Welcome back to Uncommon Pairings! Today, we’re playing with the rules a little bit by talking about vermouth. It’s not quite a wine, but it’s also definitely not a spirit. TBH, vermouth deserves its own category. (PS: If you’re not a vermouth person, consider a chilled red instead!)
Vermouth, like all other fortified wines, exists somewhere on the spectrum between pure liquor and table wine. It’s boozier than table wine, for sure (Dolin Dry clocks in at 16%). But when used on its own, or even as the star ingredient of a cocktail, it results in a lower-ABV bev than say, whiskey. However! Unlike its fortified cousins Port and Madeira, vermouth is also an aromatized wine. It’s got added smells! Spices, herbs, barks, and other things can be used to flavor vermouth. It’s kind of like a less boozy gin!
A (Very Quick) History
There’s a pretty rich history attached to vermouth. Before it was even called vermouth, our ancestors were drinking wine with spices and herbs for medicinal reasons. Some of those botanicals were tame, others were “flesh of vipers” (harder to come by in the grocery store these days!!). The vermouth we know and love today gets its name from the German word for wormwood, one of the additives historically used to flavor vermouth.
Today, we’re not really drinking vermouth for its purported medicinal benefits. Or at least, I’m not. That said, there are still a ton of things you can do with vermouth. You can drink it straight, over ice, and/or mixed with a little soda. My standard vermouth order is sweet red vermouth over ice with a little soda for bubbles, garnished with (at least) three olives. I learned recently it’s bad luck to have an even number of olives in a cocktail, so it’s either three or five for me.
Vermouth is also a pretty classic cocktail ingredient. Martinis, Boulevardiers, Manhattans… without vermouth, we wouldn’t have them! I think, at minimum, you should have two types of vermouth on hand for at-home cocktails: a sweet red and a dry white. These are the two classic vermouth styles, and having both means that you’ll be able to make both martinis and negronis. I hosted dinner recently and had these grand plans of Castelvetrano brine martinis (I think perhaps I’m drinking martinis for the brine and not the gin) but when a friend asked what they could bring, I made the mistake of not specifying what style of vermouth I wanted. We had negronis instead!
Nontraditional Vermouth Styles
Also! If you have infinite fridge space (because vermouth is a diva and simply needs to be stored in the fridge) there’s a whole world of vermouth outside of the two classic styles I mentioned. Rosé vermouth is so fun and extremely pretty! Sometimes it’s not made from rosé / skin-contact wine but rather a blend of red and white wines, but it’s still just as blush-toned and delicious. Some to try: the Lustau Rosé Vermouth ($15-20) or Vermú Rose Vermouth ($28)! Amber vermouth is also a thing, as is Vermouth di Torino.
If you prefer your drinks with less alcohol, you can also swap out an alcoholic vermouth for a nonalcoholic option. It’ll cut down the alcohol in a cocktail a tad — unless you’re drinking pure vermouth, in which case you’ll be left with a mocktail. Which is also good, just different! Roots Divino ($39) makes some alcohol-removed vermouth (and yes, it includes wormwood!) as does Lyre’s ($36).