Vermouth is an elixir with ancient origins, deeply rooted in the history of spirits Made in Italy. It is categorized as an aromatized fortified wine due to its main ingredients: wine and botanicals. With its varying alcohol content, found between 15.5% and 22%, this spirit is ideal for aperitifs and can be enjoyed both straight and mixed into fragrant cocktails.
Join us on a journey to discovering the origins of Vermouth, its traditional recipe, and a selection of celebrated cocktails that include this fragrant elixir.
The custom of steeping wine with bitter-flavored blends had gained popularity dating as far back as ancient Greece, however, the origins of Vermouth lie entirely in the Italian peninsula. It was in 1786 at a liquor production workshop in Torino when Adriano Benedetto Carpano first experimented with a recipe that added an infusion of 40 herbs and spices to a local Muscat wine. This new and flavorful recipe was an instant success, becoming the official drink of the royal court of the Savoy monarchy and making Adriano’s liquor shop the most popular in all the city.
From that moment a revolution began, guided by a group of Vermouth masters who set out to conquer the world. It would be Martini, the future multinational alcoholic beverage company Martini & Rossi, to bring world fame to Vermouth thanks to its marketing strategies and Martini terraces, hot spots for the elite of Paris, Milan, Barcelona, London and San Paolo during the 50s and 60s.
With a bit of good fortune Vermouth is now enjoyed around the world, but its origins will always be Italian, just like its recipe. Vermouth is ¾ Italian white wine, a wine delicate enough to not cover the flavors of the other ingredients such as alcohol, sugar and the herb and spice infusion that characterizes this flavorful elixir. The infusion’s main herb is artemisia absinthium, more commonly known as absinthe or wormwood. The drink’s name, in fact, comes from the French pronunciation of the German word for wormwood, Wermuth. In addition to wormwood, a Vermouth infusion may include a variety of spices, natural aromas, fruit, and herbs such as lemon balm, chamomile, angelica, cinchona, orange peel, cinnamon, thyme, saffron, bay leaf and elderberry. The infusion mix varies according to the desired taste, but Vermouth’s lavishness resides in the knowledge of understanding the exact quantities of the various combinations.
There are different variations of Vermouth according to the level of sugar and alcohol content. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the colour that distinguishes one Vermouth from another.
Extra Dry Vermouth contains less than 1 ounce of sugar per liter, has a 15% alcohol content, and is characterized by a dry and aromatic taste. Dry Vermouth is slightly sweeter with 1.7 ounces of sugar per liter and a 16% alcohol content. There are also semi-dry and semi-sweet versions of Vermouth with approximately 2.5 oz. and 3.5 oz. of sugar per liter respectively.
The sweetest variation is of course Sweet Vermouth which contains 4.5 oz. of sugar per liter and generally has a 14.5% alcohol content. This sweet variation can be found in three sub-variations: white, rosé, and red. While it is possible that Red Vermouth can be produced with red wine, nowadays it is common practice to add natural caramel to white wine in order to achieve the traditional red color.
A pride and joy of the Italian nation is the Torino IG Vermouth. The IG regulated designation was enacted in 2017 to identify this traditional Italian excellence defined by a stern, bitter taste with decisive herbal notes.
This geographical designation imposes the exclusive use of Italian wines, amongst which the Trebbiano from the Romagna and Abruzzo regions or in the case of Vermouth di Torino Superiore, a selection of fine wines from the Piemonte region. The IG designation does not only limit the choice of wine, but it also extends to the choice of woodworm herb, which must originate from the Piemonte region. In the case of Vermouth di Torino Superiore, the entire herbal infusion must originate from Piemonte or at most from the Italian peninsula.
Approaching the world of Vermouth is an exciting journey to discovering new tastes, and the best way to do so is by trying your hand at some of the most iconic cocktails in history.
First of all, cocktails with Dry Vermouth. The world-famous Martini Cocktail, also called a Dry Martini, was a favorite of one particular Harry’s Bar patron, Ernest Hemingway, whose personal version was called a Montgomery. Another famous Dry Vermouth cocktail is the Vodka Martini, or Vodkatini, shaken and not stirred as James Bond would say.
Subsequently, we have celebrated Red Vermouth cocktails such as the Negroni, a timeless icon made with Bitter liqueur and Gin; the Americano, also called a Milano-Torino as it is made with Bitter liqueur and club soda; and the Manhattan, conceived by the imaginative mind of Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s mother, made by mixing Vermouth with Whisky and a dash of Angostura.
Everything you need to know about the origins of one of the most famous spirits in the world, especially as a base for mixology classics.
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