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 advisory board member Dale DeGroff, became widely available by the end of the 19th century.

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