If you’re not a serious cocktail geek, you probably don’t give much thought to vermouth. (For the record, it’s a fortified wine flavored with wormwood and other botanicals, indispensable for cocktails like the Martini and Manhattan.) But beyond the couple brands you can find at any supermarket or corner store, there’s actually a whole universe of vermouths out there. Many of these are available only in their home countries in Europe, but that’s starting to change.
Thanks perhaps to the huge rise in popularity for sherry and the low-alcohol cocktail trend that inspired, vermouth seems to have hit a tipping point this year. 2015 saw the U.S. debut of a large number of great vermouths, some newly imported and some completely brand-new. Here are six brands to try.
Tempus Fugit Spirits specializes in importing or re-creating rare ingredients from the annals of cocktail history, from absinthe to obscure liqueurs. Its latest project is a pair of vermouths inspired by a 16th-century Italian chemist’s manual of herbal remedies. The Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso is a bit brighter and more citrusy, while the Vermouth Chinato has a bigger bitter punch, but both are excellent in any cocktail that calls for sweet vermouth.
MIRO VERMUT DE REUS
In Spain, especially in the northeastern Catalonia region, vermouth is sipped solo at lunch and before dinner. Miro is a prime example of this style, with a Rojo sweet vermouth that’s candy-sweet and velvety, delicious over ice and accompanied by olives, and an Extra Seco dry vermouth with lots of savory character that’s excellent chilled or in a 50/50 Martini.
LA QUINTINYE VERMOUTH ROYAL
The Cognac region in France is of course known for making brandy, but it’s also famous for Pineau des Charentes, a mix of fresh grape juice and unaged eau-de-vie that’s a popular aperitif in the area. La Quntinye infuses Pineau des Charentes (which is essentially a fortified wine) with traditional vermouth botanicals including wormwood, ginger and bitter orange to create really tasty cocktail vermouths with lovely floral notes in the background. There’s a Rouge, a Blanc and an Extra-Dry, all of which are perfect in any classic mixed drink.
Made since 1884 in Reus, the center of Catalonian vermouth production (and also the hometown of Miro, above), Yzaguirre is another classic Spanish-style vermouth. If you’re the kind of person who prefers a lemon twist to an olive in your Martini, its fruity and citrusy Blanco Reserva will come as something of a revelation. And if you want to start enjoying chilled sweet vermouth solo as a pre-meal aperitif, the rich Selecciôn 1884 is a great place to start.
Dissatisfied with the quality of vermouth coming out of his homeland, Italian bartender Giancarlo Mancino created his own brand in 2011, after spending years seeking out the right base wines from Emilia-Romagna and sourcing botanicals from around the world. The full line is lovely, but the sweet vermouths shine the most: The Rosso Amaranto is flavored with many of the same botanicals as amaro, for a lovely balance of bitter and sweet, while the Chinato has layers of red-wine complexity and bracing bitterness.
MARTINI RISERVA SPECIALE
Though you’ve been able to find Martini’s vermouths at any corner store for decades, the venerable Italian brand still pays attention to mixological trends. With fortified wines on the rise, Martini released its first new products in a quarter-century earlier this year, a pair of higher-end vermouths called Riserva Speciale made using traditional ingredients and methods. Three types of wormwood go into these bottlings, along with an array of other botanical extracts, all aged for two months in oak vats to mellow. True to their maker’s reputation, the Ambrato (dry) and Rubino (sweet) are excellent in cocktails, showing how much difference a high-quality vermouth can make.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM SOME BARTENDERS