many cocktails, and you should take as much care and time in selecting a good vermouth as you do other liquor to pour at the bar. Choose the brand of vermouth that tastes best to you — crisp and light, not too heavy or burnt. Check out the following list of popular brands:

  • Boissiere

  • Cinzano

  • Martini & Rossi

  • Noilly Prat

  • Stock