When young bartenders start to train, they know vermouth as the two dusty bottles that live on the end of a rack or a shelf. One’s for martinis, and one’s for Manhattans, and if you’re in a bar that doesn’t serve much of either, that vermouth will have a very long lifespan.
That’s a shame, because, as we’ve written before, vermouth’s got much more to offer than its obligatory supporting role in the martini (or Manhattan.) Vermouth takes its name from the German word for wormwood, which was historically a part of the recipe used for vermouth. Both sweet and dry vermouth are made with a wine base, and are fortified with additional alcohol, as well as aromatics like herbs, roots, and spices. Both varieties of the fortified wine are complex tipples that have outlasted more cocktail trends than any bar you can name. Sweet or dry vermouth can be enjoyed on the rocks, in a tall glass with soda, or as mixer playing an important role in any number of cocktails. (We’ve selected a few for you underneath.)
If you want to get serious about vermouth, I’d suggest you try a few brands outside the ubiquitous Martini & Rossi label — their stuff is good, but again, ubiquitous. Most other labels specialize in either sweet or dry vermouth. Noilly Prat makes a prototypical dry (and has been reviewed on this site recently.) Punt e Mes is a well-known sweet option. And Cinzano makes good sweet and dry options.
Since vermouth is fairly weak as compared to other spirits, buying a few extra bottles to play around with shouldn’t set you back too much. Whatever you end up buying, enjoy a couple of these cocktails, and let us know if you’ve found a new favorite vermouth in the comments. (Also: dry vermouth can stand in for white wine in most recipes while you’re cooking.)