What's in Vermouth?

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Anyone who has ever ordered a martini has heard of it, but some wonder, what is Vermouth and what's in it?

What Is Vermouth's Connection With Wine

You may be wondering, if Vermouth goes in cocktails like martinis, what exactly does it have to do with wine? Well, in an effort to relieve the poor souls of this burning question, here's the answer: Vermouth is fortified wine.

Fortifying the Wine

If you ask any wine enthusiast about fortified wine, their first thoughts always go to Port. It's true, Port is a fortified wine (and a delicious one at that). Think of Vermouth as sort of a distant cousin. Vermouth starts out as white wine. The Vermouth distillers then marry it with another spirit for fortification, most commonly brandy. Finally, the Vermouth distillers add a few choice herbs and spices. These vary by label, but here are some common spice additions:

  • Cardamom
  • Juniper
  • Cloves
  • Nutmeg
  • Coriander
  • Chamomile
  • Cinnamon
  • Sage

In the early days of Vermouth making, wormwood, an aromatic herb, was a must for traditional Vermouth. Since the discovery of the fact that wormwood is poisonous, Vermouth makers had to revamp the recipe. After all, the story goes that the inspiration for Vermouth is from Absinthe, and the main ingredient in Absinthe is wormwood.

Moving on to the continuing answer to what is Vermouth, let's begin by exploring the three different types of Vermouth.

Different Types of Vermouth

Here are the brief and simple explanations for the three different types of Vermouth.

Extra Dry Vermouth

This Vermouth is what you use when making cocktails like Manhattans and Martinis. Dry Vermouth is white, typically pretty bitter (probably because it's unsweetened) and has an alcohol content of around 16 to 18 percent.

Dry Vermouth

You really don't see just plain dry Vermouth very often, but it is similar and flavor and aromatics to extra dry Vermouth, but just not as, well…dry.

Sweet Vermouth

Vermouth crafters distill sweet Vermouth much in the same way as the dry version, with one addition to the recipe, which is simple syrup. You make simple syrup by boiling down water and sugar. This addition keeps the bitter flavors of Vermouth to a minimum, therefore, making it a little sweeter. Don't get confused though, even though its label reads "sweet", it is not sweet like Port. It still holds onto to a bit of the distinct bitterness that defines Vermouth's flavor. Some people enjoy sweet Vermouth as an aperitif.

Now that you have the answer to the question of what is Vermouth, you may be wondering about the names of specific Vermouth bottles. If you should decide to run out to your local wine store or even grocery store, read on to get a short list of the more popular Vermouth labels.

Vermouth Brands

Here are some major brands of the different types of Vermouth on the market:

Dry and Extra Dry Vermouth

  • Noilly Prat
  • Dubonnet
  • Cinzano Dry
  • Gallo

Sweet Vermouth

  • Cinzano Sweet
  • Quady Vya
  • Martini and Rossi

Through no fault of its own, Vermouth has gotten a bad rap over the years. Some say that the rise in popularity of the Martini helped Vermouth bottles fly off the shelves. But the resurgence in the Martini's popularity also was what gave the fortified wine a bad rap. Many began ordering Martinis without the Vermouth, treating it as though it isn't good enough to be in the same glass as a Martini.

Do not believe the hype of this negative campaign against Vermouth, the next time you order a Martini (not a new fangled blue or pink one one, a classic one). Do yourself a favor and let the barkeep pour the Vermouth.

What's in Vermouth?