What is Vermouth?

Continuing with our studying of liqueurs for the month of August, this week’s pick is a classic ingredient in many classic cocktails- Vermouth. You can’t make a Martini without it! It’s one of those liqueurs that’s very earthy and tastes herby from the use various types of botanicals during the distillation process.

While only two types of Vermouth existed upon its creation, nowadays we have many more. Let’s begin with the definition of what exactly makes Vermouth, Vermouth.



Believe it or not Vermouth is actually a type of wine. It’s distilled from wine grapes, the list is long but the main ones include including Clairette blanche, Piquepoul, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Catarratto and Trebbiano. A low ABV white wine is the base ingredient, then manufacturers add the herbs and an additional spirit, that’s what gives it’s ABV a boost. Each type is made differently so let us explain.

Dry Vermouth- The name is not a pun, this is the kind of vermouth where nothing is added. Not even sugar! It’s herbaceous, tart, and floral. It’s clear and pairs best with Gin, Vodka, and in some cases Tequila. It’s what makes a Classic Martini a classic, and originates from France.

Sweet Vermouth- Originally, this vermouth was made from red wine grapes and so it gave it the sweeter taste notes. Nowadays, it’s made with white wine and fortified with aged brandy, sweeter additions like syrups or cinnamon and other ingredients give it 15% of sugar. This is the vermouth that is in a Manhattan and differentiates it from a Martini. The Italians are to be credited with the production of sweet vermouths. 

Blanc Vermouth- Just because White Vermouth isn’t sweetened doesn’t mean it can’t be- Blanc vermouth is both white and sweet. It’s somewhere in the middle of the previous two and has its own variations. While it can be light floral or herbal, some brands sweeten it with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. When it’s made with both red and white grapes it makes a semi-dry rose vermouth. This vermouth is such a pleasant combo, it’s typically better enjoyed with just some sparkling water. 

There are tons of other versions of vermouth from gold to rose and France’s very own Chambéryzette. Lillet, St. Raphael, and Dubonnet are also fortified wines similar to vermouth, but considered and sold as separate products. 

The word “vermouth” is actually the French pronunciation of the German word, “wermut” which actually translates to Wormwood, one of the original ingredients of vermouth and the main ingredient in absinthe. So, typically yes you could say Vermouth is Wormwood wine. Now that you’re privy to its definition, let’s move on to the history.

A Brief History:

Given that wine production began in the Old World in France and Italy, its logical that Vermouth’s origins also reach that far back. As you know from our What Is Absinthe article, wormwood was used a main ingredient for many medicines from ancient China to India and eventually Europe. 

It was around the 16th century that an Italian merchant named D'Alessio thought of using wormwood for fun rather than healing. It exploded in popularity fairly quickly and by the 17th-century it was already being consumed through most of Europe, even making its way to England. 

The sweeter cousin of the popular vermouth was invented by yet another Italian merchant (geez these guys are efficient!) Antonio Benedetto Carpano, it was 1786 in Turin, Italy when he presented it to the city’s court. 

The years that followed into the 1800’s saw the birth of a dryer pale vermouth, this was when France decided to step in. Sometime in between 1800 and 1813, Joseph Noilly produced the first pale, dry vermouth in France. 

The production of both variations ended the use of vermouth as a medicine and gave it the title of an aperitivo drink. It was around the 1860’s that bartenders began using it in cocktails and the Classic Martini was born. The Manhattan followed in 1874 and it was during those decades that the double dose of vermouth in America became a common practice. 

The popularity took a decline during the early 1900’s and it wasn’t until Mr. Cool Guy Ernest Hemingway and Hollywood sensation Humphrey Bogart decided Martinis were in and therefore so was vermouth. However, what really cannoned it back into popularity was the use (or abuse) of vermouth in the James Bond novels and movies. 

Nowadays, it’s a staple in any bar and classic cocktails outside the Manhattan and Martini. Just to name a few.. Negroni, Gibson, Adonis, Americano, Bronx, and the Flying Dutchman. The list is extensive! In Europe, it is still enjoyed as an aperitif.

Random Fact:

Spirits commonly added to vermouth have a long shelf life, wines need to be consumed soon after opening, so where does that leave vermouth? In the middle. Keep it in the fridge for long lasting flavor and extended life span.

Should it get to a point where it’s just too late do not throw it away- it can be used for cooking! Just remember the flavor profiles by the type and it will most certainly bring a stronger flavor than cooking wine. 

What are some of your favorite uses for Vermouth? Have you tried gold or rose? Let us know in the comments below. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning today. Thanks for reading, and as always…

Cheers from,

Happy Hour City.