Different Types of Vermouth and How to Use Them

Different Types of Vermouth and How to Use Them

Vermouth, an ancient and versatile drink that has been around for thousands of years, and yet the different types of vermouth are often overlooked and only brought out for cocktails. However, it offers much more than that. With its range of well-rounded flavors, vermouth can enhance classic drinks like Martinis and Manhattans, or be enjoyed on its own. This guide serves as a perfect starting point for those interested in learning more about this underrated spirit.

First things first, refrigerate your vermouth. That ten-year bottle of vermouth that’s been sitting on the shelf? Throw it out. Vermouth lasts longer than wine, but not as long as spirits. Opened bottles of vermouth should be stored in the fridge and best used within a few months.  

What is Vermouth?

Vermouth is a wine aromatized with absinthe wormwood and a blend of herbs, spices, and bitters and fortified with a distilled base spirit sweetened with sugar. 

Since vermouth must contain at least 75% wine, the wine’s quality is important. Neutral-tasting wines with low tannins are the most popular choice for this purpose. However, what truly sets vermouth apart is the addition of various leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, seeds, and barks, which impart unique and distinctive flavors to different vermouth brands. A vast array of botanicals are used in vermouth production, including chamomile, cardamom, cinnamon, sage, coriander, ginger, hops, juniper, lemon peel, marjoram, mace, orris, raspberry, rose, sage, St. John’s Wort, thyme, and vanilla. Blends of these botanicals are carefully chosen and added to the wine base, resulting in a vermouth with complex and delightful flavors.

All vermouth must also contain artemisia (or wormwood), the theoretic “hallucinogenic” element of absinthe. While there’s a minute amount used in vermouth, studies have shown, however, that the ingredient does not have the psychoactive effects that lore otherwise suggests.

A spirit, often brandy, gets added to vermouth, which preserves the wine for longer and extracts the flavors of the botanicals. It’s often a neutral spirit made from grapes or beets. Lastly, sugar is added to both sweet and dry vermouth to balance the flavor.

The History of Vermouth

The name “vermouth” is derived from the mid-1600s when Germans spiked their wine with wormwood and called it wermut. 

The history of adding wormwood to wine dates much further back, though, with records showing that Hippocrates added crushed wormwood and flowers into sweet wine, creating a medicinal beverage for rheumatism, anemia, and period pain. The Romans continued the tradition, but it wasn’t until the Savoy region (now a part of modern-day France and Italy) knew they needed to somehow improve their mediocre wine that vermouth became widely available. They mixed the newly available herbs and spices and created the fortified wine in the 1500s.

Italian Antonio Benetto Carpano was the first to commercialize vermouth in 1786. Unlike the Savoy region’s vermouth, he used high-quality Moscato wine mixed with an herbal blend from local monks and fortified with a particular spirit to preserve it. 

In the 1800s, new brands of vermouth in France and Italy appeared. Some of the most popular remain today: Martini & Rossi, Cinzano, Cocchi, Dolin, and Noilly Prat — each one with its proprietary blend of botanicals.  

How To Use Vermouth

Vermouth is primarily utilized in cocktails such as Martinis, Manhattans, and Negronis. These classic drinks heavily rely on vermouth as an essential ingredient. A straightforward method to explore vermouth is by substituting a dry vermouth with a sweet one in your next cocktail.

Alternatively, you can delve into the realm of craft vermouths for a more daring experience. To grasp the usage of vermouth, it is crucial to taste it on its own. Take a chilled serving and savor it with a twist of citrus or a splash of seltzer. This way, you will become acquainted with the distinct levels of sweetness and various herbal and botanical blends found in different vermouths.

Types of Vermouth

Historically speaking, vermouth has come in two types: French vermouth (dry and pale) and Italian vermouth (dark and sweet). There are variations within those two families and the modern cocktail renaissance has fueled innovation and expansion beyond the Franco-Italian borders in the category. Let’s, however, focus on the basics for now.


Martini Cocktail
Photo by MykolaSenyuk

Dry vermouth is made from white wine and is traditionally French. It has little to no sugar added and lends its savory botanical taste in cocktails. Most commonly used in a classic Martini or mixed with sweet vermouth in cocktails. There are both dry and extra-dry vermouth, each made with a different mix of wines.

As seen in: Martini, Old Pal, Rosita, Bamboo, Brooklyn, and more.


Manhattan Cocktail
Photo by @bhofack2

Sweet vermouth is often labeled red/rosso/riojo. It can be made with red or white wine, though it is dark in color. Sweet vermouth, historically of Italian origin, is most commonly associated with Manhattans and Negronis.

As seen in: Manhattan, Negroni, Americano, Perfect Martini, Old Hickory, Hanky Panky, and more.


Flatiron Martini
Photo by @MaximFesenko

Blanc/Bianco vermouths are in between dry and sweet vermouths in flavor, with balanced sweetness and botanical notes and pale in color. What distinguishes a blanc from a bianco is their origin. Blanc being from France and bianco from Italy, they are typically used interchangeably. They’re great for experimenting with in classic cocktails or enjoyed on their own.

As seen in: Manhattan Blanco, Flatiron Martini, Drunk Uncle, White Negroni Sbagliato, and more.

Note Worthy

Punt e Mes: This brand is an Italian-style vermouth that is dark in color and bittersweet. Its distinctive flavor tastes similar to a combination of sweet vermouth and Campari. Using both in a 2:1 ratio will make a suitable substitute for Punt e Mes vermouth in recipes.

Remember, when buying vermouth, prioritize quality over cost. Inexpensive options often have an inferior taste that can negatively impact your cocktail’s flavors. Additionally, low-quality vermouth may not be enjoyable when consumed on its own. Investing in high-quality vermouth will enhance your cocktail experience and allow you to savor the unique flavors it offers.

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