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What is Vermouth?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Vermouth is a liquor made from wine, with a number of different herbs added for flavor. It is known as an aromatized liquor, and some people refer to it as a fortified wine. Strictly speaking, however, a fortified wine usually has alcohol added to it to increase its potency, while vermouth uses it for the flavor it imparts. This liquor is probably best known for its role in the popular cocktail, the martini, and the most popular brand is Martini & Rossi, whose name most likely gave rise to the name of the drink. In America and Britain, ordering a martini will likely get a person a gin or vodka cocktail, but in other regions of the world, the term refers to sweet vermouth, which is popular as an aperitif.

There are a few different types of vermouth, ranging from the dry version used in martini cocktails to the very sweet white type used as an aperitif. Sweet red vermouth is also available, although it is less sweet than its white cousin, and the semi-sweet variety, which falls somewhere between dry and red, is used as a mixer sometimes. Dry vermouth is approximately 18% alcohol and has less than 7% residual sugar left, while sweeter liquors are around 15% alcohol and may have as much as 15% residual sugar remaining.

Vermouth was created in the late 18th century by an Italian and was originally used as a tonic drink because of the healing herbs that went into its creation. These herbs included wormwood, nutmeg, coriander, juniper, orange peel, cloves, marjoram, and cinnamon. The name comes from the German word Wermutkraut, which is the name for the wormwood plant. Wormwood, an herb also found in absinthe, helps to give the liquor its distinctive flavor. The aromatic herbs, although now a signature part of the drink’s taste, were originally used simply as an easy way to cover the flavor of the cheap wines used to produce it in large quantities.

Early vermouth was all sweet, made from both red and white wines, and enjoyed primarily as an aperitif on its own. The French are usually credited with the invention of the dry version sometime in the early 19th century, and to this day, France is often associated with drier whites and Italy with sweeter reds, though both nations produce both types in large quantities.

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Discussion Comments

By anon357620 — On Dec 05, 2013

Is vermouth the same thing that Julia Child always use in her recipes?

By anon320976 — On Feb 20, 2013

Vermouth can go bad. Buy the smallest bottle of the brand you want, and keep it refrigerated. It's life before appreciable degradation is one month. It's a wine product, so it turns much like wine does, although its fortification provides it with a touch more life.

By anon320973 — On Feb 20, 2013

@jonrss: Start here.

2.25 oz *good* gin (Beefeater is my anywhere-in-the-world go-to, but I also like Junipero, No. 3, Reisetbauer Blue Gin, and Brooklyn Gin)

.75 oz *good* dry vermouth (Dolin Dry is unparalleled, though Noilly Prat is decent considering its mass reach).

Stir this in a frozen pint glass with ice frozen in a tray (as opposed to from an ice machine in your fridge). Stir until your spoon freely moves up and down in the glass. This is when you reach good enough dilution.

If you're ambitious, crack a handful of ice, put it over the top of the glass, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a wide, thin, lemon peel, that you squeeze over the glass, skin-out, so that the oils disperse over the cocktail. Enjoy!

Keep your vermouth refrigerated once open, and toss it after a month. Being wine, it definitely turns and can ruin the taste of a cocktail.

By jonrss — On Oct 28, 2012

No matter how hard I try I cannot seem to make a decent martini. I don't know what I could be screwing up. It is a simple drink and I use quality liquors and a proper martini glass.

Is there some special technique that maybe I don't know about?

By BAU79 — On Oct 27, 2012

I used to date a girl whose mother made incredible spaghetti sauce. The secret ingredient in it was vermouth. Before I had it I would have never thought of putting vermouth in spaghetti sauce, or pairing vermouth with any tomatoes for that matter. But it was amazing and I begged her to pass along the recipe which she did graciously. We broke up down the road, but I still have that recipe.

By anon185064 — On Jun 10, 2011

Does vermouth go back after a number of years if already opened?

By anon154392 — On Feb 20, 2011

What are the grape varieties vermouth is mostly made from?

By anon129181 — On Nov 22, 2010

I just learned that the martini actually got its name because it was originally invented in Martinez, California during the onset of the gold rush.

A lucky miner who had just found a large gold strike was celebrating in the local bar and requested a celebratory drink and the bartender mixed Old Tom gin and sweet red vermouth and stuck the olive in. The miner liked it so much he requested it where ever he went from then on. The original drink was much sweeter then. Thank god for dry vermouth! Vermouth is not expensive. --Oddsoxdi

By anon105853 — On Aug 23, 2010

what the effect of vermouth on the body?

By pollick — On Oct 06, 2009

I could not find another product name other than vermouth, but sometimes sweet vermouth is called Italian vermouth, rosso vermouth or red vermouth. Sweet vermouth is used in a number of popular cocktails and aperitifs, however, so one would think any decent liquor store should carry it. I would try a state-sponsored beverage store with a varied selection.

By anon41760 — On Aug 17, 2009

Try vermouth in your shrimp scampi mix. Add 1/3 cup for two pounds of shrimp and let it boil down. Delicious.

By anon20121 — On Oct 26, 2008

I just tried to buy some sweet vermouth for a recipe for dinner, and two separate bottle shops did not carry it. Does it go by names other than vermouth?

By anon13579 — On May 30, 2008

The Martini did not get its name from the Martini & Rossi brand, as you state is likely. Rather, its name is derived from a similar, but more complex drink from much earlier, known as the Martinez.

By alexbuon — On May 20, 2008

Dear Madam/sir

This is the message from alex buon living in cambodia. i would like to know more knowledge about martini and other aperitif and liqueurs, could you please send me some history of martini or others things i mean the drinks history .

At the end i would like to say thank you


By anon5418 — On Nov 24, 2007

Vermouth is cheap! The cheapest of cheap..and you can get it just bout any where!!

You can store it under your sink or fridge. It doesn't make much difference.


By jog — On Jul 14, 2007

is it expensive?

By anon2389 — On Jul 09, 2007

how do you store vermouth once opened; does it have an expiration date?

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