The world would be a lot less interesting without vermouth. You wouldn’t be able to make a Dry Martini
, a Manhattan
or countless other classic and modern cocktails.
So what exactly is vermouth, anyway? It’s a fortified wine—wine spiked with distilled alcohol to raise the proof—that’s flavored with herbs and spices, often including wormwood. (The name comes from Wermut
, the German word for wormwood). While every brand has its own special recipe, there are two main varieties of vermouth: sweet, which is reddish-brown in color, sweetened with sugar and sometimes called Italian vermouth; and dry, which is straw-colored, typically more bitter and sometimes called French vermouth. Interestingly, nearly all vermouth actually starts as white wine: The color of sweet vermouth comes from the botanicals used, plus caramelized sugar. Both versions, according to legendary mixologist and Liquor.com advisory board member Dale DeGroff
, became widely available by the end of the 19th century.